Medieval Illumination – St Barbara

imageOne of my newest hobbies is illumination.  I did a 4 day course at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in February 2015 and loved it.  I have just created an illumination of St Barbara, based on an original, as a Christmas present  for a friend.  You can read all about St Barbara’s life here:

St Barbara

The image is full of symbolism about her life, including the tower she was kept in and the lightning which struck her father down and killed him.

I started by tracing an image i liked of her.  There were so many to choose from, she must have been a very popular saint.   I then used a cotton pad to rub red bole, a type of clay, on the back of my tracing, and masking tape to lightly stick the tracing on to the paper.  My paper was Fabriano Artistico a special artists paper.  I then traced over the image again with a pencil and it left a red bole outline on my paper.  I asked my teacher why red bole was used and she said because it was traditional!   I prefer it over using pencil to make the tracing.

File 10-12-2015 18 57 53I then used a fine brush to paint gum ammoniac on to the areas that i wanted gold to stick to.  GA is like a glue.  I used a tube of rolled paper to breathe through on to the GA to revive it. This helps the gold to stick.  It took 3 layers of GA to have enough for the gold to stick to.  I used transfer gold. Loose leaf gold is harder to use as the slightest breath can send it flying away (as i found out on my course).  Transfer gold is basically stuck to a sort of paper which makes it easier to apply. I then burnished the gold of her halo with a dog tooth burnisher.  This involved placing a piece of glassine paper over the gold and gently rubbing the burnisher over it.

imageThe square design was more complex than i gave it credit for.  I should have painted within the red lines but unfortunately i didn’t. This would have given me a neater grid more like the original.  But i’m learning as i go.

Once the gold was applied it was time to apply the paint.  Gold will stick to paint as it will to GA, hence why it is gilded first and painted later.  I applied the base colours to start with.

imageI then applied black outlines where needed to outline the figure and the squares.  The drawing really starts to come together at this point.


Next i applied the white highlights which really lift the image.

Finally i applied some shell gold to represent her jewellery and for the extra features of the lightning and star that i had added.  Shell gold is powdered gold with a mordant mixed in (GA i think). It was called shell gold as it was originally sold in shells.  You can buy it or save your gold scraps to make your own.

imageAs she was a present i treated her to her own frame, i adore this one which my local framer did for me.  I really enjoyed making her, and for only the second time ever experienced when creating an image, i really felt that she had created herself under my fingertips.  I have become very attached to my creation but her new owner is very happy with her i think!  It’s lovely creating a gift for someone you know will appreciate it.

Question is, what next!?

About kazhoney

I recently (2018) made a decision to live a more plastic free life. This blog documents my successes and failures and is a way to encourage me on in my move towards a plastic free life.
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