Disclaimer: This post is about mental health and the pandemic. The next post should be about art again.
This year has been hard for everyone , myself included. I really wanted to embrace the community – moved onto the internet to hold us over until the pandemic was finished but it just made things feel harder. It made me feel lonelier. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough, I just wasn’t capable. It made me feel like an outcast.
I’ve struggled with feeling lonely a lot of my life and it became much worse when I left the marines. Honestly, I have never struggled as hard feeling like I was a part of a community as I did in the first few years after I got home. I’ve now been out for over 8 years and I still long for that safeness. The military sets you up with this camaraderie that has been hard for me to find elsewhere, but the SCA came the closest. The art community and the fighting community gave me the sort of family I was longing for. When the pandemic happened, it felt like the hole I felt in 2013 was ripped open again.
Then I went through a difficult break-up. Then I started a new job, caring for (high risk for covid) people with traumatic brain injuries. Shortly after I suffered actual loss, when my cousin passed away in the most tragic and heartbreaking way. Then military #metoo happened and that opened new wounds, deeper wounds that I had been ignoring for so long. Then there was George Floyd and taking deep looks at myself to find my role as an ally. And the pandemic just kept going on and on and on..
I tried to stay engaged in the SCA but I felt the distance. I did the couple of scrolls assigned to me but struggled to even make it to the post office to send them out. I did a gift exchange, which was rewarding but felt like such a small thing in such a dark time.
And now, the SCA is starting to become live again and it’s hard to imagine where I fit in. It feels hard to believe that I didn’t lose everything I had worked for from when I joined the society until the pandemic. How many friendships were dissolved? How many poisoned?
The good news though, is I am going to try and I’m also going to work on myself. I’m going to finally start therapy and try to get a hold on my anxiety. I’m trying to get better and find my place in the world, as impossibly hard as that feels.
So, if you have noticed a lack of embla in the last year+ you aren’t imagining it. I hope that I can come back and find my place in things again. I hope to be posting more art and posting about my fighting. I hope to feel the love and warmth of the community again.
Until then, watch my blog for some art posts. I have a few coming down the line.
Lots of love —
So, I’m posting this now because this was voted highest in my informal Facebook poll and because most everyone is isolated at home and it’s new content that may help people in the Times of Extra Crafting.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this out, or if I should. The thing is, failure isn’t something that people are usually proud of or want to talk about. In this case especially, making art for others makes it especially hard to talk about when things go awry. I’d never want to belittle a gift for someone, they should have the freedom to appreciate it without the flaws flaunted.
This happened a while ago and I’m not going to get into specifics because that’s not what this is about. This is more about recovery than failure, to be honest, because it would have been easier to run away than it would be to come back to it. But also, this is about my recovery because I kind of feel like I need to write this out to come back completely.
What happened, in a broad sense, was real life chaos paired with me taking on too many projects (i.e. not paying enough attention to my limits), and a healthy side of personal drama, came together to make me feel incapable of tackling anything. But of course, I still had those too many projects on my plate, most with due dates and still had to deal with the real life things or they would get worse. I had a really rough time for a bit and that affected my productivity.
I powered through all of the difficulties of feeling unmotivated, overwhelmed, and stressed. At times it was like trudging through mud, but I did it. In the end, my final project felt just horrible and I didn’t have time to work on it anymore. I knew that I could have done better and I felt like I let myself, my mentors, and really everybody down.
But, I don’t want anyone to feel badly for me because a lot of this growth in the aftermath of that was to take responsibility for my failures and to set myself up for success in the future. But it took awhile to get here and to accumulate inspiration again. I should have known that something like this was apt to happen but, I thought not to me! Sometimes I can be wrong.
So, how did I get back to it from that really dark, discouraged place that I had sunken into?
First, I wasn’t jumping at new projects. I knew that taking a moment to breath was important. I needed to evaluate where I was. Sure, a success may have helped pull me up from it but… another failure could have sunk me. I took a moment and then when I was able to collect myself I allowed myself to start on a new project fresh. When I say that, I mean with a fresh emotional state. I think it’s crucial to try to leave all the emotional baggage behind you and just retain the lessons learned. It was lucky that I was assigned a project that I was able to just enjoy and didn’t have a lot of pressure attached to it.
Second, I had to come to terms that everyone fails sometimes. I’m (unfortunately) included in everyone. Ugh, this was hard for me because you see all the amazing things online and you want to believe you’re the only one that didn’t do well. You’re definitely not the only one. Trust me.
Third, recognizing that you can come back from failure. And I think that’s the really important part. You gotta keep moving forward despite setbacks and perceived failures because those things are where growth is cultivated. And if you can do that, you will be stronger in no matter what area you felt like you faltered.
So that’s it. I have since moved on and have continued my pursuits in art. If you’re struggling with this, I hope you can too!
Stay healthy and safe everybody and happy crafting!
I was absolutely delighted to get the scroll assignments for the Arts and Sciences Champions for Queen Margarita. I’ve had the opportunity to do champion scrolls before (these ones) and it’s fun because it feels like I can be a little more free with my design. Immediately, I thought this could be a great opportunity to do a couple of tiny scrolls!
