Heraldic Arts and Sciences: Beyond the Banner and Shield

Part 1: Some of the Basic Concepts

In the SCA, one most usually sees heraldry, that great medieval identifier, used in a very limited way. Often, people apply their device to a shield, an escutcheon-shaped banner, and maybe a favor. The purpose of this series of articles is to introduce the fair citizens of Caer Anterth Mawr to a wider range of applications. Heraldry is a wonderful way to create ambiance!

But before we begin discussing the various arts and crafts projects that we can do together, we should probably spell out some of the terms and ground rules we will be using. We'll also be talking a little bit about some of the tools you will need to complete the projects that will be introduced through this series.

To make heraldic art in the SCA, there are two-four things you must have chosen or designed before you can begin any of these projects. These terms will be used frequently through this series.

First, the device. The device is that design, often seen on a fighter's shield, that identifes you as you. In the SCA, anyone can register a device. You do not need to have an "Award of Arms" before you can register a device. Once you receive an "Award of Arms," your device becomes your arms. This series will use the term "device" to refer to the heraldic design that you have registered through the SCA's College of Arms with the intention of identifying yourself; that is, this is the design that will be painted on your shield or banner to indicate your presence. While most people refer to this bit of heraldry as your "arms," I want to emphasize that anyone can work though these projects. I recommend that you not work any of the more complicated projects until after your device has been registered with the SCA College of Arms; it's terribly disappointing to spend a lot of time decorating half your possessions with your device only to discover that it's not registerable.

Next, the badge. Many people register devices. However, you may also register a badge. What is the difference, you may ask? Well, the device represents you. The badge is usually used to identify your stuff. Of course, badges may also indicate household affiliation, award receipt, or order membership. This definition is a generality; there are lots of existing period items decorated with devices rather than badges. If you register both a device and a badge, consider how you intend to utilize them. For instance, Merouda has a device, a personal badge, and a household badge registered. If she wanted to decorate a set of plates for household use, she might paint the household badge on the entire set of plates. Then, should she want to mark one particular plate as hers, she would have to paint either her device or her badge on the plate. Painting the badge would indicate that the plate belongs to her. Painting the device on the plate would not only indicate that the plate is hers, but that she is the person using the plate.

Third, the livery colors. Livery colors are colors that you have chosen to be a part of your heraldic scheme. These would be the colors you dress your retainers in, display badges against, perhaps decorate your "chair of estate." Most people in the SCA tend to use the colors from their device as their livery colors, but there is no requirement to do so. Merouda happens to love black and yellow, as are in her device. However, she also adores red, and so frequently displays her personal badge against a red background, or dresses her page in a black and red tabard.

Lastly, the coat of arms. Everyone in the SCA, with a registered device, is entitled to display a coat of arms. There are some fairly specific guidelines for the display of a coat of arms in the Middle Kingdom. These guidelines may be found in the Pursuivant's Handbook, published by the Middle Kingdom Information office. The list is somewhat extensive, and so will not be repeated here. The information may be easily obtained, either from the above-mentioned book, or from your local pursuivant or herald. Contrary to popular belief, your coat of arms is not the same thing as your device. The coat of arms usually consists of a variety of elements added to your device, such as mantling, crest, supporters, and mottoes. We'll get into all the additional hooha in an article specifically about creating your coat of arms.

While some of the simpler projects we'll be talking about can be done as long as you've chosen your livery colors and a design that will definitely be in your arms or badge, however it may end up being registered (a feather, a cinquefoil, a fleur-de-lis, et cetera), some of the more complicated projects will require you to have at least a rough design for your coat of arms. Thus, no matter where you are in the continuum, from thinking about which colors you'll be using to having designed several versions of your coat of arms, there will be something in here for you.

In determining the level of "periodness" of the projects, in general, I tried to design the projects towards the "looks good but uses non-period materials" end of the spectrum. Very few of our projects will be things that did not exist in period. However, I believe that for the ease of materials acquisition and the limited time most of us have to devote to the projects, modern materials and modern technique will have to do. It's my hope that those who really love one project or another will be inspired to learn more about period methods, that they may move on to bigger and better projects in the future.

Among the many tools and materials we'll be using are: stencils, pencils, paints--acrylic, lacquer, egg tempera, lo-fire glass, and may others--inks, lo-fire clay, cloth of all sorts, stencils, stamps, linoleum cutters, needle and thread, tin snips, stencils, glass jars, paper, canvas, stencils…. Well, you get the point. Did I mention stencils? Since you will be frequently using the same design in these projects, making several stencils will add to the consistency of your art--and remove the need to draw the design every time. Don't worry, stencils are certainly period; there is a great picture of a lead stencil quatrefoil in a book called Painters from the "Medieval Craftsmen" series put out by the British Library.

Before I close this article, let me list for you some of the projects we may talking about in this series, in no particular order:

  1. Painted or Appliqued Standard
  2. Painted glass panel
  3. Portable Window
  4. Painted or appliqued banner based on period rather than SCA design
  5. Nine-mans-morris board
  6. Heraldic Dinnerware
  7. Glass canisters and candle holders
  8. Cup covers, painted, stamped, embroidered, or appliqued
  9. Pillow
  10. Painted coat-of-arms Tapestry
  11. Linens--napkins, table cloths, et cetera
  12. Book covers
  13. Surcoats and underdresses and tabards
  14. Stamped backdrops (diapered)
  15. Relief panel for the wall
  16. Relief panel for mounting on chairs
  17. Mundanities cover (cooler, garbage bag, et cetera)
  18. Blank books and heraldic stationary
  19. Presence Rug
  20. Tiles

Shoot, that's 20 already, and I've only got about 21 issues of this fine newsletter for the life of this project! And what about the suggestions that I hope you'll have for me? We'll just to hang on and see what comes up. I hope that you'll enjoy this series and perhaps even take at least one or two of these suggestions.

Next Month: Making your first set of stencils and using them on your first project, the nine-mans-morris board.