Drawing a Dozen Different Dragons

Much of this blog is dedicated to the Heraldry I draw for specific clients. Aside from the Pennsic Reference Boards, I haven’t talked about the hours I spend at Pennsic and at home, consulting on heraldic art via Oscar and the Baby Heralds FaceBook group.

In addition to that, I am the Herald who envisioned the newest version of the Traceable Heraldic Art Project. Not long after I began working on it, Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin stepped in to help. He has software that can convert line art into vector art, and the server space to host HeraldicArt.org.

Vector art is different from scans of line drawings because it is scaleable. If you take a photograph to a copy shop and make it twice as large, some of the details will blur due to the limitations of the DPI (Dots Per Inch) of the photo. Vector art is different because it can be enlarged and shrunk on a computer and not become blurry.

Making the new Traceable Art in vector format allows the artwork to be reproduced at any size or scale, from combat shields to banners and tabbards or list tree shields. Vector art allows people to have artwork that is more complicated than they can draw.

This project is enormous. It incorporates most of the Pennsic Traceable Art, as well as all the backgrounds for heraldic shields (called Field Divisions). Additionally, we are including heraldic artwork created by artists around the world.

One set of artistic compilations was created in 1994 by Herald Torric inn Bjarni. His work is incredibly detailed, but his use of shading and hatching are difficult to translate into vector art. One of my tasks as an artist is to take his artwork and turn it into drawings that are easily converted to vectors. This is a huge task, because he compiled his drawings in a way to save space and paper, often using dashed lines and small notes to indicate how alternate versions of a creature would be drawn. These are scans from a few of his drawings.


I have scanned these versions of dragons, and the other pieces that allow different variants to be drawn. The dragon has four legs, while the wyvern has only two. Additionally, Torric made notes on basilisks and cockatrices, which I also drew. These combinations resulted in drawing a baker’s dozen different variations of the same dratted dragon.

DragonsSittingHere are the first two dragons. The dragon on the left is Sejant, or in a seated pose.

The dragon on the right is Sejant Erect, or sitting with a raised limb.




In contrast, these two wyverns have only two legs. They are also displayed as Sejant and Sejant Erect.



With Torric’s note of the cockatrice head and the beginning of wings in the thumbnail drawing, I was able to piece together drawings. A cockatrice is a wyvern with the head of a cock.



A basilisk  is only different from a cockatrice because it has a dragon’s head at the end of its tail.


After drawing eight pictures of similar creatures, I was delighted to draw these dragons Couchant, or crouching. The right dragon is Coucant Erect, or crouching with one limb raised.


And here are another two versions of the Couchant dragons, with their wings folded. Having many variations of heraldic animals can be helpful when artists are placing images within limited space.


Finally, here is the dragon Dormant, or sleeping. The Hogwarts motto “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus” seems appropriate here, since you should never tickle a sleeping dragon.DragonDormant





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!”


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.

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.



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.


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.


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



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.


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.



Making a Heraldic Plushie

Winged Lioness Rampant
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.”


All About Paint

paint2Mundanely, I went to school for Architecture. I took a number of artistic classes including photography and painting. I fell in love with acrylic paint, which was fast-drying, easy to work with, and could be cleaned with water. I have artistic friends who swear by oil paint. (I tend to swear at oil paint because it takes days to dry!)

While acrylics were nice, they had a tendency to crack and chip if applied to a flexible surface. My LARP interests drew me to Liquitex Paint, which is flexible when dry. Panther Primitive Tents recommend Liquitex Paint for adding details to their canvas tents. They recommend  watering down the Liquitex to a ratio of three parts water to one part paint.

pursewipAlso, this stuff keeps indefinitely. Back in 2009, I was planning to attend the World Science Fiction Convention is Montreal. Author Seanan McGuire was also attending, and I’d been chatting with her via LiveJournal for about a year. I really wanted to make her a piece of Fan Art to thank her for making me giggle with silly posts. She said she loved the color orange and My Little Pony, so I painted a pony onto a purse I bought secondhand. This was the base coat: I’d printed a pony picture, cut it out, and traced the outline with paint.

pursedoneThis is the finished purse. I painted white highlights over Applejack’s hair, and added a black outline. This is exactly the same technique I use to paint heraldry onto shields. In fact, the bottle of yellow paint in this photo is the same one I’m using today. (The white bottle gave up its ghost for the Pennsic Heraldry Boards.)

