Physical Trials of Creating a Manuscript: Reflections on Working in the Book Arts Lab

Thus far it is entirely unclear to me why the human race didn’t give up writing long before we reached the printing press. Each step in recreating my folio makes me question further and further how it ever reached the point of completion. Each week I’ve written a portion of this blog to record my thoughts on that week’s book arts lab work.

The measuring process of my manuscript was not too difficult I got the basics done quickly and began to measure random things on my page like the height of the figures in the roundel, the length of the peacock etc. Even with all of my measuring of random objects there were still areas I missed which I realized when we went to draw up our drafts of the manuscript recreation. There was a certain amount of relaxation in tracing out the page. The methodical nature of the work made me wonder if Monks created manuscripts as a method of contemplation. The biggest problem I faced with measuring out the page was the roundel. I had measured the circle, but it was not even al the way around. I ended up with an odd freehand sketch of a circle. I am not sure how roundels were made, and I plan on researching this before the final recreation to see if they used any drawing device or if it was free handed.

Our work with quills was much different then I thought it would be. The process Larry described about the time it takes to create the quill by curing it and having it dry was way more complex then I would have imagined. He mentioned a method of using hot sand for the curing process that has not been consistently recreated in modern times. Luckily there is also the microwave method, so who needs sand. Feathers seemed like such an archaic writing tool, it hadn’t occurred to me that they did much with them to use as pens but clearly I was mistaken.

Ink was the first problem—too much and it would run or making the lettering larger. I had the ink leak through the paper on a few occasions. As we have discussed in class since the process of leaking ink encouraging different writing surfaces and changed ink. The leaking happened less once I got used to the feeling of the quill and played with pressure and turning of the point. The instruction for the individual letters had mixed results. Knowing the stroke order helped with some letters but didn’t for others. Practice helped more in the cases the instructions didn’t. I tried to determine if lifting the pen completely after each stroke was helpful but it wasn’t consistent. I realized how many intricacies scribes must have known consistently produce writing in their medium.

When writing with the quill I enjoyed dipping the pen into the ink and adding the flourishes to my letters. It felt more like painting a line drawing then actual writing. I dipped my pen back into the ink yet again to finish off the last of the letter. It looked nice I thought so I moved on to the next letter. I was stuck as a dipped my quill in for the tenth time to finish one word that there were a lot of letters on this page. That’s how I was looking at the page now. Not as words and sentences but as letters and strokes. Suddenly my “decoration heavy” manuscript seemed a lot more writing dense then I first considered. Moreover, I wasn’t writing as small as what my manuscript had been- in fact I couldn’t seem to get the letters that small without the ink blotting together to ruin the look of the flourishes. The sheer volume of work that is must have taken to complete a manuscript like mine, let a lot a whole book of pages just like it, was more then I had initially considered.

The day we worked on illuminated letters and decoration I was relieved. These letters were supposed to take a long time. At first, I decided to try it without pencil sketches underneath. This caused some trouble. The illuminated letters were entirely different in form from the regular text so the information I learned last week couldn’t help me. I found that adding the coloured ink made the letters look infinitely more legitimate. While we weren’t afforded the time in the book arts lab, I think that scribes would have done the colours layer by layer, waiting for the ink to fully dry before adding the next colour. I think for my manuscript the decoration in the boarders was painted, I’m not entirely sure on this and it may have been inked in parts, but I’ve determined in my work with a quill it would have been more efficient to paint it sections of it and do details in ink.

Bookbinding was the task I found the easiest so far. Of course, I has the benefit of modern paper, cutting machines, and thread. All of which is more consistent and reliable then older methods would have been. Throughout this entire process I have learned the time, skill, and variety needed to produce a manuscript.