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That paper on how I do my highlighting and shading

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9 October 2006

That paper on how I do my highlighting and shading

Updated 12th October

Master Randulfr (Randy Asplund) was kind enough to review the paper for me. He said that "very good and supplies some very important tips for new scribes"

I'm just waiting for his permission to blog those comment. Baroness Tetchubah helped explain the comments to me, and I've got those documented as well.

In addition to the praise, he pointed out that lymning was a generic terms for all methods of illumination painting technique. Illumination means lymning. But I've seperated it out to describe a method that Tetchubah suggested should more properly be called "cross-hatching" I don't talk about cross hatching, just tiny straight strokes - but I should. I need to discuss the different types of tiny strokes that can be used.

Also, Randy described the difference between physical and visual blending techniques.
To quote him (jumping the gun on permission, I know, I'm bad)
"Visual blending is when a texture, a cross hatching, or several steps of graduated colors are next to each other and at a distance the eye blends them together. It is also when one color shines through from beneath a translucent color and the two mix in the eye while retaining their characteristics.

Physical blending is either physically mixing two or more pigments before applying them to the page, or applying them next to each other on a page and then manipulating them with moisture to mush them together into a smooth transition. "

So what I was describing as lymning is a visual blending technique. My Soft Method of blending is a physical technique (with a bit of visual thrown in, where I mention lymning as part of it).
Graduated colour is physical, and so is dry brushing.

Also, he mentioned that dry brushing was very rarely used as a period technique.

I wasn't actually trying to describe period techniques here - just the way that I did my (physical) blending of colour. When I'd written that bit, I had the bright idea of talking about the other methods I know.
With what I've learnt in the last couple of days, I seriously want to bang my head against the wall. Nothing I've said is wrong (except mis-use of the term 'lymning') but either I need to strip the paper down to JUST describing my Soft method of blending, or to change and expand the paper to discuss the various techniques of visual and physical blending, and how/when they were used. At the moment, I'm kind of half way and not got the terms quite right.

This is all new to me and involves examing mss on-line (and in books if they appear in sufficient detail) very closely and working it out for myself. Randy gave me a couple of clues but apparently there are no books that I can run to.

I guess I'll have to strip the paper down to describe just my method, and keep the words from the rest for when I write a more complete paper. I just need a few days before I can gather the courage for the strip.

I'll end up taking the second option...eventually. I don't want to start doing it now, because my head is full of Gothic Textura Quadrata, and it's quite enough doing the script analysis for the moment.
Meanwhile, I really really want a copy of Louis XII Book of Hours Reconstructed, by Janet Backhouse because that has got a chapter about the lymning (illumination technique) used in that, and Tetchubah recommended it. That'll give me some information about it for that region and that period.

Reading this now, I'm noticing all sorts of grammatical errors, a lot of wordiness, and a habit of typing "limning" instead of "lymning".
I'll fix all that up after I've had a break from reading it over and over.

Meanwhile, here 'tis.

Highlighting and Shading

Kit asked me how I did the highlighting and shading of my acanthus leaves. This little paper describes the process I use. It varies a little from the documented processes I’ve found, and is only ‘my way of doing it’. It works for me. It is NOT intended to describe a historical process.

So I’ve shown examples, some step by step with little pictures. It’s as hands on as possible. I am trying to explain what I do, after all.

I’ve also ended up talking about the three other ways I know of, to show the differences in the effects achieved using each one –

Graduated Colours and
Dry Brushing,
with a couple of variations.

I’ve gathered a bit of information on Lymning, for the elucidation of both of us, although I’m not very successful with the traditional method. Once again, I have a little method of my own that works for me. I’ve gathered a bit of research from various books.

I’ve also assembled some “general principles” which seem to apply to all of these processes.

The order of the document is

  • General Principles
  • The Soft Method of Highlighting and Shading
  • Possible Problems, Illustrated
  • A Word on the Paint Colours Used For Blending Colours in the Soft Method
  • My Way of Lymning
  • The Traditional Way of Lymning
  • Examples of the Traditional Way of Lymning
  • Graduated Colour
  • Dry Brushing
  • Bibliography

General Principles

I’ll talk in terms of highlighting although shading is equally applicable.

