Black & White Images to Paint

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NameBlack & White Images to Paint
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Beginning Illumination Kit
Everything you need to complete several illuminations

Step-by-step instructions for creating reproduction-quality illuminations are included.
Black & White Images to Paint

A black and white “bar and ivy” image from the “Belles Heures” Book of Hours, circa 1408

A black and white image adapted from a 13th century illumination

These are printed on watercolor paper. They make good practice pieces – just add paint!

Palette - 8 well

Paint Brush Round Size 0 - Blick Scholastic Golden Taklon

3 Winsor & Newton gouache samples in paint cups - 2 colors plus white

Toothpicks (useful for mixing paint)
Pen, Pencil, & Ruler

Sharpie permanent black pen - Extra Fine Point

#2 Pencil

Pencil sharpener

Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser

Brush (to wipe off eraser crumbs)

Ruler - Graph 1"x6" Cthru

Watercolor paper Montval 140 lb cold press 6x9 - 2 sheets

Arches 140 lb. cold pressed paper 7x10 - 1 sheet

This kit allows you to begin doing illumination with the best quality materials at a reasonable price. Winsor & Newton produces one of the best quality gouache paints. Arches cold pressed paper is simply the best paper for illumination available. Two sheets of Montval’s cold pressed watercolor paper offer a chance to practice on less expensive, but still very good quality, paper. Add a good quality paint brush and a fine pen with waterproof permanent black ink, and you’re all set. The little extras help make your work top quality from the beginning, including a true artist’s eraser and black & white exemplars to color for practice.

Exclusive from The Bored Bard
Steps to Create an Illumination
In addition to the kit, you will need the following

  • Paper towels

  • Water, preferably distilled (the minerals in tap water can alter the paint color)

Sketch your design

  • With the pencil, mark rectangular area/s of the paper to be illuminated (use a ruler). Leave a margin at the edge of the page (for framing the finished piece).

  • Sketch your design in pencil. For many styles of illumination, each little shape to be colored is outlined in black ink, so leave space for color inside your lines and make each a closed shape.

  • Use a paper towel to cover the part of the paper under your hand as you work.

  • Use the artist’s eraser to completely erase anything you want to re-draw. Rather than using your hand, remove the eraser crumbs with the brush included in the kit. This avoids getting oil from your hand on the paper.

Outline the design in ink

  • When you are satisfied with the pencil sketch, trace over the lines you want to keep with the marker.

  • Go over the entire area with the eraser to remove all pencil marks; brush away the crumbs.

Add color

  • Put a dab of gouache in one of the wells of the palette. Add a drop or two of distilled water and mix with a toothpick. Experimentation will give you a feel for getting the paint not too stiff and not too runny. Err on the side of too runny.

  • Use the paint brush to carefully stroke color within the inked outlines. Don’t worry if it’s pale.

  • The paint should dry within a few minutes. Unless the paint is very thick and dark, you will want to add another layer, perhaps two, waiting for it to dry each time.

  • Wash the brush thoroughly with water and dry on a paper towel.

  • Now do the same with the second color, filling in other areas; or alternate colors, washing the brush thoroughly each time, so that you don’t have to wait while each layer dries.

  • When you have enough color on the paper, it should glow, and the hue should show clearly.

Add white work

For most styles of illumination, you will want to add white highlights right over your colors. Make sure the color is thoroughly dry first.

  • Mix a dab of white gouache with a drop or two of water. Keep this thicker than other colors.

  • Using a very light touch, add a thin line of white along the center line of each leaf, flower, or other shape.

Additional Information
Gouache Paint

Gouache (gwaash) is simply pigment (color) in a gum-based solution. It tends by its nature to dry to a rich vivid opaque color. Unlike watercolor, gouache doesn't rely on the whiteness of the paper you're painting on to show brilliance; gouache lies right on the surface. Gouache paints are made today much as they were in the Middle Ages except that the manual labor of grinding and mixing has been replaced by mechanical processes.

