Monday, 9 July 2012

Oxford City Arms

I've been working hard on my Oxford City Arms - I've done the writing on the vellum now and have spent many hours doing vellum trials of the border design.

raised and burnished gold on gesso and shell gold for the chain, fritillaries painted in watercolour, shields in gouache

had to use a magnifying glass to see what I was doing - I never thought I would be able to do the shields that small - still not perfect but better than I expected

this is the writing on the vellum  - I used gold gouache for the smaller writing and metal pens after many trials with quills, in the end it was just more reliable with the pen.

the chaos of my desk!


  1. Beautiful Helen. Is that one just a try-out?!

    1. yes! practise, practise, practise, I been working on it for over a year on and off! It means when you do the final piece nothing is left to chance

  2. Hello Helen,

    could you tell me which gesso you use? I tried Instacoll, but it is giving me a hard time, because I never have accurate results concerning the shape of the area I put it on. I tried traditional gesso buttons as well. But I never get the raised surface. It stays kind of flat. Would you be so kind to give me some advise?

    Thank you so much

    1. Hi Julia
      I use my own gesso which I made when studying illumination with Gerald Mynott at Reigate School of Art - it is a traditional recipe but I substitute the slaked plaster with calcium sulphate dihydrate as the late Lorna Banbury suggested. So it is 8 parts slaked plaster or CaSO4 2H2O, 3 parts white lead (very poisonous) 1 part sugar (ground to a fine powder) and 1 part Seccotine (fish glue) It has to be ground for an hour in a pestle and mortar to a thick batter with distilled water.
      It is important when reconstituting the gesso not to add too much water to keep it quite thick and to pull the top of the meniscus of the wet gesso to the shape you want it rather than brushing it out too much, and sometimes flooding in a bit more while it is wet. I think the Calligraphers Handbook is the 'bible' of making and applying gesso but I also found some useful films on you tube. I don't know the Instacoll you mention.