The SCA Calligraphy Boot Camp Project
You are cordially invited to join SCA scribes from around the Known World as we embark upon a project 
to improve and broaden the calligraphy skills for all levels of calligraphers in the SCA.

News and Monthly Challenges

  • 12th C Kufic Script

    12th century Eastern Kufic Arabic Script

    by THL Isibel of Dunbegane, known as Iosobail inghean Uilliam mhic Leoid, CE
    Iosobail mhic Leoid on Facebook

    DISCLAIMER: I am not an Arabic speaker and do not know the language, I am just going to tell you what I have done to copy the language and the specific script variant called Eastern Kufic.

    Eastern Kufic is a script common to Turkey and Asia Minor. The style I am describing dates to the 12th century. The image below illustrates different variant of Arabic calligraphy. The Kufic variant can be seen in the left column, however the Eastern Kufic variant is easier seen in the period example work above:

    So deep Breath!! I would recommend a good online translator to convert your text to Arabic first. For this exercise, we will choose the phrase: "All know that"

    In Arabic: نعلم جميعا أن

    The type of calligraphy nibs that work well are flat and medium thickness, such as a speedball C4. The other tool to use is a reed qalam about the same thickness.

    Once you have a text we can start creating the grid lines for each line. I use graph paper to make my grids and then either move them to the surface of the paper I am working on or use a light board placing the grid underneath the page.

    One line of this script requires twelve lines of graph paper. The image below shows the lines you need.

    In addition, there is an angle to the letter forms that making diagonal lines as such will help keep.

    Once you have the grid lines set up, the next step is to identify each letter and its Kufic equivalent. Using the graphics below, find the equivalent form, keeping in mind, there is often a difference in the shape dependent on if the letter is at the beginning, middle or end of a word.

    Here is a diagram of typical pen strokes for Arabic letters some of which work for this variant:

    Remember, Arabic is written from right to left, so start on the right. The smaller letters will only go to the middle line, vocalization marks will be on the top letter line and the tops of tall letters will go to the very top ascender. You'll also notice some of the lines extend to the lowest descender for some letters. As one who does not speak Arabic, it seems some lines are aesthetic choice.

    Make sure to connect each letter with a horizontal line and skip one diagonal space between connected letters. Generally, I skip two or three blocks between words.

    Vocalization markings indicate if and how a vowel is to be pronounced. Most of the translators will add the basic markings which will usually be sufficient. In some documents, these markings will be blue or red ink with some circles in gold, again presumable for aesthetic value. Some of these marking are below:

    So the basic line one should get when writing "All know that" the following:

    نعلم جميعا أن

    You can see more on our Kufic Arabic Pinterest Board.

    Thank you! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!

    -- Isabel
    Posted Jun 1, 2015, 7:30 AM by Estelle de la Mer
  • February & March 2015: Humanist
    Greetings, Boot Campers!

    This month we will be looking at the Humanist hand of the late 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.  This super readable hand is perfectly paired with Italian White Vine style scrolls, and with the "squashed bug" trompe l'oeil styles of illumination.  Many examples in manuscripts begin with a section of penned Roman square capitals.

    "Orations and Letters" 15th C Italy British Library: Kings 19 f.1

    History and Geography

    Humanist hand may look a lot like Carolingian writing, and there's a reason for that!  In the mid 14th Century and early 15th Century, a group of mostly Italian scholars began to read and study and copy many early manuscripts, with a focus on philosophical texts from Ancient Rome.  Many of these manuscripts had been transcribed in Carolingian hand in the 9th - 12th centuries, and the humanist scholars mistakenly thought that this was the writing of the Ancient Romans!  Below, you can see the similarities and differences across 6 centuries of handwriting: Caroline hand at the top, and a transitional humanist at the bottom.

    Gospel of John, Then and Then-But-Later:
    9th C France: Edgerton 609 (top) vs 15th C Italy: Additional 69865 (bottom)

    With the rise of the philosophy of Humanism just before the Renaissance, the style of writing became popular and spread throughout Europe.  Some of the first mass printed books had letters made to resemble this style of text.

    Hippocratic Oath 1483

    The Style

    The Humanist style is noted for its clarity and ease of reading.  We modern people should be able to decipher it quite easily, as it is the ancestor of many modern serif fonts today!  The verticals are very upright, almost always a perfect 90 degrees, the round letters are open and circular, and there are very few ligatures or abbreviations. The letters themselves have breathing space, instead of being scrunched up together like "old-fashioned" Gothic lettering. The most distinctive letter of this hand is the letter 'g', made with two circles, either drawn separately, or made from a swooping pen-stroke.  Serifs are flat at the bottom of the letters and at the top of the letter D; the top serifs on L, H, and T are angled.  H and B are seen in either flat or sloped.  Tall S is used, and Y can be dotted or not.  R is found as both the full r like we learn to write in school, and as the "half R" seen in many Gothic scripts. The letter I is "dotted" with a thin slash.

