Making Kells Kickstarter


My plan is to make one of the iconic pages from the Book of Kells exactly as the original artist did it, with everything made from scratch by me from parchment to pigments to quill pens. I’ve been practicing for a long time and have got a team of the worlds leading manuscript experts to test my pigments, explore theories and interpret results as part of this project. I am going to grow woad for blue pigment, collect lichen for purple, cook oak bark and scrape crystals from bacteria living in rocks for the black ink. The parchment will be from a calf skin, I will soak it in a river, stretch it on a frame and work on it until it is smooth enough to draw on. I am going to follow in the footsteps of the original medieval artist, I’m even collecting hazelnuts to snack on while making parchment as the archaeological evidence suggests.

You can follow the project here, it goes live on 26th October

Some of the experts I’ll be taking advice from will be:

On materials

Dr. Andrew Beeby from team pigment at Durham University. He is a leading chemist in the field of manuscript pigment analysis and has developed a portable system to carry out non invasive analysis with a laser. We’ll be using this method and others including mass spectrometry to analysis all the pigments produced in this project and compare them with Durham’s vast database of real medieval samples to ensure accuracy.

Dr. John Gillis Head conservator at Trinity College Dublin and leading expert in insular parchment, he conserved the Faddan More Psalter, the first insular manuscript discovered in over a century. I’ll be taking his advice on how the Kells style parchment should look and feel for this piece.

Cecily Spall Archaeologist and member of the team who excavated the medieval monastic site at Portmahomack in the Scottish Highlands. This site has the only medieval parchmanarie ever discovered and gives unique insight into how parchment was made in the time of the Book of Kells. Many experts now believe the Book of Kells could have been created at this site.

Stephen Walker Celtic jeweler and metalsmith with many years of experience designing and producing Celtic metalwork. Several motifs in Kells are identical to those found on metalwork of the period with one theory being that the lead illuminator was a goldsmith. I’m going to talk to Stephen about how metal tools and stamps could have been made to produce the tiny details in Kells.

On Kells imagery

Dr. Victoria Thompson An expert on insular art who has just written a new book on The Book of Kells which re examines the possibility of it being a Pictish production. This theory will heavily influence this project as I’ll be using lots of local Pictish source material to design the evangelists.

Dr. Donncha Macgabhann The Paleographer who has studied the Book of Kells in minute detail and tracked the hands of two individuals in its creation, leading to the most revolutionary insight into the artwork in recent years. I want to find out which artist I’m following in folio 27v.

Dr. Cynthia Thickpenny An expert in insular Key Pattern who has extensively studied it on Pictish and Irish examples, proving it’s not always as straightforward as the standard construction methods suggest. There are multiple key pattern panels in folio 27.v which I’m hoping to find background for.

On the context of its creation

Dr Adrian Maldonado Medievalist at the National Museum of Scotland and expert on Iona and Pictish artefacts. I want to learn more about the context of the creation of the Book of Kells, particularly its connection to Scottish sites and artefacts. What sort of people commissioned it? Who would have used it? What does it say about it’s society?

Dr Pádraig ÓMacháin Professor of Modern Irish at University College Cork and expert on early Irish manuscripts. I worked on Padraig’s project ‘Inks and skins’ looking into the materials of early Irish books. I want to learn more about the Irish relationship with books in the early medieval period when Kells was produced. How did they get so good at it? How widespread was literacy? Is Kells a bit of a distraction from all the rest? What language would the material culture around book production be spoken in? What would the tools and materials be called?

On what it’s all about

Dr. Jacob Erickson professor of theological ethics at Trinity College Dublin. One of the experts to deal with the question, what’s it for? I’ll be tapping into his contemporary approach to theology to see what lessons the culture that created Kells has for its modern followers and what if any theological value there is in making such objects again?

Dougald Hine Co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project and out of the box thinker who I’ve collaborated with on a manuscript project before that was published as a book and crossed the divide between the medieval and the modern without too many compromises. With uncertainty and doom on every front, what is the cultural role of the manuscript now? The Book of Kells has been through a couple of societal breakdowns, what’s it going to do about climate change?

Why am I doing this and how?

Like many people I’m obsessed with the Book of Kells, every aspect of it is amazing from the quality of the calligraphy, the unbelievable scale of the details, the volume of illuminations to the stability of the pigments for over a millennium. Generations of scholars have studied it and there are still many unanswered questions such as how is this actually possible?

I’ve got a few insular manuscripts under my belt, I’ve been making parchment and my own pigments for over a decade and even done a couple of Kells pages already, but this one, folio 27.v has some serious challenges in it that I’ve not mastered yet, this project is about getting to that next level to understand what it takes to achieve this level of complexity.

My plan is to follow the evidence in the Book of Kells itself and other medieval sources about how to create this artefact and talk to the leading experts along the way to make sure I’m following the best advice. Working over a year,  I’ll be collecting materials throughout the seasons, foraging for lichens to create purple pigment, growing woad to make blue and making my own calf skin parchment. So in many ways nature sets the schedule and I’m well practiced in following it. The newsletter and video updates will follow each step in the process, roughly on a monthly basis, timed to record the most exiting milestone at each step. The rewards for backers will be created as I make parchment throughout the year and start sending out rewards at the end of the season in October.

I’m going for £8722 in total

As I make everything from scratch this is mostly labour costs on the materials and manuscript making processes. £6250

There’s also the Kickstarter fee £440

Payment fees  £440

Tax £792

Postage and packaging for supporter rewards £465

A Contingency of £335

You can follow the project through the link below

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