Painting is fun; it’s like tracing with a brush. And if you mess up with Liquitex, just take a piece of damp paper towel to the bad section, remove the offending paint, and draw the lines again. Painting isn’t hard; it’s tricky. Knowing the tricks makes all the difference between the work of a novice verses a master.

Choosing Your Heraldry

The SCA is a complex game based on history. We create personas that might have lived in the Middle Ages, giving them names, backgrounds, and the heraldry they might have displayed. Choosing heraldry for your persona is complex, and deeply personal. Consider your heraldry with the same care and thought as you might choose a tattoo: this is a piece of artwork that will define who you are in the Society. Armory can be changed, but like removing a tattoo, it takes time and money.

The two biggest things to consider when you register your heraldry are:

  1. How easily can someone identify your heraldry?
  2. Is it different enough from everyone else’s heraldry?

Heraldry is the oldest form of Identifying Friend or Foe. Battles are loud, confusing, and messy. If you saw a person running toward you on the battlefield, you would have seconds to see their shield, identify the heraldry, and know if that was your ally or enemy. This is why heraldry should be as simple as possible, while still standing out.

Creating heraldry that stands out relies on color contrast. This means you put light things on dark things, or dark things on light things. To make this easier, heralds recognize two metals, gold and silver, which are drawn as yellow and white. Metals go on colors, and colors go on metals. The colors heralds recognize are Red, Green, Blue, Purple, and Black. Almost all heraldry has a white or gold component, and at least one color.

Think about what colors you want for your heraldry. Many people choose garb based on their heraldic colors, much like the costumes seen in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. What colors suit you? Storm clouds of silver and blue? Bumblebee yellow and black? Green with silver snakes?

Next, consider what animals, shapes, or objects you most identify with. Do you love your blacksmith’s anvil? Wolves? Swords? Owls? Or do you have a funny story about how you pulled a flaming chicken off the stove while cooking a Feast? Come up with an idea for your heraldry, and heralds will adjust it to meet registration requirements.

capshieldOnce you have an idea for your Heraldic Design, All The Rules come into play. One of the big rules is that you can only have three “layers” on heraldic “cake:” the background, and two more layers on top of it. Backgrounds can be a single color, or divided into two or three colors, and backgrounds can be patterns. For example, Captain America’s shield is red, with a silver double border around a blue circle and a silver star. The background is red, the silver border and the blue circle are on the second layer, and the silver star is the third layer. Notice how the blue and the red fade don’t pop out as much? The silver border and the star are easier to see because they have high contrast. I love Cap’s shield, it but wouldn’t be registerable because of the blue and red.

After the design is worked out, your intended heraldry must be Conflict Checked. The College of Heralds has a database of all the Registered Heraldry, Badges, the Arms of every Kingdom, Barony, and Shire, and all of the designs for their Awards. It’s a lot, but there are so many color and design combinations that no matter what you want, you probably will have no conflicts , or only conflict with a few people. This is why you will often hear Scadiens say things like, “Oh, I wanted a silver lion for my heraldry, but I had to make it a winged lion to clear conflict.” Adding wings, an aquatic tail, or a border around your design are common ways to clear conflicts.

Once your Consulting Herald has checked for conflicts, they will find an Art Herald to draw your heraldry. That paperwork is submitted for consideration online, where a lot of Heralds can look at it, comment on it, triple-check that there are no conflicts, and make sure your device isn’t offensive. Giant phalli and swastikas were period, but they are not acceptable to modern eyes.

After you have assembled your heraldry, name, and documentation, you will need to submit the paperwork to your kingdom’s submissions herald. Unless you are at a large event like Pennsic, this will involve mailing the paperwork in addition to the processing fee. Fees vary by Kingdom.

Please be aware that you can register your name alone, but you cannot register your heraldry alone. All registered heraldry must be accompanied by a name. This lets the Heralds post your heraldry for consideration without mentioning your legal name.

Final Thoughts:
Don’t worry if your heraldry is something you can’t draw. An Art Herald will be drawing your design and scanning it for commentary. You can keep a copy of the scan and enlarge it to fill a page, or even split the drawing and print it on multiple pages taped together. Cut it out, trace it onto your shield, and Blam! You can paint your heraldry!

When you go to register your heraldry, it will be referred to as your “device.” Your heraldry will not be referred to as your “arms” until you have been granted an Award of Arms (AoA) by your Kingdom. The Award of Arms is usually the first award a newcomer is given, and it sometimes takes two or three years to receive this. Don’t worry if you haven’t received this award yet. You can still display your heraldry however you would like.

