How to Cheat on Illumination if You Can’t Draw

By Amie Sparrow

Atlantian University, February 2004, Shire of Berley Cort


  • Computer
  • Scanner
  • Printer
  • Light box
  • Strathmore Tracing Paper 300 Series
  • Strathmore Bristol Smooth 300 Series, acid free, 100 lb weight
  • Pigma Pens, black, size 005 & 08
  • Mechanical pencil
  • White Eraser

Designing Artwork for a Simple Scroll
1. Scan an image from a book.
2. Change the image to fit your needs. Use an editing package such as PaintShop Pro or Adobe Photoshop.
3. Print the image.
4. Using a light box, place the design on the tracing paper under the Strathmore Bristol paper and tape it down with small pieces of light-tack painter’s tape. (Note: Tape down the tracing paper and the Bristol. If you don’t, the papers will get out of alignment very quickly.)
5. Trace the image onto the Bristol paper.
6. Paint the image with gouache.

Turning Photos Into Illumination
1. Take photos.
2. Print photos large to show detail.
3. Trace large photos.
4. Scan the traced photo.
5. Reduce traced photo on your computer.
6. Cut and paste online to get your design.
7. Print design.
8. Using a light box, trace design onto a scroll.

Illumination Process for the Stierbach Scriptorium
In a scriptorium, one person usually does his or her specialty on a scroll and that’s it. Some people are great calligraphers. Some people are great illuminators. Some people are excellent at white work. The scriptorium that I’m a part of is a 2-person workshop. Amie Sparrow and Ignacio Eransaurlezelasgarria. Generally, I do the illumination. Ignacio does the calligraphy.

Here’s our procedure.

1. The design for the scroll is created on tracing paper.

2. Only the inner border of the design is transferred to the good Bristol paper so that the calligrapher knows what the inner dimensions of the scroll are.

3. The calligrapher writes the calligraphy. (If he or she makes a mistake with the calligraphy, another blank is prepared to work on.)

4. Once the calligrapher is done with the words, the illuminator transfers the design to the scroll (as stated in the first procedure) and paints the artwork.

It was only after I made my first illuminated blanks that I was informed that scribes usually do the calligraphy first, illumination second. Whoops! It’s harder to fix a mistake in the calligraphy.

Sources for Period Images

  1. The Medieval Menagerie, Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages by Janetta Rebold Benton, page 78, Abbeville Press, New York, 1992. (Fantastical Creatures)
  2. The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus, translated by Ian Monk, Hackberry Press, Texas, 2002. (Deer, Hounds, Horses, Wolves)
  3. Peterson Field Guide Coloring Books: Birds, Peter Alden & Fiona Reid, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1982.
  4. Peterson Field Guide Coloring Books: Mammals, Peter Alden & Fiona Reid, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1987.

Celtic Designs, modern
Celtic Frames and Borders, no author, Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, 2000. (Note: A bunch of these have been used as artwork for scribal promissories! You need to be careful which ones you use.)

Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman, George Braziller, Inc., NY, 1976.

General Sources

  1. A Coloring Book of the Middle Ages by Bellerophon Books. 2000.
  2. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel, published by David R. Godine, Boston, 1986.
  3. Calendar from Paris c.1400
  4. Free Heraldry Clip Art
  5. Heraldic Crests: A Pictorial Archive of 4,424 Designs for Artists and Craftspeople, James Fairbairn, Dover Publications, New York, 1993.


  2. Illuminated Manuscripts, Treasures of The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1998, page 162.
  3. Medieval Life in the Luttrell Psalter by Janet Backhouse
  4. The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones
  5. The Middle Ages Dover Coloring Book by Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.
  6. The Romance of Alexander

Helm and Mantling Styles
Outlands Scribe’s Handbook, 2002 Edition, Draft Copy,

Hunting, Killing and Other Man Stuff
The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus, translated by Ian Monk, Hackberry Press, Texas, 2002.

Illuminated Letters
Illuminated Initials in Full Color by Carol Belanger Grafton

Pas D’Arms
Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker

Women Doing Stuff
The Medieval Woman, an illuminated Book of Days, Sally Fox, Galilao, Cambridge, UK, 1999.
Diane, déesse de la chasse (The Goddess Diana on the Hunt),

Woodcuts (People, Plants, Castles, General Medieval Life)
Medieval Life Illustrations by Carol Belanger Grafton

General Websites about Scribing

  1. Atlantian Scribes Handbook
  2. Atlantian Scribes Website
  3. Atlantian Promissory Scrolls
  4. East Kingdom Clerk of the Signet
  5. Known World Scriptorium

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s