Now that we’ve explained a little bit about the cover design, we are ready to share the process behind each page of Colouring History: Tudor Queens and Consorts. The book begins with a classic “This Book Belongs to” page. Most coloring books have them and it’s also fitting that this keepsake can be claimed just as one might mark a treasured Medieval manuscript. From the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, illuminated manuscripts were painstakingly created by a team of highly skilled craftsman and artists, beginning with the parchment maker, continued by the scribe, illuminator, and finished by the binder.
The inspiration for our first coloring page comes from the Bohun Psalter, a 14th century psalter once owned by Elizabeth of York and then give to Katherine of Aragon. You can read more about it here.
The process of illuminating manuscripts is a fascinating journey. We’ve touched on some of the methods and materials below but also included the original resource links for further reading.
Parchment was made with skins of sheep, goats, or calves and treated in a way that could last 1,000 years. The use of animal skins for written documents dates back all the way to the Fourth Dynasty but its use in illuminated manuscripts was most popular during Medieval times. The Medieval process included soaking the skins in lime water to remove the hair, rinsing, scraping, and drying. The skin was stretched and scraped each day during the drying process, then taken off of the stretchers and cut to the size of the book. The pages were folded in half and layered in “gatherings” of 16 or 20 pages. You can find more details and a video here.
The next step was for the scribe to write the letters. The scribe would carve a feather quill, drying the quill in hot sand first, then carve the pen shape and slit to hold the ink. Black ink for writing was usually made with:
Gallnuts - growths found on oak trees
Iron Vitriol - causes a reaction to turn the gallnut powder black
Gum arabic - keeps the ink in liquid form but also allows it to stay on the quill
Water, beer, or vinegar for added liquid
Another recipe for an ink called “lamp black” was made from soot, gum arabic, and water. Ink made from gallnuts was considered more permanent as the tannic acid would bond with the parchment. If the scribe made an error, “lamp black” ink was easily scratched off of the parchment surface. Below is an except from a 14th century ink recipe, included in a document called “Medieval to Early Modern Manuscripts: Some Ink & Pigment Recipes” which was compiled by the Special Collections Conservation Unit of the Preservation Department of Yale University Library.
“To make 3 quarts of ink, take 2 ounces each of galls and gum arabic, and 3 ounces of copperas. Break the galls and soak them for 3 days, then boil in three half gallons of rainwater or water from a still pond. And when they have boiled long enough so that nearly half the water has boiled off—that is, there is only about 3 quarts left—take off the re, and add the copperas and gum, and stir until cool. Store in a cold, damp place. Note that after 3 weeks, it will spoil.”
Once the letters were done, it was time for the illuminator to add the artwork. Thin layers of metal, like gold leaf, were always applied first. The illuminator would paint gesso or gum onto the intended gold sections and, once dry, place a small piece of gold leaf on top of these sections. The illuminator simply had to breath hot air on these sections for the gold leaf to stick. Then they would brush away the excess and give it a shine.
Color inks would come next, starting with the lightest shades, then darker tones, ending with black outlines or white highlights. Below are some color inks used in Medieval times. Much more detail can be found here.
“Cochineal” or scarlet - made from crushed bug shells
Blue - made from the blue stone, azurite
Violet blue - tumble plant seeds
Ultramarine - lapis lazuli from Afghanistan
“Verdigris” or blueish-green was made by exposing copper to vinegar in a bottle
The binder would then take the pages and sew them together with linen thread and use a combination of wood, fabric, and leather to bind the book within the hard cover. All of these books included a clasp to hold them shut. This is because parchment can expand in humid weather. By keeping the book locked shut, the pages would ideally stay flat.
Wouldn’t it be an interesting study to color your Tudor coloring books only in Medieval shades? Perhaps we’ll work up a pallet for you with suggested color pencils to match.
Until next time, happy coloring!