The Artistic Process

I have a degree in Architecture, and about a year before I graduated, I realized I was not suited to the field. I’m a draftsman and a technical artist, not an Artist. A large part of why I love drawing Heraldry is that it lets me use my skills as a designer, and I can trace any art that I cannot draw on my own.

Drawing Heraldry has helped me become more of a graphic designer and an artist. After five years as an Art Herald, I’m starting to understand how an Artist thinks and Designs.

In college, one of the concepts that confused me was the “Artistic Process.” Teachers kept asking to see my Process, and I’d be confused and explain that I was trying to design spaces that would best fit the needs of whoever was living or working there. As I was designing this prop, a wooden pallet to reflect my status as the new Pallet Herald, I finally wrapped my head around what the Artistic Process is.

Process is how the design changes and adapts as the Art is created.

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My first step was finding clip art of an artist’s pallet, and printing it on a full sheet of paper. I cut out the shape and played with it before deciding it was too small to display my badge and the paint blobs. So I adjusted the size and shape of the pallet, making sure the grip indent and hole for my thumb remained the same.

This image below shows how I was played with the pallet size. The thin blue line is the size of a list tree shield. I used my flexible curve to increase the size of the pallet by tracing the original print out, and then putting the curve on the outer edge. I did this three times.

I used D-rings to see how much space I would need for each paint blob. D-rings are leatherworking hardware, and I had a bag of them on hand. They were about the right size for my paint blobs, so I used them as a layout tool.
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Once I had the spacing set, I used a leatherworking O-ring to draw circles for the paint blobs. I also folded the paper design in half, so I could be sure the hammer that’s my Personal Badge would be properly centered on the pallet.

This is an example of how the greatest difference between looking professional and slipshod is planning. Small things like folding a paper in half to find the center, or laying out designs on graph paper literally make the difference between a thing looking professional instead of slipshod. This is the reason I have a tag called graph paper solves everything.

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After I traced the paint blob placement in pencil, I had the challenge of not making them look like perfect circles. Making things look irregular is trickier that it appears. After some fiddling, I decided to just make little circles with my brush until I had blobs of color. After the paint was dry, I took a white eraser and carefully removed my pencil lines.

Each of the colors on my pallet are used in Heraldry: Gules [red], Argent [white], Or [gold], Vert [green], Azure [blue], Purpure [purple], and Sable [black]. Pink, orange, and brown are almost never used in Heraldry. Grey and silver are both considered Argent [white].

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After I painted my blobs and my hammer badge, I took a step back and really looked at the pallet. When I had only put the blobs of paint on my pallet, the rest of the wood was bare, and the unused space was not problematic. But after I added my hammer, the edge of the pallet looked bare and out of place.

This is where the Artistic Process comes in. I saw the empty space standing out, so I used my flexible curve to draw some guidelines for adding text. I lettered the pallet in the font I’ve created, which references the Norse Futhark Runes while still being readable Roman characters.

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Frack! Paint is supposed to go on the pallet, not on my hands! This is why painters wear smocks.

As I was putting the letters on my pallet, I realized “Pallet Herald – of the East Kingdom” was passive voice. I changed my pencil lettering to “Pallet Herald – Kingdom of the East.”

After the painting was done, I put a coat of polyurethane over the entire pallet to seal it. Because I am the klutz who has dropped and entire horn of coffee over everything.

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Forms of Greek Dress

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I have a degree in Architecture, and when I was a student I hoped to work as a historical or restoration architect. I ended up in the publishing industry, and the graphic design and drafting skills I learned are mostly applied to heraldic art and the design and creation of clothing and armor. I found a series of images showing how to pin and drape various forms of Greek dress, and I was surprised at how the Doric and Ionic chitons corresponded to their column capitols.

I made mnemonic devices to help me remember the three types of column capitols:

The Doric Order is simple and square, and I like to think of it as the Dumpy Order.

The Ionic Order looks like a scroll, and is often used in libraries and universities. My favorite history teacher liked to say, “It’s ironic that they didn’t know Ionic,” and knowledge is full of irony.

