Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Illuminated Letters/Alphabet - More Painting on Vellum

Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015 (8"x7.5")
after a cutting from an illuminated manuscript choirbook (c:1520) attributed to artists from Lombardy, Italy
on vellum with gouache, acrylics, watercolor and gold paint
by jojo sabalvaro tan

I am continuing to experiment with painting on vellum since I wanted to have an authentic feeling finished work in the illuminated manuscripts I am attempting to paint. A few years ago, I started an illumination manuscript project where I depicted the Five Joyful Mysteries (see Illuminated Manuscripts - Book of Hours). My goal was to make an illuminated manuscript page for each of the mysteries of the holy Rosary. I used watercolor paper, watercolor and gold  acrylic paint on the Joyful Mysteries series. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I did not go on to the rest of the mysteries.  Then a few weeks ago, I was inspired to do the first Sorrowful mystery - The Agony on the Garden (Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden) on vellum, using watercolors and gold acrylic paint.. I really liked how the vellum looked, wrinkles on the paper, notwithstanding.
For this project I decided to do an illuminated letter. An illuminated letter is usually the first letter of a page or paragraph of an illuminated manuscript. The illuminated letter is quite ostentatiously decorated with gold, color and sometimes painted with scenes from the Bible, people, plants animals or mythological figures and the letter is enlarged as compared to the rest of the manuscript which is in small black calligraphy letters. As I was studying the calligraphy in an attempt to translate it, I found out that the monks liberally used abbreviations in their writing. I do not know why and if I had to guess, I would say due to space constraints. For example the word quod would be written as q' or Domine as Dne.

An Illuminated Letter S
From Wikimedia Commons
For this illuminated letter project, I worked on vellum again but I decided to use gouache paint which I thought would lend the painting some body and brilliance. During the process, I  switched to liquid acrylics since I felt that the gouache was way too opaque for the effect I wanted. I was not very happy with the acrylics either and ended up using watercolors in the end. So this piece is a combination of water media. I tried to stick to the steps/processes of the illuminators of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period. So I made a rough sketch of an illuminated letter R  from a work auctioned by Christie's titled RESURRECTION, historiated initial R, cutting from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM (http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4393910.). I chose this subject matter since I intended the piece for my sister-in-law who is named after the Resurrection. Coincidentally, this is also the first mystery of the Glorious mystery, The Resurrection. After I completed the sketch, I went over it with a waterproof ink pen (Pigma Black #01) since I was going to be painting over the lines with water media and did not want the ink to bleed. Then I applied gold paint (Jacquard Lumiere 554 Sunset Gold). On this particular piece, the background is gold. It took about three coats of gold paint. After the gold dried, I painted the border and then the inner motif, the risen Christ.

To finish, I penned the Latin  prayer "Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Domine ad adjuvadum me festina." English translation: "Incline unto my aid O God. O Lord make haste to help me." This is a prayer that appears at every opening of the prayers from the Book of Hours. I sprayed the whole thing with matte varnish which I found dulled the paint and gold on the painting. I still have to find the best way to protect the surface of the painting on vellum. Now, if I can get my husband to make me a mat for the piece, at least it will be halfway secure when we mail it to Australia. I hope my sister-in-law will like it. I guess, if she doesn't,  she can give it to one of her siblings since all their names begin with R.
All in all, what I learned from this study/experiment with vellum is that I should stick with watercolors. I am not discouraged with working with vellum since it does lend an overall  bona fide feel of an illuminated manuscript. I love doing this project since through painting I am able to meditate and reflect on the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary and pray for family and friends. I imagine the monks of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period felt the same as they prepared the parchment or vellum, scribed the prayers and hymns and created the illuminated letters and decorations on the pages.

Detail from Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan


  1. Your illuminated letters are beautiful. They have the intricate detail and grace of the older works. Impressive work.

    1. Thank you, Shelley. I visited your page as well and I truly admire your work. It exudes such freedom of expression that I can only dream about having emanate in my own work.