Gouache is an opaque watercolor paint. It is opaque in the sense that the color completely covers the paper, unlike watercolors in which the color of the paper can always be seen through the paint. However, one color of gouache does not completely cover another layer beneath it. A common technique is to build up the brilliance of one color by applying several thin layers over one another, waiting a few minutes in between for the earlier layer to dry. The only truly opaque gouache colors are the metals: gold and silver. These can be used to cover up a variety of mistakes.
You can purchase it in three forms.

  • Ready to Use gouache comes in tubes in a variety of hues and tints, each ready to use without further mixing with another color. The Winsor & Newton gouache provided with this kit is of this variety. One can mix these paints together, and people frequently do, especially mixing a color with either white or black to lighten or darken it, but it is not necessary.

  • Ready to Mix gouache can be purchased in sets of basic colors designed to be mixed together to produce a wider range of colors. While these colors can be used straight out of the tube, more frequently they are mixed together before use. Sets are designed in which the colors have been selected for optimum results when mixed together in order to produce strong, bright results.

Primary Color Set. Winsor & Newton’s 6-tube set consists of: Primary Red, Primary Yellow, Permanent Green Middle, Primary Blue, Permanent White, and Ivory Black: red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black.
Winsor & Newton’s 10-tube Introductory Set consists of: Spectrum Red, Primary Red, Primary Yellow, Permanent Yellow Deep, Forest Green, Primary Blue, Ultramarine (dark blue), Yellow Ochre (tan), Zinc White, and Ivory Black: 2 reds, 2 yellows, green, 2 blues, tan, white, and black.
Holbein offers a set that consists of Carmine (red), Lemon Yellow, Peacock Blue, Permanent White, and Ivory Black.

  • Powder. For those wanting a more period experience, gouache paints are also available in powder form with gum arabic (a binder) already mixed in. The user mixes the powder with water to produce paint that is ready to use.

Unlike other watercolors, gouache always remains soluble. This means that all the dried-up little blobs in your palette can be reconstituted into usable paint. Just add water, stir, give the paint some time to absorb the water, and stir some more.

Thinning with Water

Before use, gouache is thinned with water. Because tap water may contain minerals, and these can affect the color, using distilled water is recommended. An eye dropper makes a great tool for adding one or two drop of water at a time. Styrofoam cups (for hot drinks) make good disposable containers for water used for washing brushes.

Store your palette with the remaining paint in place. Use a palette with a cover or keep an uncovered palette in a plastic zip-lock bag. The paint can be reconsituted and used for future projects.
Gold and Silver Paint

Gold and silver are available in several forms:

  • Real gold and silver leaf, which is applied over a prepared ground, and is an expensive and labor-intensive method that can produce stunning results. Not for beginners.

  • In bottles along with the tubes of prepared gouache available commercially. Bottles of gold and silver contain tiny flakes of real metal suspended in a binder. The metals tend to sink to the bottom, so they must be stirred well before use and frequently during use. They are applied with a brush just like colors of gouache and can be dipped right out of the bottle. No additional water needs to be added. These are fairly easy to use and a good choice for beginners.

  • In markers such as Pilot’s gold and silver markers. These are a little trickier to use than most markers—you have to shake the pen and then get the ink flowing, but they are great for getting thin lines of gold or silver onto the paper, especially if you do not want to get involved with calligraphy-type pens for this purpose. Good for producing thin lines, and suitable for beginners.

Other Materials
Paint Brushes

Round brushes in sizes 000, 00, 0, 1, and 4 are the most popular with SCA illuminators. The larger the number, the larger the brush. The 0 sizes are also referred to as 3/0, 2/0, etc. Brushes as small as 10/0 are made. The best brushes for illumination are round, pointed-tip watercolor brushes, either hair or synthetic. The tip shape, the amount of fluid held by the hairs, the ability to retain its shape while wet, and remaining springy while wet are the most important features.

Use the smooth side of the paper for your artwork. To avoid getting oil from your hands on the paper, handle it by the edges and use a paper towel to cover the part of the paper under your hand as you work.

