Author Archives: The Scribes

Pictures of the Illumination Process

Alison traces the outline of the text page.

Paint pigments before yolk binder was added.

Finished paints and page before full illumination.

As the Illumination Process Comes to an End

The illumination of one full-page image and one page of text is nearing an end. Yes, the goal was three and it has again been edited down to fit into the time line. Many challenges and interesting observations were made during the process.

These include:

  • Creating straight lines with the ink was particularly hard. Lines have to be made free hand, as using a ruler smudges the ink.
  • Keeping the ink a consistent thickness takes lots of practice. For this reason, thin lines had to be eliminated as they blended into each other.
  • Ink and paints are very runny and require a flat surface to avoid pooling of colours.
  • Dry time for the black ink is short, however the paints can take close to an hour depending on how heavy they were applied.
  • Ideally, the page should be completed in sections to avoid smudging the ink as it dries. Smudging is a major issue and once done can not be fixed.



For attaching the leather to the boards of the case, we have decided to use rabbit hide glue. It is somewhat more likely that the original glue would have been made by processing parchment scraps, making hide glue of some sort. Many types of animal were used for making parchment and glue, though rabbit is less likely than cow or sheep. Rabbit hide glue has been preferred by painters and violin makers for many years in history, many still using it exclusively. In the seventh century, there were rabbits present throughout what is now the U.K., if not with the population of modern times, and it seems likely to me that they would have made use of their little bodies. Rabbit hide glue was the only glue available that did not necessitate the purchasing of a very large quantity. It was purchased at Island Blue, where there is a man working that thinks I am sweet. He is allergic to bananas.

Egg Yolk Binder

For the paint, we created an egg yolk binder.


  1. Separate the yolk from egg white.
  2. Gently place egg yolk on paper towel.
  3. Carefully roll it around, drying off the membrane, until all egg white is gone.
  4. Using thumb and first two fingers, very gently pick up yolk and hold over container.
  5. With a small sharp object, pierce the bottom of the yolk and squeeze out contents. Discard empty membrane.
  6. Add two teaspoons of water for each yolk and stir.

Binder is now ready to be mixed into paint and used!

The recipe is not as easy as it sounds. Keeping the membrane from bursting is the greatest challenge. It is particularly vulnerable as you separate the yolk from the egg whites, as well as when you are drying off the egg whites from the membrane using a paper towel.

Two eggs were set aside for this process and produced more binder than needed for illuminating two pages.



Yoga Breaks for Scribes

Illuminating the manuscript is intensely taxing work. The arms, back, neck and eyes are particularly strained. I cringe at the thought of what it must have been like to produce these pages without my comfy chair and electric lighting.

I think medieval scribes would have benefited from something like this:

Testing the Quill Pen

On a scrap of parchment we tested the modern nib pen (its the closeted nib shape to a quill that we could find, because apparently you can’t buy a quill in this town). The nib end of the nib is rounded and bent to create a tip that isn’t pointed and sharp like out modern nibs which would scratch the surface of the parchment. The only major difference between our modern nib and a feather quill, besides the materials, is that we wouldn’t have to re-sharpen the metal nib, whereas you do have to re-sharpen a quill with a sharp knife.

(For more quill information see:  Making of Illuminated Manuscripts 2011, Encyclopedia of Art, viewed 24 July, 2011, <;.)

The results:

  • the angle that you hold the pen at determines the width of the line
  • you have to constantly dip you pen in more ink because it runs out quickly due to the fact that the pen doesn’t have an ink reservoir
  • when you first set the pen down on the paper right after you’ve dipped it in ink you have to be careful that it doesn’t create a large ink blot
  • writing and drawing are pretty easy, the nib moves smoothly across the paper
  • although curvilinear forms are challenging to make
  • in order to keep your lines of a consistent thickness, you will have to re-trace them, which is easier with thick lines then it is with thin lines, which is also challenging when you have varying ink levels on your nib and have to concentrate on keeping you pen held at the same angle
  • its hard to create perfectly straight lines

Fun, but time consing and challenging. It would take a lot of practice for a monk to successfully create the complex interlace images and text that are present in the Book of Durrow.

Trying the Pen

Alison trying the quill pen

Sizing the Pages

 We have decided to make our pages the original sizes from the Book of Durrow, which are 24.2 x 15.5 cm. Because of this we have discovered that we didn’t initially purchase enough parchment. I can only imagine how much of a problem this would be for a monk working a scriptorium to not have enough parchment. Apparently a single manuscript could take as many as 300 sheep hides.

We will be folding a piece of parchment in half , which is a technique done in the medieval period with a tool called a bone folder. This allowed the folded pages to be scored and sit flatly without being fully cut apart.

Pictures and reports of our progress to follow…