Softness, Color, and Light

Illumination on Vellum

23k gold leaf, 22k Moon Gold leaf, dry pigments, watercolor, Finetec, and pastel on calfskin vellum, archival printed inks on Arches watercolor paper

7″ x 7″ (matted and framed 10″ x 10″)

photo by Reggie Ezell

One of the challenges I face as a metalsmith is the often monochromatic world in which I work. The shininess of the metal and the gorgeous colors of patinas and stones don’t happen until the very end of a piece, so the matte gray (silver), yellow (gold), or orangey pink (copper) of my metal is the only one I can play with for weeks or sometimes months on a single work of art. In a fit of rebellion, I once wrote the illuminated sentence and had drawn the Fraktur letters with the idea of making it into a copper book cover. As I began imagining ideas for a Codex Aurius inspired piece, the sketchy form, taped above my drawing, table jumped out at me to be illuminated.

The top layer is a calfskin vellum was already asymmetrical. I altered the design to curve in a way that fit the odd shape as well as to soften the rigidity of the blockiness. I laid 2 layers of gesso under 2 layers of Instacol. “Give Me,” and the negative space of “Color” and “and” are 23k gold leaf, a layer of patent leaf, topped with a layer of loose leaf. “Light” is 22k Moon Gold. After gilding “Color” I used a tiny piece of SotchBrite pad to randomly sponge on a thin layer of Instacol over the 23k gold and gilded again with Moon Gold to give the word a shimmery effect.

The blues, reds, and blue-black outlines were painted with dry pigments mixed with gum Arabic. I laid a line of masking fluid around the whole design and sponged pastels between the masked line and the edge. The flourished filigree and the dots between the outlines are metallic gouache drawn with pointed pen.

The image behind the vellum is a giclee print of a Hubble photograph of the Orion Nebula, one of my most favorite things in the universe because of its colors and shapes. The vellum is mounted slightly above the print to create dimension.

The size and square shape of the piece (7″ x 7″) were dictated by the requirements of the Participants’ Exhibit at the recent Calligraphy Northwest conference in Portland. I was just lucky that piece of vellum would work. Alas, the then not quite finished piece traveled across the country and back with me without being completed or hung. Working on it after the conference was good therapy. Sometimes odd constraints push creativity in positive ways even when they turn out not to have been necessary.

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