I have completed the second sheet of the scroll. In so doing I have had challenges both predicted and not predicted. Line width was the most obvious one I saw coming as was problems with copying correctly and as for any calligrapher, letter forms. One unexpected issue was mold in my iron gall ink.
Here is the sheet.
Take a look at that top line. The left column looks correct compared to the regular X height of the sheet. The left column top line on the other hand is definitely over sized. In truth they both should be over sized as the line is definitely too big. What happened?
Actually it is pretty predictable when you stop and think about it. I hand pricked the line widths. I did this without any mechanical or measuring aid. I did it with a single pricker. To make each and every line the exact correct width for the X height, I would have had to prick exactly on the guidelines from the master each and every time. If I pricked a bit too high on the top line and bit too low on the bottom line I can (and did) easily end up with lines that are to wide. Conversely if I pricked too low on the top line and too high on the bottom line I ended up with a line that was not wide enough.
Keep in mind that is just the beginnings of the potential problems. I also had to put the lead/tin stylus (pencil) exactly right into each of the tiny holes and used my straight edge to rule the sheet without making any mistakes. In other words how in the heck did I manage to get such even lines overall instead of just a few mistakes? Answer: experience having done this before.
Remember, this project is for me to have fun with. That is very freeing. I do not feel the need to be perfect and to do my best right now. Instead, I have loosened the reigns so to speak and am engaging in free form experimentation. I am asking, “What happens if…” and then letting things happen. No, I’m not throwing care to the wind and yes, I am keeping standards of excellence in mind. I simply am also experimenting as I go along, because that is fun to do.
So what is the solution? Well for one, I should probably create a new master sheet to work from. For that master sheet I will poke holes not with a pricker but with a divider. For those that are not familiar with that term, think of a drafting compass and in the end with the graphite, put in another sharp point instead. That is a drafting divider. This way all that needs to be done is to draw a line down one side and then you prick your top hole, lean in the next leg of the divider and prick your next hole, swing it around and prick your next hole the exact same distance apart and repeat. This keeps your lines from getting to wide or too narrow. This period technique is very effective, so effective that in manual drafting I am told it is still used today.
The pencil is another matter. I have to admit I am do not have a lot of time in using this tool. I likely need to sharpen the point a bit and that will help keep it in the holes drawing the line exactly where it should be. The question becomes what is the best way? it is a soft material I could beat it down a bit but that might weaken the structure of the pencil making it difficult to work with. I could sharpen it with a knife. There are several choices indeed.
Letter form. I have given myself some small leeway to not write each letter exactly perfectly but only in the interest of developing my hand for this script, not to get sloppy. However, to anyone looking at it, myself included, sloppy does seem to be happening as I try one thing and then another with the same letter. I need to settle down quickly to specific forms or I run the risk of just being sloppy. I’m not worried, I just understand I have a deadline to work under.
Copying. I have copied works before. The most interesting one was in German for a close friend. They could read German but I can not. Well it is the Latin alphabet and as long as I copy exactly what is written, it shouldn’t be a problem. Well the problem is copying exactly what is written especially if you can’t double check if the sentence makes sense. I left out an entire month.
The problem with understanding the language is that you put in your own editing whether you mean to or not. Doing copying work can really make you understand why there was a standing threat of excommunication for anyone who copied verses of the Bible wrong in the middle ages. And why many scriptoriums had strict rules of silence. Mistakes are just too easy to make even if you are literate in the language. If you look carefully you will see some copying mistakes. Some obvious, some not.
Mold. I did not expect to find mold in my ink pot, but there was twice. The mold is eating the sugars found in the gum arabic and in whatever is left over of the oak gall solids which can’t be much. The nice thing about mold in your ink is that the mold actually makes the ink blacker. So I pulled the mold of the top of the ink and happily wrote with it.
And to think these are all problems my fellow scribes 600, 700, 800 and more years ago dealt with every time they penned a copy of something. And I’m sure they had some wonderful ways of dealing with these trifling yet easy to have problems. That is also part of the fun, to be safe in making these mistakes and learn how to solve them and in the end have camaraderie across the centuries with those whom I attempt to emulate.