Calligraphy by Denis Brown

Vellum & Parchment: Working on Skins
A workshop with Denis Brown, duration from 2 to 5 days, (longer classes will allow a fuller schedule). Level: Intermediate & Advanced. Max. 20 students

Illustrated above: Work by Denis Brown on translucent calfskin with drawings showing from underneath
View a slide-show of my work on vellum.


Traditionally the finest material for calligraphy, vellum's nature is inherently different to that of paper.
It requires special treatment in preparation and presentation. The workshop will cover preparation of vellum for writing and painting (nap raising/flattening), writing and painting on skins, making corrections/erasures, stretching vellum to remove cockling, and presentation mounting techniques.

Unusual techniques such as layering translucent vellum over written/painted background designs will be encouraged and Denis will discuss his own unique approaches to working with skin.
You will benefit from constructive design and lettering critiques as you complete an original piece, stretched over a wooden board and ready to display. A materials fee will supply you with a variety of vellum to work on in class and or to take home for future projects.

Note: This workshop inevitably raises dust while sandpapering vellum. It may be unsuitable for those who are sensitive to airborne dust. This may also be a concern for classrooms in pristine spaces.

Tools and Materials:

  • Vellum if you have any (optional, as the supply fee will provide you a full slunk calfskin or alternatively two half skins).
  • Bring a prepared calligraphy layout, size including margins: exactly 5" x 8", ready
    to be written onto vellum during the class- There will not be sufficient time in the workshop to design this piece, so it must be prepared at home in advance by every student. The design can be very simple- a few lines of text or short quotation is one suggestion, with full consideration given to letter-form, layout and color, plus author accreditation . The design can be either portrait or landscape format but the exact size specified is very important. All the rough work and trials should be done and the final design on paper should be close to the quality of the finished work. (Tip: keep it reasonably simple- in a 2 day class you will only have an hour or two during the workshop to complete the final version on vellum!)
  • General calligraphy tools, (dip-pens, pencils, ruler, gouache paints &
    palettes, layout pad of paper, etc. plus any extra tools you may need if you are adding illustration or painting to your design).
  • Medium & fine grades of sandpaper or "wet or dry" abrasive papers
  • Finely Powdered Pumice (Dental grade).
  • Finely powdered Gum Sandarac plus either a clean bristle paintbrush or a "pounce bag" to apply it.
  • Craft knife/ utility knife plus cutting mat.
  • Scalpel with curved blade, e.g. surgical blade no.10.
  • Steel straight edge or steel ruler.
  • A sheet of Silicone release paper at least 13" x 10". (This is a non-stick paper as sometimes used for lining of baking tins)
  • Two pressing boards cut from 1/2 inch thick, melamine faced, chipboard or similar, 10" x 13" each.
  • 1 piece exterior grade plywood, 1/4 " thick, cut to 5" x 8"
  • Tip for guilds/organizers: It may be easiest to get a DIY supplier to cut to size enough boards for all the class in one go, i.e. the pressing boards & the plywood)
  • 6 pieces of blotting paper, cut to 10"x 13"
  • A waterproof plastic sheet, 10" x 13" (e.g. cut out from a plastic bag)
  • A piece of white or ivory colored conservation quality mount board neatly cut to 5" x 8". Also bring some off-cuts from this mount board.
  • Heavy/thick colored paper, at least 5" x 8", (to line the back of your stretched vellum design... a color matching your prepared layout is good.)
  • PVA glue plus 3/4" glue brush. A 3/4" decorator's bristle paintbrush may be used.
  • A plastic bottle with a trigger-vaporizer-top.(This is to spray water vapor to moisten materials).

    *The instructor will provide finest vellum skins available if ordered in advance. Price estimate (subject to change): €35 Euro per half skin of finest slunk calf vellum or €60 Euro per full skin of finest slunk calf vellum). Each student will need at least half a skin for a two day class or a full skin for a 4-5 day class. Skins will need to be ordered and mailed in advance of the class.
  • Find current exchange rates: Click for Online Currency Converter

  • The instructor will require a piece of 1/4" plywood & a piece of conservation mount-board both cut to 5" x 8", plus a set of pressing boards as described above, for use in his demonstrations. He may also need to borrow use of various other tools/materials that are impractical to carry on workshop trips abroad.
  • A large mortar & pestle will be useful- not every student needs one but if just one is brought to the class it will facilitate demonstrations of grinding gum sandarac.
  • Only for 4 and 5 day versions of this class: A staple gun that can be shared among the class will also be required , plus an old wooden board that can be stapled into. These will be used in demonstrations of dyeing and stretching vellum.