June 2011 issue of The Saint John's Bible eNewsletter. Are images missing? View the online version.
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This issue of The Saint John's Bible Newsletter features Scribe Brian Simpson’s experience and involvement with writing The Saint John's Bible. At a time and in a culture where writing by hand is increasingly considered old-fashioned and ineffective, it is refreshing to read about someone who loves the art of writing and finds meaning and purpose in dedicating himself to it with concentration and utmost care. It is true, of course, that a pen can't keep up with our thoughts the way typing can, but at times this is a good thing: Doing things slowly and deliberately, reflectively and uniquely is evermore needed as everything else around us is standardized, fast, blindingly similar, and not meant to last.

Brian Simpson, Scribe

Donald Jackson
Brian Simpson
“We are going to write the whole bible on vellum with quills and illuminate it in colour and gold. It hasn’t been done for 500 years, so there’s no-one to turn to for help or advice. We don’t really know what we are taking on until we start and we think it will take at least six years. Would you like to join us in this venture?”

That was (reading between the lines) the invitation I received from Donald Jackson in December 1999. After careful consideration for a minute or two, I agreed to join the month’s trial at Donald’s scriptorium in Wales and began an experience that I would not have missed for anything.

“My introduction to calligraphy started when, at the age of seventeen I was apprenticed to a commercial artist and attended evening classes in life drawing and lettering. I was soon bitten by the lettering bug and have remained bitten ever since. In 1957 I enrolled for the course on writing, illuminating and lettering at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. One of the other students on the course was Donald Jackson and after the end of the course we kept in touch and worked together on various calligraphy projects. I spent my working life as a typographic designer in the printing industry and continued writing as a spare time occupation.

Prophets, Book of Isaiah
© The Saint John's Bible

Working at the scriptorium in Wales with the rest of the team was such a new experience. I was re-learning neglected skills, learning a new script (which was much more difficult than we expected), cutting quills, writing on large vellum skins and working in conjunction with other scribes. With the sheer hard work and concentration involved it wasn’t easy, but it was exciting!

Most of the time, of course, I worked alone at my base in central England. I found that a single column of writing (half a page) was the most I could write in a day. I worked for three days a week and this sustained writing over a period of nearly six years produced 27,307 lines of text and at the final count I had worked on 311 pages of the Bible.

Prophets, Book of Isaiah
© The Saint John's Bible

There were days when nothing seemed to go right - a difficult patch of vellum, a quill that didn’t want to be cut into a pen, spelling mistakes, even a complete line missed out. These were the times when confidence ebbed away and thoughts of “I can’t do this” plagued me.

But there were many good days too - it’s a wonderful sensation when vellum, quill, ink and scribe are all working well together. It was always thrilling at the gathering of the scribes at the scriptorium when the completed pages were unrolled, put together and compared. Then, what a sense of excitement and achievement as a picture of the finished book began to take shape. Working as part of a team was also new to me, calligraphers normally work alone and make all the decisions regarding the job in hand but I found that I enjoyed working with this group of skilled people, to exchange ideas, solutions to problems and just to have their support was a great help.

It was a fantastic, once in a lifetime experience, I am so fortunate to have been involved in such an amazing undertaking.

In This Issue

• Brian Simpson

• Upcoming Exhibitions & Events

See the Bible

Print Exhibitions

St. Andrew United Methodist Church
Highlands Ranch, CO
May 24 - June 28, 2011

Museum of Biblical History
Collierville, TN
May 31 - July 30, 2011

Benet Hill Monastery &
Colorado College

Colorado Springs, CO
Sept. 26 - November 7, 2011

Find a gallery near you >

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