Parchment preparation: Commercially available parchment and vellum are very good and do not
need much preparation for illuminating. It may be a good idea to very lightly sand the surface with
very fine sandpaper (#600 is good) or to scrape it carefully with the long flat edge of a razor blade
or knife (be careful or you will cut the surface); then burnish it smooth.
Texts often recommend pounce, cuttlebone or other treatments to remove oils but it is usually not needed.
A dusting with powered sandarac is sometimes recommended prior to writing.
Underdrawing: Traditionally done in Metal point. A lead stylus works best as it requires no special
ground layer and leaves a pale line. A hard modern pencil is typically used today. This is fine but do
not “shade-in” as you do not want graphite smearing into your image. Keep it as fine and simple a line
drawing as possible.
Tracing is fine, if you use transfer graphite paper be careful you do not get a smeary dark drawing.
You can see through parchment, if this is your surface simply lay the parchment over your design
and trace out the image, (a light table helps to facilitate this procedure.)
Inking: The line drawing made in metalpoint or graphite should be “fixed” with ink. This will show
through the body color and allow placement of details and shading. Traditional iron gall inks are
commercially available and many recipes are extant from the period. These inks darken after exposure
to the air so make the drawing much lighter than you would like to have it in the end; it is best to dilute
the ink with water.
Modern drawing inks are good, dilute them to a pale shade and make the drawing as delicate as
Once the image has been inked any gilding with leaf gold, which may be part of your design,
should be completed prior to painting. This does not include shell gold or special techniques of
mordant gilding over the paint layer.
Body color: Middle value local color should be applied in a thin flat paint layer over each area of
the image, without concern for shading or highlights. The image will have a “jig-saw puzzle” look at
this point. It will have a flat and simple appearance.
Shading: Applied over body color in appropriate shade in fine single brush strokes. The strokes may
be parallel or crosshatched. But it is best to keep them thin and delicate. They can be so close together
so as to look like a single tone. There can be many gradations giving the effect of blending and defining
Highlighting: Also applied over body color in same manner but with lighter value or white.
Shell gold: Paint made with powered gold as the pigment. Used as final embellishment, for decorative
detail or as heightening in place of white.