  • The base colour must be dry before starting on the highlighting. If it isn’t, it will be taken up by the brush and mix into the paint being added.
  • Make sure that you clean the brush very frequently. Remember that once you have done a couple of brush strokes, you have 3 colour sources – the highlighting colour on the page, the base colour on the page, and the newly wetted paint consisting of the two mixed together that the brush has picked up in earlier brush stroke
  • Be very gentle. You don’t want to re-activate any more of the base colour than you want/have to and have it mix into the highlight colour.
  • Always lay the highlighting paint over an area slightly smaller than the intended area, at least until you are experienced with it. It has a habit of growing.
  • When stroking the brush, follow the axis of the shape you are highlighting – not vertically/horizontally.

Stroke the brush this way

Not this way

  • If you are placing a highlight on the edge of a shape, make sure you go right to the edges of the shape
  • If you end up with ‘holes’ in the paint (having been a little heavy with the brush, not that I ever do that), wait until it dries. Then add in more of the paint with tiny strokes of the brush.
  • Be careful not to add too much as the paint can’t get too thick or it’ll crack.
  • After doing the highlighting, or if you get a bit lost in what is happening :- let it all dry

-If a damp brush has been used, the stokes will be more integrated when dry.

- Gouache colours are darker when dry..

The Soft Method of Highlighting and Shading

This is the way I do highlighting and shading over small areas of work.

The soft method of highlighting and shadings is suitable for small areas of work. The use of water to re-activate the paint means that over a large area, the paper would buckle. It might buckle a tiny bit during this process but always dried down flat just fine.

This process is suitable for work on heavy paper (150 or 240 gsm). It involves blending colours on the page, (not in a palette), so the paper needs to be heavy enough to take this process. The surface of lighter 90 gsm paper will deteriorate into ‘eraser curls’.

The examples shown in this paper (the teardrops) do look a little bit unhappy. That's because they have been blown up 400% or 500%, which tends to show up any problems. However, it shows up the details of the colour blending, which is what I want to show, as well.

This is an example of my work using this process

Click on the picture to see it in greater detail.

In summary, this process involves :

1. Laying a base colour over the entire shape (a teardrop in this case)

2. Laying down the colour that serves as the highlight (often white) over the area where the light would hit it

3. Creating an intermediary colour that is a mix between the base colour and the highlighted colour. This mix is created on the page. I create an intermediary colour so there is graduation of colour in the highlighted area rather than a start, or abrupt change in colour.

4. Blending the edges where the intermediary colour and the base colour meet

5. Putting down some more of the highlighting colour at the brightest point where the light would hit the shape.

6. Blend the area where the highlighted colour and the intermediary colour meet.

It is perfectly possible to only use the highlighting colour and the base colour without creating an intermediary colour – but the difference between the two would be starker. In some cases, this may be the effect that is wanted – of a very strong light source hitting an object.

The other situation in which an intermediary colour might be when the base colour is fairly weak and so using white as a highlight would not be starkly different. (and ditto for a darkly coloured object and it’s shading)

I don't talk about not creating an intermediary colour here. Just skip the middle steps .....

There are other ways to achieve this change/blending, as described in the other sections - lymning, colour graduation and dry brushing.

The example below shows both highlighting (with white) and shading (with a darker blue).

I talk below in terms of highlighting, rather than shading. The process for shading an object is exactly the same, just using a darker colour – not a lighter one.

The blue example below shows both highlighting and shading. The detailed red example further below shows only highlighting

Also, I talk below about putting the highlight on the edge of the object I’m working on (these teardrops or petals). Equally, a highlight may be centered on the object, or off to one side of the centre.

Starting with :-

To :-

(step 2, described above)

followed by creation of the intermediary colour – a lighter blue than the base, and blending of the edges of the base blue and lighter blue and then the lighter blue and the white.

and another intermediary colour - a darker blue than the base but lighter than the dark blue, and the blending of the edges of the base blue and darker blue, and the darker blue and the darkest blue.

(steps 3-6, described above)

To result in :-

I’ve used red and yellow below because the colours are stronger and show up better on the white screen/paper. This particular colour combination is a traditional one when painting highlights on a red object in illuminations – rather than red highlighted with white – because minium (red) and lead white pigments reacted together, so yellow was used as the highlight colour instead of white.

The General Principles all apply to this process.

1. Laying the Base Colour

Lay the base on fairly thickly.

  • There needs to be gouache available to be taken up by the brush and used in the highlighting process. But not too thickly, or the paint will crack.

The base (the red) MUST be dry before starting or the colour mixing on the page will be uncontrollable.

2. Laying the Highlight Colour

Lay down a first layer of the yellow (the highlighting colour)

  • You don’t need to wait for this yellow layer to dry to continue working.