    Various Gs of Humanist hand

    The lines of humanist are about 12 pen widths apart, lots of room for the tall ascenders and long descenders!  The minimum letters are 5 pen widths tall.  Tall letters are 10 pen widths tall.  This means that the ascenders of a line will crowd into the "personal space" of the descenders in the line above, to the tune of about 3 pen widths. The letter T is, like all medieval Ts, the same height as, or just one pen width taller than, the minimum letters.  For those of you lining the medieval way (with just a base line) the letters float about a pen width above your ruling line (as you can see in the bottom line in the example directly above.)  The pen angle is between 20 degrees and 35 degrees from horizontal.

    The Challenge

    For the month of February, we will all be practicing this hand together! If you're unfamiliar with this hand, try picking a clear image from a digital manuscript and copying it. You can see a gallery of manuscripts with Humanist lettering on Boot Camp's Pinterest Album devoted specifically to the Humanist hand.  Check out some of the other links listed for a more in-depth discussion of the development and history of this fascinating hand!

    Happy lettering!

    On behalf of the Calligraphy Boot Camp team,
    Baroness Estelle de la Mer, Midrealm Signet

    Posted Feb 20, 2015, 5:35 AM by Kristen Gilpin
  • January 2015 Challenge: Insular Majuscule.

    Welcome to the January 2015 challenge in the Scribal Boot Camp!

    This month we are working on Insular Majuscule.

    Insular Majuscule is a beautiful round and very distinct script.  According to Marc Drogin’s “Medieval Calligraphy – Its History and Technique” Insular Majuscule was used from the 6thcentury through the 9th century.  It comes from Roman Half-Uncial brought to Ireland by St Patrick himself.  St Patrick’s followers used that half uncial and over time it was modified and became Insular Majuscule as we know it today.  It has many other names some of which are Irish Uncial, Irish Half-Uncial, Insular Uncial and other less common terms.

    The most famous example of Insular Majuscule is “The Book of Kells” which can be found scanned in entirely online at:


    The Book of Durrow is perhaps the oldest Manuscript of Insular Majuscule.  More information and pictures can be found at:


    Of course to finish off the big three Insular Majuscule Manuscripts we must also look at the Lindesfarne Gospel.

    Key features of this script are the pronounced “beak serrifs” and the flat (zero degree) pen angle along with the very open round lettering.  As with all Majuscule scripts there are no smaller versions of letters, though some letters do have more than one way to write them.  To write this script on a flat surface I turn the page 90 degrees on its side and write up, otherwise my hand hurts.  I do not have this issue writing on a slanted surface.

    This is one of the most beautiful, most recognizable scripts we still see being used today, even if it is often at Irish bars.  You can find a ductus of how to write this script on page 111 of Marc Drogin’s “Medieval Calligraphy – Its History and Technique”.  But don’t stop there.  Try working from one of the three greats!

    This month's challenge hosted by Ian the Green.

    Image: The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f145v (Trinity College Library, Dublin)

    Posted Dec 31, 2014, 9:53 AM by Kristen Gilpin
  • December Challenge: Happy Holidays
    Happy December to all calligraphers! Sorry for the slight delay but I am sure this month is complex and busy for many of us. As such, we will not be starting a new hand until January. However, we still have a challenge for you.

    Your challenge is: 

    Use one of the three hands we have covered so far (Gothic Blackletter, Carolingian, or Bâtarde) and create a holiday gift or greeting card for someone. Pick something you have wanted to calligraph or be inspired by the season. Quotes, song lyrics, greeting cards, bookmarks and more. Once you finish your piece, take a photograph and post it to the Facebook group SCA Calligraphy Boot Camp to share with your fellow calligraphers.

    This holiday season, let's give the gift of calligraphy. Write beautifully, my friends.

    Giving Thanks

    Also, a brief note of thanks to those who have worked on this project. 

    The small idea I had to start a calligraphy club for the scribes of Trimaris could not have become a Society wide viral event without the remarkable research, overview, ideas, insights, and thoughtfulness of Baroness Estelle de la Mer (Skye Matthews-Savage). Estelle has been remarkable to work with and is an extraordinary lady!

    Thanks also to the other project admins. This would not be such a success without you! I thank you for all of your hard work and the hours you have put in and at the same time would like to thank you in advance for all of the hours you will put in over the months to come.
    • Lady Aemilia Rosa (Amy Nardone)
    • Mistress Fingualla inghen Alisdair OP(Susan Gibeault)
    • Mistress Milesenda de Borges OL (Lana Tessler)
    • THL Katerinka Lvovicha of the Two Kingdoms (Kat Toomajian)
    • THL Moreg Cochrane (Jennifer Shipman)
    • Lord Alexandre Saint Pierre (Jamin Brown)
    Thank you also to the (as of the writing of this missive) 699 participants in the SCA Calligraphy Boot Camp. I'm so glad we could all find each other and share in the love, frustration, creativity and clawed hands of calligraphy!

    In service and with thanks,

    Baroness Maol Mide ingen Medra OL, OP (Kristen Gilpin)

    Image credit: Snowball fight depicted for December in a medieval calendar (Oxford Bodleian Douce 135).

    Posted Dec 4, 2014, 3:30 PM by Kristen Gilpin
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