Badges don’t fall under the Award of Arms rule because badges don’t care. Badges are quick and simple to draw. Badges just identify your stuff, and are easy to clear of conflict if they are fieldless. (Fieldless means that the badge has a “clear” background. Any fieldless submission automatically had one step of difference from every other registered device, which makes conflict checking easy.)  Many people believe they don’t need no stinking badges, and just put their heraldry on their stuff.

What’s in a (Heraldic) Name?

The SCA is a very complex game based on history. We create personas that might have lived in the Middle Ages, giving them names and backgrounds. Choosing a name for your persona is complex, and deeply personal.

When looking for a name, knowing the rough time period and culture you would like is key. The things you should consider are often related to what brought you into the SCA. Do you love to shoot arrows? Fight? Fence? Dance? Cook? And archer might have an English persona. A fencer would probably lean towards a late period Italian or French persona. A fighter might prefer a Viking or Roman persona. When in doubt, earlier period is simpler in terms of clothing, armor, and accoutrements.

Once you have a culture and time period, ask a Herald for name resources. There are many SCA websites like the Viking Answer Lady with lists of names and their meanings.

When you look for a name, please don’t start at the front of the alphabet. There are more names beginning with “A” than any other letter in the Society for this reason. Your name should be your own. Flip around. Pick a few letters. Look at “I” and “K” and “T” names. Check out the end of the alphabet.

When you have a few names you might consider, show them to your friends. Ask how they would say those name. Think about ways that name could be mispronounced. If you have a name with unusual characters, coming up with a mnemonic for pronunciation is helpful. My name, Þórý, is often mispronounced “Poury,” so my mnemonic is that my name is said like “Hooray!” with more Thor.

If you don’t want a period name, the Legal Name Allowance may be helpful. The Heralds will register one component of your legal name, be it you first, last, or middle name. The reason only one component of your name can be registered is because you are not your persona.

Once you have a first name, you will need to choose a last name and/or a place of origin. Both parts of your name need to be documentable within 300 years of each other, from the same culture or from cultures that interacted with each other. You could have an English/French name, but a French/Japanese one is not registerable.

Locations are interesting because you can be from a place in history or from your local SCA group. If you want to be from a historical place, you must provide period documentation of that place’s name, because spellings can change over time. If you want to register a locative of an SCA group, that group must have registered its name.

Finally, if you don’t want to go through the process of choosing a name and surname, you can always register “[First Name] of [your local group].” This is sometimes called a “holding name” and can be important if you submit your name and device together, but for some reason your name doesn’t pass the registration process.

Once you have assembled your name and its documentation, you will need to submit the paperwork to your kingdom’s submissions herald. Unless you are at a large event like Pennsic, this will involve mailing the paperwork and a processing fee. Fees vary by Kingdom.

List Tree Shields


Twice a year in the spring and fall, each Kingdom in the SCA hosts Crown Tournament. This happens a few weeks after the Coronation of the new King and Queen, and determines who the next Prince and Princess will be. (My home, the East Kingdom, has not yet had a Queen by Right of Arms, or two monarchs of the same gender. Yet!)

Crown Tournaments will usually host between forty and eighty competitors and their consorts. Combatants are divided into pools, usually with the top two or four advancing to the next round. The period way to display who would be fighting where is to use list trees with small shields displaying the competitors’ arms.

This is when my work as an Armory Herald really makes a difference, and why it is so important for fighters to have Registered Devices with the SCA College of Heralds. While fighters are allowed to compete in Crown without registering their name and arms with the Heralds in the East Kingdom, they are strongly encouraged to register before the tournament.


These are the arms of my friend Þórin Úlfsson: Azure, a dragon and a stallion combatant argent.

When he asked to fight for me at Crown Tournament in November, I insisted that he and I submit his name and arms as soon as possible. They are currently working their way through the registration process, and should pass before Pennsic 46.

This list tree shield is 10″ by 12″.



In contrast, these are the arms of my friend and first Heavy List instructor, Baron Wulfhere of Stonemarche: Per fess argent and sable, a wolf’s head erased contourny and a clenched gauntlet counterchanged.

I made his a list tree shield because he left his at home  last Crown Tourney. I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. He may think I’m being silly, but I feel like arriving at the tournament without your shield tree is only slightly better than arriving without your helm!