3. Making the Graduated Colour and Blending where it’s Edge meets the the Base Colour

This is the main part of the process, where a colour that is a step between the red and the yellow (which is an orange) is created by mixing the two colours on the page. This orange is created over the entire highlighted area.

The edges of the orange need to be blended with the red of the rest of the teardrop ,to prevent an abrupt demarcation line.

These processes are done simultaneously. It’s kind of a ‘play’ process that is best learnt by experience.


Make the brush fairly wet with clean water. It should be just damp enough to add enough water to the paint so the two colours can mix, without excess.

Excess water will cause the two paints to ‘flood and spread’ uncontrollably.

In the yellow area, inside the border intersecting with the red, work the yellow paint with the wet brush so that it mixes with the red base underneath. This will mix to an orange .

At the same time, start the blending process,

Use small brush strokes to brush and float the paint from the orange area into the red area, working over a border area of about 2 mm.

  • You want the paint to ‘float’ just a little and mix naturally. You don’t want it to float and then be so wet it slides down the page.

  • You must be very gentle. :-

You only want to re-activate a little of the red paint to mix into the yellow to make the orange,. The red will quickly overpower the yellow you have laid down.

Make sure not to go down as deep as the paper underneath and start bothering it, or a mess will result as the colours won’t be able to mix or lay well on the torn up paper.

  • Do very little mixing at the edge where the highest area of highlighting occurs at the edge of the teardrop where the light would hit it..

  • Make sure that you clean the brush very frequently. Remember that once you have done a couple of brush strokes, you have 3 colour sources – the yellow on the page, the red on the page, and the newly wetted paint consisting of the two mixed together that the brush has picked up in earlier brush strokes
------- This is important for the remainder of this process ------

If the colours aren’t ‘coming up’ and mixing, use a tiny bit more water .

You will probably need to add more yellow from the palette as you create the orange..

To continue the blending of the orange being created with the red of the rest of the teardrop. Clean the brush and then do small strokes in the other direction (red into orange)

  • Keep this blending area to 2 or 3 mm wide (adjusted to the size of the overall area you are dealing with)

  • While going in the red->orange direction, be careful not to go outside the border of the intersection of the red and yellow and end up mixing heaps of the red base into the yellow. It will darken the mixed highlight colour (the orange) too much. More work should be done orange-> red than red-> orange because of this.

  • If too much water is added and the brush is ‘wading’ in watery paint, clean and dry the brush and use it to pick up the extra. Let it all dry and have another go.

Let it dry for 5 minutes. The colour blending and mix will look better (and different) when dry.

Have a look at the colour of the highlighted area. A bright orange colour that is distinct from the red and the yellow is wanted over the whole of the highlighted area

If it is too dark (you’ll be able to tell with experience) add more yellow from the palette pan and mix lightly into the existing paint., repeating the process above.

Also look at the edge between the orange and the red of the rest of the teardrop. It should be blended gently.

You can try some more of the blending process above, but be very gentle. You don’t want to tear up the paper.

“Lymning” is a good idea at this stage :-

Load all amount of slightly watered down paint onto the brush and do tiny tiny strokes with a light hand. This is the process of “Lymning

Come back with a clean, wetter brush and blur the edges of any of these strokes that stand out too much.

The above should result in something that looks like this :-

5.Laying Fresh Highlighting colour for Intensity

When the orange paint is dry, lay in some more yellow just at the edge of the teardrop where the light would hit it.

  • If the brush picks up orange colour when you are laying the yellow, the paint isn’t dry enough.

6. Blending where the Red and Orange meet

The process of blending the red and the orange edge together was described above.

Repeat this to blend the yellow with the orange.

  • Again, be careful not to touch the yellow beyond the borders where the two colours touch. You want the yellow to be as bright as possible.

Let it dry.

If necessary, when the paint is dry, add a little more yellow at the outermost point of highlighting for greater intensity of colour. This can be done by lymning, or by laying a block of paint and the blending the edges again.

A fine line of the yellow right at the edge may or may not work. It may stand out too much, or it may fit in perfectly. Have a look at the example at the very beginning of this. The examples below don’t have that extra fine line of yellow.

Here’s another one I did. You can see that it’s slightly different, because the process isn’t mechanical – it’s play so they will turn out a bit differently each time.

Possible Problems, Illustrated

A paint ridge at the edge - Here (and it’s hard to see) – the white paint has been built up into a ridge at the edge of the teardrop. It is easy to see on the original and just visible on the screen – which is the problem.

