Brandubh Board for Ducal Challenge

I had the honor of using my art to sponsor one of my fighter friends in a tournament. He publicly asked for help and I messaged him a few days later asking if he had any offers yet. He hadn’t so I volunteered. 

The tournament rules were that if you were a fighter, you either had to commission a piece of art or create a piece of art yourself that would then go into the prize pool. I had never participated in this tournament before because it’s quite far from me, and I also didn’t have a great concept of what art is acceptable but I tried anyway. I knew my friend was into board games and I had created my Hnefatafl board in the past so I thought that might be a good jumping point.

Since I’m not actually insane, I decided I wouldn’t do the 11×11 board which has 37 glass pieces which is… a lot. I knew that there were other size boards so that’s where I went looking. I ended up finding an Irish version of the game called Brandubh that used a 7×7 board and only 13 glass pieces. Which seemed perfect for this project.

I had fun creating this but, I really struggled with authenticity. There is this push and pull between creative fun and accurate fun. The original board that I used for inspiration was carved wood with spots for pegs. I think I have an idea for making pegs in the future but I didn’t have the time to try that for this project. 

Brandubh Board found at Ballinderry crannog excavations, 9-11 century, likely from Dublin

Instead of really diving into learning how-to intricately carve wood and make pegged pieces (with more research to figure out what material these may have been made,) I focused on best guesses, aesthetic, and durability — this is meant to be played after all. But, part of me felt like I would be scrutinized for using modern methods and materials even though I know this is not an A&S competition and I volunteered to do this for fun and for the love of my friend. Even with that in my brain, part of me still felt like I was failing. But in the end, I did it the way I planned and I am happy with how it turned out. Part of this journey, I think, is having the right standards for each project on a case-by-case basis.

So, I ended up painting the board with acrylics. I used designs that I found on extant boards but I also took some artistic liberties, including a blue tyger face right in the center of the board. I made glass bead pieces because I knew that they were used in other Tafl boards so it was at least plausible. I wanted this board to be East Kingdom themed so I used lots of purples and yellows which may not be the most historically accurate but it did look pretty sexy, in my opinion. Then I sprayed the board with a sealant to ensure that this would last. That may be the most extra modern thing I did but it would be unfortunate if all the paint chipped.

Finished painted board


**this is not the beginning set-up to the game.**
New unbroken King
New unbroken King

This project really challenged me in a different way. Part of me always wants to do something as accurate as possible but there is a time and place for everything. My sponsored fighter told me he loved the game and was very happy to be entering it into the tournament and he also told me that it was one of the first prizes to go at the end. In this case, what matters is that everyone is happy with the results and I think in that way, I can call this a success!  


Exploding Glass and Other Lessons

Recently, a memory came up on my Facebook of things I’ve learned from beadmaking/lampworking. I posted it about 2 years ago. This is how the list goes:

  1. If a tool or glass has touched the fire… it’s not safe to touch (especially with your mouth) even if it was just in the fire for a second.
  2. Sometimes it’s best to just swear at the glass and walk away.
  3. The fuel always runs out at the worst possible time.
  4. If you don’t protect everything, you will burn something (carpet, table, clothes…).
  5. Sometimes it’s not working because the world wants you to be happy, just accept that.
  6. Some colors suck more than others.
  7. Some colors pretend to be one color but are really another.
  8. Glass likes slow change… not fast or whippy and spinny … this applies to all parts of the process.

I still like my list two years later. All those rules are rules that I learned from experience. Most, but not all, have tragic stories behind them. Some of these mistakes I still make two years later but, I’m still learning everyday. 

But the thing is, I probably could have learned some of these things from someone else’s experience. It’s a fault of mine that I don’t like asking for help and once I commit to something… I commit to it fully. So that leads to a lot of struggle that my friends don’t see. When I first started learning to lampwork, a lot of people praised me for good work. A lot of people made fun that things come easily for me and that I’m good at everything. But what I don’t post about often is the frustrated, crying, mess I am when every single piece of glass I try to slowly warm up shocks and pieces go flying, and hey I melted my pajama pants to my legs because I probably should have worn something safer. Then, since I haven’t had a lot of experience with working with fire, I would pick up the mandrel or a piece of glass still hot because ahhh it’s burning the carpet! Then my fingers are burning and I drop it back down because better the carpet than my hands… Then finally, my partner soothing me by reminding me that I can’t just be good at something immediately, these things take practice and time. And I want to quit. Forever. But I can’t.. Or won’t. I start over again and I keep trying until something works. And that’s the thing I post on Facebook: the final thing that worked. 

