Copying Coats of Arms
MY HOBBY is pleasant, profitable—and romantic! The romance comes in the glimpses it affords of knights in armor, heroic deeds and ancient wars. In brief, I copy coats of arms, which my dictionary defines as heraldic signs of rank or family. The history of these emblems dates as far back as 1250 A. D.
If you can draw, even a little, and handle oil or tempera colors, you can enjoy my hobby too. I had no special training—my interest began when an aunt was given a copy of our ancestor's coat of arms. It was a lovely thing, and I asked for a chance to copy it for myself. This effort was so successful that others in the family wanted copies too, and I made about fifteen.
Since that time I have branched out and have made copies of coats of arms for many people in my home town, Cedartown, Georgia, and other places as well. Because I have only a limited amount of time for this hobby I've made little effort to seek customers. My best advertisements have been the coats of arms themselves. Time and again a customer has come to me because he had admired some of my work at a friend's home and wanted one for himself. Such customers often return for still another copy for Aunt Jane or Cousin Joe, saying this solves the problem of gifts for the relative who "has everything." I made four copies for one woman and have made three for another.
An elderly friend steered many orders my way. She was a sort of unofficial historian of the older families, the person everyone turned to when they were trying to trace a family tree, or settle some question of kinship. This put her in contact with the very people who would be interested in my work.
I have also made arrangements with the local library to display some of my work on their bulletin board with a card stating; "Let Me Copy Your Family Coat of Arms—Price Five Dollars Each," and giving my address and telephone number. The library was glad to do this as they receive many requests for information and reading material on heraldry and coats of arms.
TO BEGIN, of course, you must have a coat of arms to copy. Perhaps there is one in your family you could borrow. Make some copies for gifts, and let people see what you can do.
If no such copy is available, search among your friends. Or resort to books on the subject. "The Romance of Heraldry," by C.W. Scott-Giles, has many illustrations and some helpful information. The "World Book Encyclopedia" gives several examples of coats of arms and diagrams, explaining the terms of heraldry as they are used in describing coats of arms, as well as the history of this entertaining subject under the topic, "Heraldry." Your local librarian may be able to suggest others.
Don't be surprised if your first effort isn't too good—neither was mine. Like any other craft this one takes some practice. When you get the hang of it you can begin to advertise for work.
This means, first of all, getting your work where the public can see it. Try arranging for a display at a library, as I did, or in an art and craft store, or bookshop, or any other public place you can think of where your work will be noticed and commented upon. Your friends unconsciously make good publicity agents too, so be sure to get them interested in and talking about your new hobby. Put a notice on the community bulletin board. Advertise, if you have a little money to get started, in your local newspaper and those in nearby towns, in hobby magazines, etc.
NOW FOR the "how-to-do-it" details. First of all you'll need the following materials;
1. Illustration board.
I have used several different sizes of illustration boards, ranging from twelve by fifteen inches to fifteen by twenty inches. This doesn't matter, as the customer can have the picture trimmed to the size he likes when it is framed. The design normally runs about eight by nine inches, a little longer than it is wide when motto and family name are included. Use a "medium" surface board that will take both tempera and pen and ink. A smooth hard surface finish takes tempera poorly, and too rough a surface of course makes it impossible to do a good job on lettering and outlining.
2. Two water color brushes—a number one and a number five. The large brush is for background work, the smaller for details.
3. Tempera colors.
The main purpose of armory is to present simple patches of vivid color in such a manner that they can be recognized at a great distance. The principal colors and metals used are seven; red, blue, green, purple, black, gold and silver. They are usually spoken of by their French heraldic names, as "gules" (red) and "or" (gold). You'll find the complete list on the chart accompanying this article. Since the earliest designs were engraved on the shields of knights, the metals gold and silver were often used and these colors are still referred to as metals. Gold and silver tempera and crayons are available.
4. Black drawing ink and pen staff and points.
I can't give you much help on selecting pen points, you'll just have to experiment and see what fits your needs. You might begin with a No. 170 Gillott.
5. Carbon, tracing paper, art gum, pencils, (one 4H and one 2B).
None of these supplies are expensive or hard to obtain. I use tempera rather than oils, because they are so much less expensive and keep my prices down. I charge $5 per copy and believe the low price is one of the main reasons I have so many orders.
HERE'S HOW to start. If the finished product is to be the same size as the original, trace a copy of the design. If you are good at freehand drawing you will be able to increase and decrease the size as your customer wishes. The most important thing is accuracy in copying down to the smallest detail. The science of armorial bearings is a field for an expert, and if, like me, you are not an expert, the only way to make an authentic copy is to be very careful to copy your original exactly.
Use a sheet of carbon under the tracing to transfer the design to your illustration board. Tracing paper and carbon can be taped down lightly with Cellophane tape to prevent slipping. Be careful to center the design, but leave the widest margin at the bottom.
Use the hard pencil, 4H, to make a clearcut tracing, but don't bear down too heavily as this will cut into your paper. A faint tracing is better than a dark one—it is easier to cover up with color and less apt to smear. Do not trace the family name (usually done in Old English letters) or the motto until you have done the color work. This, too, is to avoid smearing. If there are small intricate devices on the shield it is sometimes best to trace them after you have colored the shield. This makes it much easier to put on a background coat of color smoothly.
HAVING COMPLETED your tracing you are ready to begin applying color. Begin in the center of the design and work outward. Learn to apply color evenly and smoothly—this will take practice. Work quickly, to keep the tempera from drying before you have finished, as you cannot join fresh color to dry without leaving an ugly dividing line.
Pen and black drawing ink are used to outline and fill in details, shadow lines, lettering, etc., after the tempera is dry. Ink flows more freely on a tempera background than on plain illustration board, so go lightly there. Let the ink-work dry overnight if possible before using art gum to clean the drawing or carbon smudges. This ink is rather slow drying and it takes an iron will not to fling a fit when an otherwise perfect painting gets smeared! (I haven't an iron will!)
I cover my finished coat of arms with a sheet of waxed paper taped to the back to protect it until the customer has it framed.
According to "The Romance of Heraldry" by Scott-Giles, in the seventeenth century a system of using black and white designs (horizontal lines, vertical lines, dots, etc.,) to indicate color was introduced, and is widely used. This is a very useful thing to know, as you may be asked to copy in color a coat of arms so drawn. You can also use this system to indicate colors on your tracing of the design, and file this color-keyed tracing against future orders by the same family.
Give it a try—I'm sure you'll find coats of arms romantic and profitable too!
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.