If a ridge begins to build up, use a little water to dissolve and disperse it.

A tide mark - Here there is a distinct watermark between the light blue (the mix of the blue and the white) and the base blue. This is as a result of using too much water. It’s not possible to fix without adding a lot more paint to cover it over, which may create problems in itself.

A Word on the Paint Colours Used for Blending in the Soft Method

Whichever method is used to add one colour on top of another to make a highlight or shade, the base paint underneath is often re-activated by the brush, damp with paint in the new colour, going over it multiple times as the area is worked. It’s something to be avoided when limning or dry brushing, but it is actually part of the process in the Soft Method.

In the Soft Method, the colours are actually mixed together on the page to produce an “intermediary colour” used for part of the highlighting.

It’s important that the base and highlighting colours used DO mix to a suitable intermediary colour. It won’t work if the mixed colour turns out to be mud.

The best book I know that teaches you how not to mix mud colour is “Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green” 2nd edition (preferable to the 1st edition, which is much shorter) by Michael Wilcox.

My way of Lymning

Personally, I can’t lymn as it is described in the books and documents I’ve found.. I’m not patient enough, or don’t understand the process or something.

I suspect that I am too heavy handed with my brush. I’ve read of miniatures created with the lymning method that can take months, and thousands of tiny strokes to create. (Marie Angel, “Painting for Calligraphers”)

When I lymn, I :-

1. Lay the base colour and let it dry

2. Load all amount of slightly watered down paint onto the brush

3. Fill in the area to be highlighted with tiny, tiny strokes with a light hand, developing the area where the most highlighting occurs (the edge) the most.

4. Come back with a clean, wetter brush and blur the edges of any of these strokes that stand out too much.

The ‘going back over with a damp brush’ is not a standard step in the limning process.

- This is what a teardrop looks done like this :-


- It works well done in this way as part of the soft method described above or by itself. It depends on whether I want a softer effect (using the methods combined) or a “choppier” effect..

Traditional Lymning

To lymn in the traditional way is to :-

1. Lay the base colour and let it dry.

2. Lay in very tiny strokes with the highlighting colour. (I describe this further below with reference to Marie Angel’s book)

3. Thin the highlighting colour with a little water

4. Lay another layer of tiny strokes.

This is the technique described in “Basic Painting Techniques”, written by Lady Cinara beguy Urdina.

Refer to her paper in the Files section of the SCA_Scribes_and _Illuminators yahoo group

for a more complete description of the process.

I’ve just described it in a very small nutshell and missed many details.. It’s a wonderful paper that also describes how to lay down gouache paint correctly.

Cennini describes this method with a slight variation.

I really should say that Lady Cinara describes the variation, because Cennini was definitely around first!

The piece he is describing is of a light red colour, being shaded with dark red.

“Then take … the dark red and mix it thinner on the hand or in a shell with pure thin gum water, so that it really is thinner

Then take the same thin dark red (and paint the shaded part, over the light red base colour)

Then take again dark red and temper it with gum water, not too strong, and also not too thin, that is to say as ink, which is not too thin, so that it flows easily from the brush. With this you shade the light red, namely with the watery red, with little strokes, …..”

He means “a drop or two of gum Arabic mixed with distilled water” when he refers to “gum water”. This is providing some binder so the thinned paint will stay on the page. I don’t know the exact proportions.

Lymning using several different colours is used when painting feathers and fur.

Marie Angel describes this at some length in her book “Painting For Calligraphers” and the points seem to apply in general to lymning :

She mentions that :-

  • The first layer may very well be visible in the final version, and each layer will affect the appearance of existing and subsequent layers.

“The brush-strokes of the first layer of colour are the most important. It is very difficult to correct later brush-strokes that are not laid precisely in the right direction or strokes that were too long or too short and not in proportion to the size of the drawing….it is essential that the first layer of brush-strokes should be made without interruption to achieve a smooth and regular finish. It is not easy to paint the hair-strokes evenly as any undue pressure of the brush will lead to some strokes appearing darker than others.”(page 61)

  • The colours should be “fluid – but not so wet that the brush-strokes closely laid together are blurred or run into one another, nor so dry as to cause the brush to drag. If the colour is the right consistency, a large number of strokes may be made with one brush-load of colour and this helps towards uniformity of tone”(page 61)
  • Stir the paint in the palette frequently (page 62)
  • Occasionally stand back and look at the work from a bit of a distance, to gain perspective. (page 62)
  • “… care has to be taken to avoid overworking or the final result will look heavy and unsuitable for a miniature….finally I add finishing touches to details …..”(page 62)