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The Corinthian Order is the fanciest, and it looks like carved leaves springing from the top of the column. Since the Corinthian’s detail is often used in state and country Capitol buildings. In America, the founding fathers like to carve Corinthian leaves in the shape of corn and tobacco, because these plants are native to North and South America.

This image is from a Vignola illustration published in 1640.  I cropped this version to highlight the differences in the column capitols.

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Now to address the pointof this post: Greek Dress for men and women. Much like the simplicity of the Doric Order, the Dorian Chiton (pronounced KY-tin) is constructed from two folded cloth rectangles, and is held together with two pins and a cord around the waist. This is comfortable to wear in the heat of Pennsic.

 

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The Ionian Chiton is fancier than its Doric counterpart. Because it does not require a folded over front, the Ionian requires less fabric than the Doric.

This chiton is also comfortable to wear at Pennsic.  I prefer buttons and small loops of fabric instead of buttonholes, both for the look of the garment and because buttonholes are annoying to make.

In contrast, men wore the Peplos (left) and the Himation (right). The peplos can be worn instead of the chiton, and is belted at the waist. The himation can be worn over the the peplos or chiton. It can be made of a heavier material, and pulled over the head to form a hood in bad weather.

 

A Tale of Two Chinstraps

PaintedHelmMany of my blog posts are dedicated to the sport of Heavy List fighting. The Society for Creative Anachronisms counts its members in hundreds of thousands, with roughly ten to twenty percent are fighters. This means not many sports equipment items are mass produced (aside from repurposed hockey and lacrosse gear). Fighters spend a lot of time creating, maintaining, and modifying their gear.

Heavy List helms are often the most expensive part of a fighter’s armor kit. This is my helm, made by my friend Hjalmar. He makes simple, solid, inexpensive helms and is willing to do a small amount of custom work for a bit extra. If you’re wondering why I have an oddly shaped “F” on my helm, it’s me being geeky. That rune is Ansuz, which is an “A” in the Old Norse alphabet. I chose it because I enjoy having a Viking version of Captain America’s helm. This is my creative anachronism.

Enough about my helm. This is a post about chin straps. Chin straps are a small part of a fighting kit, and they’re easy to not think about. I was fighting Duke Brennan in a tournament last year, and my helm slid off because I didn’t have a secure chin strap. I hope to live that down someday, but in the meantime I have put a lot of thought into chin strap designs. The photo shows my three piece chinstrap on the left, and the single piece chinstrap on the right.

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I created a PDF of the patterns by scanning the graph paper design I used for these two types of straps:   VedardottirChinStraps

WordPress does not display a preview PDFs,  so here is a small screen capture of the file.

When you print the PDF, be sure to choose the option that allows the PDF to expand to fill the entire page. “Fit to page” is the key phrase on most printers.

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Making your chinstrap will require a 5×8″ piece of leather that is as thick as a leather belt. You will need rivets and an anvil in addition to the tools described in my post Beginning Sewing and Leather Working.

 

leathertapedI cut the pattern out and placed it on the leather. Next, I taped the pattern onto the leather with masking tape. This keeps the pattern from sliding off the smooth leather as it is cut.

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Finally, punch the holes, then fold the leather over and rivet it together. This photo shows the loops of the more complicated chin strap. The strap cut from a single piece of leather simply folds over.

A Herald Stick for Crown Tournament

The SCA holds a Crown Tournament twice a year, in the fall and spring. The winner and their consort then become the Royal Heirs, and six months later they are crowned royalty. This puts a lot of pressure on the Heavy List fighters who compete, and can be dangerous if the spectators stand too close. To keep everyone safe, the combat spaces are marked by waist-high ropes, and Marshals sometimes need to place their staff against the back of a fighter’s armor and loudly tell them, “This is the Edge of the World!”