So, I have been working on reaching out for help in different areas so I can learn from other people’s mistakes. I’ve also been working on sharing my mistakes so others can learn from me. I don’t just do this from dangerous on fire crafts, but scribal arts, fiber arts, and others as well. 

The thing that drew me to the SCA is that everyone is willing to help everyone succeed. If you want to learn to do something… There is likely someone more than eager to help, you just have to ask around. I know it’s hard to do, trust me I know. But sometimes the hard things are the most rewarding. 

Order of the Tygers Combatant for Juliana de Essex

So there I was, early in the morning on a cool day at Panteria. I was just waking up, still wrapped in blankets in bed, curled up with my partner. I opened my phone and noticed I had an email waiting for me. It was from our Tyger Clerk of the Signet and it was an assignment. Lazily I opened it up because getting an assignment is kind of like getting a present and I needed to know immediately. As I read through the details my excitement started to skyrocket. Female fighter, OTC, I think you might want this one, and then Juliana de Essex. I turned to my partner and gave him a gentle wake-up smack and told him about my assignment. “JULIANA IS GETTING HER OTC!!!!!!! AND I GOT THE ASSIGNMENT!!!!!” 

And from then on, all the way until July when the assignment was due, I was a tornado of panic and excitement. I was not willing to give up the assignment (I didn’t even want to ask her husband if she had preferences or had ever mentioned dream scroll ideas – in case he said she had a preferred scribe). Of course, I did ask him and not only did he give me the information I desired, he seemed happy I got the assignment. 

I’ve had the pleasure to work with Juliana at the PAL practices and at events and I felt we became fast friends. Her persona is early Persian but her husband had mentioned that she might like icons of the sun and Simurgh (a mythological Persian Phoenix). I began my search looking for any manuscript that Simurgh appeared. 

The most promising manuscripts were The Persian Book of Kings (Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp), which was an epic poem (I think 50,000 lines long) written in the 10th century and recreated over and over again. The version I chose was illuminated in the 16th century, a little late for her persona but it fit in every other way. The poem told both mythological and historical stories and this version was lavishly (and I do mean lavishly) illuminated. But, I couldn’t find a complete digitized copy of this manuscript and I became very frustrated in my search. 

I ended up buying a physical copy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s hardcover edition of the book online (a used copy and then I used credit cards points and a gift card because I’m not made of money!) and I have no regrets. This book is incredible, even if I didn’t buy it to use to inspire a scroll, it’s beautiful just to look at! There were a few pages that had Simurgh on it (and it’s my favorite version of him with all his colorful glory!) and I ended up using a fake arabic script – for the very first time – to match the feeling of the words on the page.

The not-so-good – I am ready for my illuminations representing people to start looking like what I picture in my mind. I think this turned out… okay but, there is definitely room for improvement. I know it’s a matter of practice but I really like putting people on scrolls and it always either doesn’t look like it’s in the style of the manuscript or it doesn’t look like the person. It’s a real struggle. I know with practice, this will continue to improve. 

Also, although I think the rocks on the side of the mountain look good, they probably would be improved with more careful blending or a combination of blending and hatching. There is a debate whether the original art was done with hatching or blending the paint or a combination and if I  had good digitized images, I would have a better idea. I do think I captured the feeling of the piece though. 

The good – This was so fun to do! I got to use a wide range of colors and try a new blending technique. I think honestly and truly, the best part of this was how fun it was. But I also liked how the gold turned out – I did an enormous area of gold gouache and I was able to make it look pretty solid. When I lay gold paint I do a layer and no matter how thick I make it, it always seems to look splotchy, so I have started to do two layers with a lot of success. I also liked the finer details on Simurgh like his back feathers and spots. I like the way he looks. 