Examples of Traditional Lymning

These are some links to some images where the use of limning can be seen fairly clearly :-


if you click on the image to expand it to the full size, you can see the limning strokes used to make up the man’s purple overdress (I don’t know the correct term for it. Surcoat?)


shows another man in a lymned purple overdress, with white added to show the light shining on him.


shows another man in a limned pink and umber overcoat, with a darker brown (burnt umber or sepia?) added to show the shading on his garment


you can see the wateriness of the shading lines if you blow up this image


shows leaves and flowers

Graduated Colour

The Graduated Colour method is used mostly for blending, but you can blend the colour up into a highlight or down into a shadow.

This method is where several tints or shades of the base colour are mixed into separate palettes and consecutively laid down, with their edges gently blended together by another of the methods described here.

This is “Leonard” – a grotesque from the Luttrell Psalter that I painted. Leonard is my own name for him

Click on him to see him so that you can see the differing shades of orange, and the blending of them, on the main part of his body.

When blending main part of Leonard’s body, I used 3 different shades of orange. Mixing paint on the page resulted in an additional 2 shades (darkest -<> lightest orange), achieving the graduating colour seen above. So it’s a combination of two different methods – my “soft method” used to blend the edges of several tints of orange together to achieve a dark to lighter to dark again effect.

This process is described in more detail in the mails authored by

Master RanthulfR AsparlundR (Randy Asplund) and THL Suzanne de la Ferté (Suzanne Booth) archived in the mailing list for December 2004 under the thread name “Painting Question ….. “

Dry Brushing

Another method, which gives a result that looks a little different on the page is ‘dry brushing’. There is another important reason for using this method rather than the wet one – the colours used, as discussed in the problem section above.

I use a small old brush for this. It does tend to destroy the brush in the blending part of the process (step 4).

1. The base colour is laid down and let dry.

2. The highlighting colour (at normal gouache consistency, or if anything, a tiny bit thicker) is loaded onto the brush, and then wiped off on the edge of the palette.

I then wipe it against the back of my hand so that I can see exactly how paint is left in the brush.

(Using scrap paper would be equally as effective)

Only a tiny bit of paint should be left in the brush.

3. To lay down the highlighting colour, the brush is stoked firmly in the direction of base colour towards and into the area to be highlighted, being careful not go outside the edges of the shape

  • The dry brushing should be heaviest where it matches the highlighting colour, and get lighter and lighter, with fewer layers of build up as it progresses across into the base colour, to create a gentle blending of the two.

4. , To blend the edges of the highlighting colour into the base colour, quickly and before the paint dries, stroke over the border of the highlighting and base colours, towards the highlighted area, hard – right down to the ferrule of the brush without actually scraping the paint.

It’s not as clear on the screen as it is in the original – but doing this does make quite a difference to the blending of the two colours.


Angel, Marie – Painting for Calligraphers, The Overlook Press, New York, 1989.

Lady Cinara beguy Urdina, A.S. 39, Shire of Cae Mor, Basic Painting Techniques, Files of the SCA_Scribes_and_Illuminators Yahoo Group, 2004

Master RanthulfR AsparlundR

THL Suzanne de la Ferté

Painting Question …..” thread, December 2004

Thompson D.V., translator - Cennini, Cennino, : The Craftman’s Handbook, The Italian “Il Libro dell’Arte”, New York Dover Publications, 1933

(Available on-line at

Wilcox, Michael “Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green”, 2nd edition, Search Press Ltd, England, 2001


copyright Elmsley Rose 2006. Feel free to copy, but please do keep my name attached to it.

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Blogger Elmsley Rose said...

I've recieved a review from Master Ranthulfr. A wonderful and very long review, and the first thing he said was
"Actually, it looks very good and supplies some very important tips for new scribes. "

*happy happy bounce bounce*

Tuesday, October 10, 2006  
Blogger Scribe with Gold said...

Hey There Sweetie,
I'll be taking a couple of days with this if you don't mind. My thought is try and follow this by actually trying the techinques you mentioned. LOL Would you mind if I share this paper with others? I'll send an email later. Have a great day!

Thursday, October 12, 2006  
Anonymous Maria del Valle said...

I'm read your blog and your work and
I only can say : WOW, awesome!!
Thanks by sharing

Hugs :))

Monday, August 22, 2011  

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