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In addition to the Marshals, Voice Heralds will be the only people on the fields who are not in armor. Many of them wear white and carry a one- or two-foot white painted Herald Stick. As both a Heavy List fighter and a Herald, I wanted my Herald Stick to be close to the length of a Marshal Stick, but painted white instead of a Marshal’s yellow-and-black. I bought a heavy duty hardwood closet pole to become my stick.
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I wanted my stick to have rounded ends, like a larger version of the normal herald sticks. I had a drywall plane left over from another woodworking project, so I used it to take the edges off of my stick. I could have used a carving knife or a rasp, but this was faster.

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This is how I started to cut the curve out of the top of my stick, working hard to make the top curve, and lightly taking the wood away farther from the top.

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This is the rough shape of the top of the staff. I deliberately left a bit of the purple end marking on the very top, to show just how much material was cut away.

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Here is the rounded stick top after I used sandpaper to even out the rough edges. I prefer a smooth curve.

Once both ends were rounded, I put the stick on newspaper and sprayed primer on it. After the primer dried, I gave the entire stick a coat of white paint.8

 

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Most herald sticks are just plain white, but I wanted my stick to have my name on it. So I put masking tape on both sides of the stick, to keep the writing neat and even.

This is written in the Elder Futhark runes, and says, “Skald Þórý Veðardóttir”. A skald is a Norse poet and historian, a proclaimer of deeds and a teller of tales.

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After I completed this project, I ended up wandering around to campfires in the evenings and reciting Sassafrass’ Futhark Song (and some of their other songs, as well.) I realized it was far more fun and educational to be able to show each rune I was talking about. So I stripped the sealer off of the back of my Herald Stick and painted all twenty-four letters on it. I also included the English equivalents.

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Better Sunglasses in a Helm

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Last year I made a post about wearing sunglasses in a helm. Since then, I’ve bought a new helm, and my old sun protection was not covering as much as I needed. So I bought some film intended for blacking out car windows, and then worked on how to secure it in my helm.

This project is fairly simple, and makes use of the leather working tools I describe in my post Beginning Sewing and Leather Working.

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The band that held my old sunglasses on my head kept slipping off, so I needed a way to attach the sun protection directly to my helm. I took industrial grade velcro (which has adhesive) and covered the interior of the eye openings with it. I made absolutely sure that the velcro inside my helm was the soft kind! The rough half of the velcro is attached to my new sun shades.

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I needed a way to attach the film to my helm. Since this project needed to be durable and fraying fabric would be a problem, I decided this project would incorporate leather working instead of sewing. I made a pattern by folding a piece of paper in half and tracing the eye opening with a pencil.

If your helm doesn’t have a conveniently traceable set of eye holes, I encourage you to decide how far down you need sun protection, and make the edges of the leather at that point. If you’re working alone, tape the folded paper over one eye, look in a mirror, and decide how far down to make the lower edge. You probably won’t need to have the sun shade past the tip of your nose.

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Folding the paper in half allows me to make us of bilateral symmetry. Or in plain English, folding the paper in half and cutting out the design makes it look professional because both halves of the design are identical. Here is the pattern on my helm.

While I was making these sun shades, I kept checking the work in progress against the helm. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in making a thing that small mistakes can produce an item that’s ultimately unusable.

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There’s a saying about how you should “measure twice and cut one.” I measure about four or five times just to be sure I have everything correct for each stage of the project.

Here’s the leather that will become the backing of my sun shades. It leaves the eye holes open to maximize my shaded field of view.

IMG_20170925_172353Next, I took my leather pattern and put it down on graph paper. Once I traced the outline, it was easy enough to guesstimate the center of the leather. On that penciled line I marked every two squares (which is every half inch) so that the punched holes for my thread would be regular. You can see how I miscounted on the lower left side, and crossed off a few hole notations.

One question I’m often asked is, why do I go to such an effort to make my gear look professional? It’s just for my use and nobody will be looking at it as closely as I am. I have several reasons. First, being in the habit of making things with care means that when I receive a commission, my work will look good. Second, a large part of why I receive creative commissions is because I go to such lengths to make my work look good. (I hope I’ve accurately shown this in my blog. In many ways, this is my portfolio!)

