Anti-Procrastination Day Success!

So, Wednesday, I mentioned that I was going to try to get in the habit of accomplishing certain things (writing, sewing, long-overdue projects) in the evenings so I don’t bounce randomly from project to project, taking forever to get something finished. I borrowed from Ma Ingall’s list of daily chores to create my own project-chore list. Wednesday night was anti-procrastination night, and I chose to tackle an illumination that I started to make for myself, oh, sometime back around the first of the year.

My Scroll

Conversion Scroll

Hey, I just realized I need to sign the thing!

The entire picture (including margins, which aren’t shown in this image) is slightly larger than 11×17″. The main image is from a mahzor (prayerbook–most likely a Passover siddur) known as the Tripartite Mahzor, created somewhere in modern Germany around 1322 (and currently housed in the British Library).

The paint is basic watercolor paint. (When I talk shop with other illuminators, they are all adamant that watercolors aren’t strong enough to do a medieval-style illumination and that only gouache will do. I tried some gouache once, but found it didn’t produce stronger colors than my watercolors and was actually a little harder to work with because it’s thicker. No one actually complains about my actual illuminations looking too weak; I guess I paint my water colors with a heavier hand–and less water–than most people.)

The pseudo-Hebrew font is called SeferAH (free-for-personal use, license-for-commerical use; it’s the font I’m using on the cover for The Flames of Prague).

The original illumination


The project wasn’t as difficult as you might think (although it was time-consuming; I estimate I spent 35-40 hours on it). I actually can’t draw worth a flip–hence why I copied an extant piece.

I used Photoshop to create a virtual page the size of my actual paper. I resized the original illumination, took off its borders, and centered it, then added the text below it in the Sefer AH font. I took the file to Kinko’s and had them print me a copy on 11×17″ in color.

When I got it home, I centered it on my paper (which is 12×18″, I think) and taped it down. Then I had to use a ruler to draw the edges of my borders. That was actually the trickiest bit because, as you can see, the original picture wasn’t square (my picture is also slightly off center; the top portion leans a bit to the right).

Next, I put it on my light box and traced everything. The borders were actually the only thing I free-handed (and are based on borders seen in other illuminations).

Once everything was drawn out in pencil, I covered the bottom half of the paper–where the calligraphy would be–to keep from spotting it with paint, and I painted the main image. When it was done, I went back to my light box and actually traced all of the letters with a calligraphy pen (because my penmanship isn’t worth a flip, either). Finally I painted the borders and the box with the lion in it (that was actually a last-minute addition that I did to cover up some text that didn’t get used for reasons I won’t mention).

One trick I learned early-on when it comes to painting like this is, when you’re done, go back over your original pencil lines with a black, fine-tipped, felt pen. That really makes the figures pop out and it hides a multitude of sins. (Notice that all of the original figures and vines have a black outline around them.)

In short, if you can trace something and color inside the lines, you too can make a medieval-style illumination.

Thursday Night

While my Wednesday night went really well (although I worked on my illumination for more than an hour–more like five, actually), I vegged out a bit too much last night, so I only got about 30 minutes of work done on The Bloodsuckers–not enough to finish the episode for today. I’ll see what I can get done Sunday.


Speaking of things Jewish, it’s that time of year again: Yom Kippur begins tonight with the Kol Nidre service. It is time for us to beat our breasts (literally) and take a moment to look in the mirror and see what we too often ignore: that we are not the people we want to be, could be, and should be–that we lie and cheat and say unkind things and hurt others and fail to do good things and fail to follow God’s commandments. Beginning tonight, we take a hard look at ourselves, acknowledge our faults, and ask God to forgive us for them (it’s kind of like a Catholic confession and penance that lasts for 25 hours).

But, before we can get God’s forgiveness, we have to get forgiveness from others. In that vein, I want to offer my apologies to anyone I may have offended over the past year, to anyone whose feelings I hurt, for any promises I may have broken or disappointment I may have caused. I do things with the best of intentions, but I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease; what sounds fine in my head sometimes comes out horribly offensive and insulting. And sometimes I jump to conclusions or base an opinion on misinformation. And sometimes I promise more than I’m capable of delivering. So, for all those things, I apologize, and, as always, I will endeavor to improve myself over the upcoming year.

For those of you who observe Yom Kippur, have a meaningingful fast; for everyone else, have a good weekend.