After much research and contemplation, I found this adorable book, The Imhof Prayerbook. It’s a 16th century Flemish prayerbook, only about 90 x 62mm, meant to be carried around by its owner. I really fell in love with this adorable and tiny book.
I had some challenges though. I had to make it a little bigger to fit the text (with a line for the recipient and a line for the Queen’s signature, both to be filled in at the event.) The final size of my piece ended up about 120mm tall. I really wish I could have made it the right size, but maybe that’s a goal for next time!
I also spaced the background pattern of the Crown’s Champion scroll a little bigger than I wanted. That was partially because I found a tool that I could use to keep the spacing consistent, not realizing just how wide it was. And, also about the background on the Crown’s Champion scroll, the shading was too light. This was really disappointing to me because it looked right just until I got the rest of the paint on the paper. Now it looks faint.
The last thing I want to mention is just something that I missed in the details until after. The original painting is done as if the borders are raised and because of that, the 4 sides are not outlined the same. Two sides are darker and two sides are lighter. This is something I should have picked up on but I unfortunately didn’t.
I did really like working small. And I really like doing this style of art with the gems, bugs, and flowers. I think it was an additional challenge to have to work the shading so tiny but, with the right brush, I think it was manageable. I think with even more practice, I will be able to get my lines thinner, or I may experiment more with using a nib.
I have also been working on my calligraphy and even though it doesn’t match the original manuscript perfectly, I still like it. I had fun making little flourishes on the letters or at the end of lines. I really like my last flourish on both scrolls. I do, however, have ideas on how it could improve but I think I will be working on my calligraphy for a very long time!
Materials: Gouache and iron gall ink on bristol
Source: The Imhof Prayerbook
Words: Nicol mac Donnchaidh
“By the hand of Margarita, Queen of the Eastern Kingdom, <name of recipient> is named the Crown’s Arts and Sciences Champion this 29th Day of February. Let word be sent to all baronies, provinces, and shires from Our Barony of Dragonship Haven. Scriptus et finitus est arbitrium iste in oppido Anno Societatis 54.
By the hand of Margarita, Queen of the Eastern Kingdom, <name of recipient> is named the Consort’s Arts and Sciences Champion this 29th Day of February. Let word be sent to all baronies, provinces, and shires from Our Barony of Dragonship Haven. Scriptus et finitus est arbitrium iste in oppido Anno Societatis 54.”
When I found out that one of the girls from our household was going to be awarded the Tyger’s Eye, I had to request the scroll assignment. Boudicca routinely volunteers to waterbear, retain for royals, and anything anyone needs help with, always. And she does it all eagerly and cheerfully! I was beyond excited to get the assignment.
At first, I considered doing an early period scroll, maybe something norse because she tends to dress and act a bit norse. Boudicca is a student to Master Edward dos Scorpus and while she is already fierce, committed, and steadfast with her volunteering, I also know that she likens herself to a barbarian. So, while in my still-browsing-for-inspiration stage, I came upon this image:
Yes, a man, tackling a lion and pulling apart his jaws. OR I thought, it could easily be a girl forcing a blue Eastern Tyger to drink water, like Boudicca often does. I was officially inspired and decided to use the Luttrell Psalter. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a manuscript from 14th century England with beautiful illuminated margins of fierce and silly beasts, and fun calligraphy. While it isn’t technically her persona, I think her persona is very flexible at this point.
With this piece, I really wanted to work on making the scroll have a very accurate looking design and clean white work and outlines. I knew that if I missed the mark on any of those things, the piece would definitely look lackluster. Aside from a couple critiques my laurel game me, there is just one spot that I wish I would have gone back to and painted over and redid but otherwise I am pretty happy with the piece.
Words by Matthew MacGyver (below)
Calligraphy and Illumination by myself
Materials: Walnut Ink, gouache, and gilding on bristol
Source: Psalter (The Luttrell Psalter) with calendar and additional material, 14c England
Revered are the Mighty youth of the east And Feared are those who obtain the title of velociraptor, also known as Tiger cub. But further recognition is needed for the individual who kneels before Us this day. Boudicca of House Fulton has distinguished herself as an unstoppable force for service. She is known as a helpful hand to friend and stranger alike, an eager and jovial retainer for past royalty, and a steadfast and often terrifying water bearer. Boudicca’s drive to serve her kingdom shines bright beyond her years. For this reason Queen Margarita has seen fit to add her into her Order of the Tigers eye, so that she may continue to serve as an inspiration to gentles of all ages.
Done this day A.S. 54 at A Market day at Birka, in the great barony of Stonemarche
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.
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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- Sometimes it’s best to just swear at the glass and walk away.
- The fuel always runs out at the worst possible time.
- If you don’t protect everything, you will burn something (carpet, table, clothes…).
- Sometimes it’s not working because the world wants you to be happy, just accept that.
- Some colors suck more than others.
- Some colors pretend to be one color but are really another.
- 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.
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.
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
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
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
Words by Olalla Tristana