Finally, the most important reason I take such care is strength and durability. With this sun shade, if I punched the leather anywhere I felt like, some stitches would be farther from the edges than other, and those irregularities lead to weak points and to the eventual breakdown of my work. Since I’m putting this much effort into my craft projects, I don’t want to be endlessly repeating the same projects.

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Enough of the soap box. Once I had my pattern set, I cut it out of the plastic shade film and taped sharp-side-out velcro onto both the film and the leather. Notice how I taped everything down to the cutting mat.

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The shade film was slippery, so I needed to secure it with a lot of masking tape before I started punching holes.

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Once the holes were punched, I took the pattern layer off. You can see some of the holes I punched in the tape.

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I left the tape attached until I was ready to stitch all of the layers of my sun shades together.

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The layers: velcro, shade film, and just barely visible leather backing it all. The shade film is flimsy, so the leather is as much structural as it is a measure of comfort in my helm.

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Here is the completed  back side. It’s easier to see the stitches here. I close brown leather to make the stitches visible.

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Finally, here is what my helm looks like with the sun shades in place. My final challenge is to remember to have a picture taken when I’m wearing it!

Beginning Sewing and Leather Working

Before I explain how to create clothing and accessories from fabric and leather, I will explain what tools are required for each craft. There are entire industries built around selling tools and supplies for sewing and working leather, but most beginners’ projects require nothing more than a good pattern, careful planning, and time.

Here is a comparison of the tools needed to begin sewing fabric verses what is needed to begin working with leather.

Sewing Fabric Working Leather
Tools: fabric, scissors, needle, thread, pins, iron, chalk, ruler, graph paper, pencil Tools: leather, utility knife, cutting mat, needle, thread or cord, leather punches, rubber or wooden mallet, masking tape, metal ruler, graph paper, felt tip pen
What not to buy: a sewing machine. Learn how fabric, seams, and an iron are used to shape and form projects. What not to buy: a starter kit. Many of the included tools will not be used. Punches, cutting tools, and cord will be enough for most projects.
Materials: scrap fabric is easy to obtain. Sheets from Goodwill make excellent fabric mockups, which are called ‘muslins’. Materials: scrap leather is harder to find and more expensive than fabric. Leather jackets from Goodwill and stripping leather couches on the side of the road are inexpensive options.
Mistakes: easily corrected, but fraying is an issue. Multiple seams are needed to prevent fraying. Mistakes: harder to correct, but fraying is never an issue. One seam per edge is usually enough.
Teachers: someone in the local SCA group will know how to sew, and can explain the basics. Teachers: there might be someone who can teach leather working in the SCA group. If not, ask for lessons on the FaceBook groups, and be prepared to drive to an event or someone’s house.

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Here are my basic sewing tools. I also have an ironing board. If you don’t have the space for a board or cannot afford one, laying a clean towel on top of a table will give you a reasonable ironing surface. The iron is critical because it presses seams, making projects look professional.

 

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In contrast, these are my basic leather working tools. I find the metal triangular ruler extremely helpful for working leather because it lets me align and cut right angles. Note that my cutting mat is grey. You may find blue or green mats in sewing stores, but these are intended for fabric cutting and should not be used with a leather punch or a utility knife.

Making a Heraldic Plushie

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One of the silly things I’ve seen SCA members do is buy (or make) plushies of their Heraldry. Since my Heraldry is a silver winged cat, I doubt I’ll be able to buy an off-the-shelf plushie anytime soon.

After some thought, I realized I could just get a white cat plushie and find a similar bird or bat plushie to use for wings. Since Beanie Babies are small and made from similar materials, I was able to find a white cat and a swan on eBay cheaply. (When I posted about this on my FaceBook, someone mentioned the swan plushie is often given red sequins and presented to a new Pelican.)

A little work with a thread and needle, and I give you Argent, my Winged Lioness plushie. I also decided to make her a collar with my badge, since she should be identifiable as one of my possessions. Badges are the Heraldic equivalent of saying, “This is mine.”