Watercolors and Manuscripts

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves is a facsimile of a codex (also called a manuscript). These books got very popular back in the sixteenth century, although the origin was much earlier. Many people paid artists to create their books and personalize it for them, often with their Coat of Arms. These were ornate sequential picture books (dare I say, medieval comic book) and most often, these were prayer books called “The Book of Hours” that were small and could be taken with them to church and what not. The codexes were made by hand predominantly with opaque watercolors or egg tempera on animal skin paper. Some adorned the images within the books with real gold leaf!

Book of Hours Catherine of Cleves – public domain

Nowadays, we have similar books, and call them journals, diaries, and scrapbooks. Sometimes we create the books by ourselves and sometimes have help from friends. (I want to hold a journaling party!) Most of us, however do not use real gold or paper animal hides; although, real gold leaf is available in some places, but it does cost! The Speedball Mona Lisa Gold Leaf Kit is imitation gold, but it will get the job done for around $12.


My absolute favorite journals were made in Italy (for some reason they make the best journals there), by a company called Fiorentina. I believe they still make journals, but not the two I hold dear. But do not despair because believe it or not, Strathmore makes an incredible journal that holds watercolors even better! This book is called the Mixed Media Journal. Be sure it says the 500 series. Their papers are in grades of quality, 500 being for the professional artist and is the absolute best.

Every book I buy, I do a test page in the back of the journal. This gives me an excellent idea of how the book reacts to inks, watercolors, pencils and whatever other materials available in the paintbox. Obviously some journals do better than others with regards to watercolors. Acrylics do well in almost every journal, so no worries if you use that medium.

The Strathmore Mixed Media Journal I found to be the most well rounded best journal I’ve played with. It is made in the USA. The 8.5×11-inch journal comes with 64 pages. The paints do not bleed through, so you can paint on both sides of each sheet. The pages are sized, stiff, with a vellum finish.

Now, the reason I am writing about this journal, is that I feel this is the best journal you can buy to create illuminated manuscripts with. Obviously, it isn’t made with animal skin as the people in the earlier centuries used, but come on, we have 100 percent cotton fiber book that is smyth-sewn and acid free for under $20!

Farnese Hours: Adoration of the Magi and Solomon Adored by the Queen of Sheba – public domain

Looking at all of these beautiful pictures, you can see why I feel that I have a long way to go in terms of creating decent artwork!

Book of Hours Illuminated manuscript – public domain

But isn’t it a lovely goal?

Do you like journaling, codexes and manuscripts? Have you made one before? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.