Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tools of the trade pt 2

Firstly a sorry, a long since my last post. I have been rather distracted with applying for training for a career change, so all the fun stuff has taken a distant second, third and possibly tenth place.

But, here is my next offering, pens and penknives, a brief overview of some of the kit I use for writing.

No would-be painter should be without his main tool of work, not the brush, but the humble pen. Mainly goose quill, but other feathers could employed, such as buzzard, crow and swan. These are the pens most familiar to us, but other forms of pens did exist; tubular brass/copper alloy, reed (antiquated by the late middle ages) and capillary pens such as this one.

Before a painter can paint, he must be able to draw, or so thought Cennini, the writer of a well-known artist's treatise at the end of the fourteenth century. His opening chapters focus on the acquisition of drawing skills, using not just pens, but charcoal and lead or metal point.

There are a few ways in which pens can be cut, they generally tend to follow the same method, with a few variations.

I tend to use this method, with the exception that to make the slit, I lay the pen down, cut side up as Jenn does, but I rock my curved penknife blade on to the nib to make the slit, I found from personal experience that this results in a very clean cut. As Jenn rightly says, a sharp penknife is what is needed.

As Jenn and I both 'do it medieval' we tend to use the tools they did, more modern methods will invariably use modelling knives.

Some advocate tempering the quill by immersion in hot sand, I have not been shown any clear evidence that the medievals did, however, one manuscript image of a stationer's stall, Italy, shows feather hanging up, presumably to dry. I know that older, drier feathers are harder, I end to gather mine during the summer from local reservoirs when the water fowl are shedding their feathers.

Featured below are a selection of pens and associated tools, all owned and used by me.

From left to right, goose, tubular brass, capillary pen.
The writing on the paper was done with a goose pen.

From Medieval colours

A set of well used pens

From Medieval colours

A pen case with pens and knife.

From Medieval colours

Pen knife

From Medieval colours

Bronze stylus
Used for drawing on prepared paper or for scoring lines in paper or parchment for margins and text lines.

From Medieval colours


Gregory House said...

I have just found your site and looked through the slide show of your work and i am absolutely amazed. It is very stunning and professional, and i am directing my son towards your work as inspiration. I recently commissioned him to design a cover for my Tudor period novel and we had real difficulties in finding source information on Tudor period letters and script. AaRRGH if only we'd seen your work! Never the less it is inspiring to find now. Keep up the good work!

Krystyna said...

Hello, I couldn't find your e-mail address so I permitted myself to contact you this way.

My name is Krystyna Olczyk, I am paper conservator from Poland.

I dicovered your photos on Picasa, while preparing myself for the workshop on medieval manuscripts. First of all, I am simply impressed by your work - both by the craft and the photos. Secondly - I'd like to ask you if I could use two of your pictures for the presentation, that would be the part of the workshop?
I mean these photos of yours: and

It would be a great adornment for my presentation - and of course, I would show the source of the photos.

I am looking forward to hearing from you

medievalpaint said...

Gregory, you are very kind, by all means keep in touch, if I can be of any help, let me know.

Krystyna, many thanks for your kind words.

I will need to have some form of contact for you, your blog seems not allow me to.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Wojciech Królicki and I'm a reenactor from Silesia (south of Poland). I'm very intersted in capillary and brass shim pen, but the link you have submited is not valid ( etc.). The only photo of this items (originals I mean) I have found on but there is also no strict information about originals. Could you give me some informations about this pens? My mail is: kjujik87(at)
I'll be very grateful for every help. I wrote here because I couldn't find your mail address.
Regards, Wojtek

Anonymous said...

i had a go at this professional art and it inspired me to run my own art shop
thanks !

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Effigy said...

I just discovered your site. I have so many questions!
I have a capillary pen like the one pictured and struggle to use it - It always makes a big blob on the paper which I then 'draw' out with the pen. Surely it should make more than one letter at a time?
If you find this message please can we find a way to discuss medieval art tools?
I am fumbling along on my own - your blog is a treasure trove.

medievalpaint said...

Hi Effigy, may I suggest that you thicken your ink with some gum Arabic. This might reduce ink flow, medieval inks were thicker.