Illustration board cold or hot-press and watercolor paper 140 lb or 300 lb cold or hot-press can all be used with gouache with good results. Board can be bought by the sheet or in a block of 20 sheets. Blocks are held together by a layer of wax on the outside. You can paint right on the top sheet while it is still in the block or remove it first. To remove a sheet from a block, find the gap in the wax in the middle of one long side. Insert a thin but not sharp object like a stiff plastic ruler or palette knife in the gap, then carefully run it around the edge, cutting through the wax.

Use waterproof, light-resistant black ink for drawing outlines for illumination. Fine-tipped markers work well.
Graph Ruler

A graph ruler, also sometimes found among quilter’s rulers, is simply a clear plastic ruler with lines that extend from one side of the ruler to the other. The great advantage is that you can line up the lines on the ruler with the edge of your paper or any line you’ve already marked that is parallel to the edge of the paper, and use the edge of the ruler to draw lines that are also parallel to the edge of the paper.

  • Because illumination is a more drawn-out process, most makers of scrolls for the SCA do the illumination first and then add the calligraphy. It is helpful to pencil in lines for the calligraphy at the same time as the pencil sketch for the illumination. Quickly mark one margin with dots as far apart as the lines should go, then use your graph ruler to lightly add lines parallel to the edge of the paper. Lines around 10mm apart work well for many scrolls. Remember to leave a margin at the edge of the paper. This is very similar to the medieval technique used on vellum (prepared animal skin) of using a sharp object to prick the edge of the vellum to mark the spacing for lines for calligraphy.

  • To avoid getting oil from your hands on the paper, handle it by the edges and use a paper towel to cover the part of the paper under your hand as you work.

  • Use the smooth side of the paper for your artwork.

  • Keep a small wet sponge inside your gouache palette when you’re not working with it to keep the colors partially hydrated (not completely dried out) – they’ll be easier to reconstitute. Use a palette with a cover or keep an uncovered palette in a plastic zip-lock bag.

  • You can trace existing designs. You can simplify them in the process.

  • By period convention, vines and other natural objects come from somewhere – they grow out of the side of a graphic element or have their origin in a stylized root, often in a corner. The stems for leaves and flowers on vines go in the direction that an actual plant would grow in.

  • You can use a standard size mat (for picture framing) to mark the rectangular area of the paper you will work in. These can be bought for a dollar or two at most craft stores and businesses that frame pictures. Select a frame for the size paper you are working on. To use, just line up one edge of the frame with the edge of your paper, and trace the inside of the frame. Voilá. You have marked the margins without any measuring!

A few definitions

  • Hue: the color, such as blue or green

  • Tint: Color with white added

  • Shade: Color with black added

Some Sources for Materials

  • Local fine art stores and craft stores (note: pay attention to the quality of materials found in craft stores, as they cater to children and crafters as well as artists)

  • Office supply stores (for markers)

  • The Bored Bard (SCA merchant and on the web at

  • Dick Blick (retail stores and on the web at

  • Daniel Smith (retail stores and on the web at




Additional Resources

  • The nearest person with experience in illumination, calligraphy, and/or scroll making.

  • A class given in your local group or at an event

  • The Middle Kingdom Scribes Handbook is available as a PDF file on the Midrealm web site. It includes information on both calligraphy and illumination. It contains useful sections for the illuminator on layout and design of scrolls, tools & materials, correcting mistakes, advice on painting, gilding (applying a thin layer of gold), and more. Go to the Midrealm Web Site at, click on the Herald icon in the left margin, scroll down to “Scribal Arts,” and click on Middle Kingdom Scribes Handbook.

  • Handbook for Outlands Scribes – a PDF file available from

  • Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting by Daniel V. Thompson, Dover Books

  • Painting for Calligraphers by Marie Angel

  • The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy by Patricia Seligman and Timothy Noad, ISBN 14-0271744X (paper)

  • Paint Your Own Illuminated Letters: A Fascinating Guide to the History of Illumination by Stefan Oliver, ISBN 15-77172183 (hard)


It’s all Katerina Peregrine’s fault, really. She came to our local shire meeting and taught a class on illumination. Thanks for information, classes, and inspiration also go to Lyonette and Milesent Vibert of the Cleftlands as well as countless other illuminators throughout the Midrealm and the Known World.

Lady Mathilda Harper

The Bored Bard

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