Other – I tried a new hand, a faux arabic hand that I got from some scribes online. At first I was a little frustrated learning it but I think after some practice, it came out well. I always do a line of calligraphy and hate it but once you get a few lines down it starts to flow together. I tend to like the hands that I can be a little free with and I think this one was great for that. I do think I need to work on my overall spacing of lines. Most manuscripts have lines that either fill out until the end, have spacers, or are consistent in another way. I really wanted to keep Matthew’s words intact because they are awesome** I’m going to type them below I like them that much. FB_IMG_1568389835924

Materials: Gouache, Iron Gall Ink by Ian the Green, Calli red ink, on Bristol

Source: The Persian Book of Kings (Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp), 16th century

Words by Lord Matthew MacGyver


Your majesties, we, your order stand as one

Now baking In Malagentian Sun

Your Tigers Combatant fierce and tested

Admit that some of us are bested 

By How Juliana De Essex finds her fun 


Her arms of brilliant solar rays

Are last seen by many men she slays 

And bruised we turn away to hide

Attempt to save our battered pride 

From that evil spear with which she plays 


King Ozur, Queen fortune to you we plead 

At this the 33rd GNE 

Acknowledge how she has grown stronger

So that she will beat us up no longer  

And perhaps harass the Chivalry


Given this 13th day of July Anno Societatis LIV 

in our Province of Malagentia


Silver Brooch for Alienor Hathaway

This assignment was for someone I had never met (but I have since met!) She is a musician that had been playing in the SCA for a fairly long time but was newish to the East Kingdom. From what I was told, she is very passionate about all things bardic and often is taking classes, teaching classes, visiting bardic circles and encouraging others. I met her for the first time in person recently while she was at a bardic class that was next to the classroom I was teaching my scribal class! 

The inspiration piece I chose was a 16th century choirbook from the Netherlands. I choose a choirbook from this time period because her persona information in the assignment said either 12th century English or Tudor. I went with the latter because a Tudor era choirbook seemed extra appropriate (even if I did not put actual music in this assignment.) 

The not so good: I am still working on small cadels and flourishing to make letters and names stand out. The red definitely makes the important parts stand out (and bonus, it’s pretty appropriate for this style scroll) but I think I need to work on my flourishes to make them fit in better. 

The good: I really enjoy doing this style scroll. I wasn’t sure how it would be without the gold background (on the right side of the piece) but I think it came together nicely. What I really like about it is that even though it’s simple, it looks complete. 



Materials: gouache, iron gall ink by Ian the Green, and Calli red ink on Bristol

Words by Nicol mac Donnchaidh (amazing as always)

Source: Royal 8 G vii

Silver Wheel for Ezekiel of Stonemarche

    When I was asked to do this scroll assignment, I was told a lot about Ezekiel. Everything I learned about this man made me think of him as a pillar of his community and that he should probably already have his silver wheel. I was selfishly glad I got to be the one to do it but this also meant my anxiety was through the roof because I wanted it to be interesting, unique, and exciting and him.

    So, I tried something different. I found out that Ezekiel was interested in merchants, economics, and politics, especially within Italy and the Byzantine Empire. I spent way more time than I am willing to admit researching medieval merchants and travelers (and it was surprisingly difficult to find manuscripts with illuminations in this area of interest). I learned a lot while in my rabbit hole but nothing seemed perfect until…

    …I found some maps that were incredibly intriguing. They were created by a Turkish sailor, admiral, and cartographer Piri Reis. The first maps I came across were really promising but they ended up being copies of his earlier work and out of SCA period. I delved deeper to find his original maps which were drawn in the 16th century. Side note: If you are interested in this stuff at all, you should look into his work. He has some maps that are labeled very mysterious because they showed things that he had no right knowing! 

    So, I found the earlier maps, and in that collection, he had a map of Venice. I thought this would be a good compilation of the things I knew about Ezekiel. 

The not-so-good: I decided that I would try palladium for the first time on this scroll (to make the silver wheel really pop) and I found it fairly difficult to work with. The metal didn’t want to stick to the miniatum like gold would. I have received some tips for next time but it was extremely frustrating at the time. 

The good: I love trying new styles of scrolls. I wanted this to fit the recipient’s interests so I looked for a long time to find something that I thought worked well. I think a map is risky but I’m still glad I did it. To this day, I’m not sure what other styles I could have done that I would have been as satisfying as this one.


Materials: Gold and palladium gilding, gouache, iron gall ink, Calli red ink, on Bristol paper

Inspired by: Kitab-i bahriyye by Piri Reis (1550, Ottoman Empire), Map of Venice

Words by Olalla Tristana