As a genealogist, who regularly researches the ancestry of clients who are armigerous, I have spent many hours searching for images from printed sources and on the internet to illustrate the heraldry that I have found. Having so often failed in that quest I have occasionally resorted to attempting to draw my own images that I have shaded, tricked or even attempted to paint. I have quickly realised that my attempts are not up to any acceptable standard and as a result my admiration of heraldic artists climbs to a new even higher level. I often wonder whether the science of blazon came about as a result of those who like me found it impossible to produce their own workable or even barely acceptable images of arms. I am sure my clients would rather see an image of their arms than hear or read a blazon. Would our ‘slightly’ elitist use of blazon have ever been conceived if we had from early times had access to high quality hand painted or digital images of arms and other heraldic devices?
Does digitisation of the processes of design and artistry offer a sensible way forward for heraldry in the future?
The skill of any person who carries out a creative task is inevitably aided by our ability to replicate an original design and to repeatedly use it to aid further design. This probably sounds like a scientific approach but we are all experimenters by nature. In years gone by I would have been sat at a typewriter putting together this article, with every error resulting in a frustrating new attempt but now I sit at a computer using a word-processor that allows me to edit, paste text and images from other sources, re-order text and generally re-design and fine tune my final article. I find that now no one challenges our need to photocopy or use a digital process of scanning or photography to capture an image for use elsewhere. The use of digital images of heraldic designs in computer presentations and printing are also becoming widespread and the norm. But where do we stand on the next and ultimate stage of digital heraldry, i.e. that of adopting it as a creative process and being accepted in the same way as the creation of classical original heraldic artwork?
There is some negativity with regards the use of digitisation in heraldry. In appearing to support the digital process for my own ends, I do not wish to cause any conflict with the group of highly skilled heraldic artists and craftsmen who I so admire, but I do feel that the future for heraldry will increasingly include the process of digitisation not only as a method of reprographics but ultimately as an art form in its own right. This should not have to be achieved by stealth but should be part of the future adaptation of practices that are needed to fulfil modern day and future needs. Currently no one appears to object to the artwork of an heraldic artist being digitally copied and then being used in the digital world as an element that can be repeatedly displayed at the click of a button to enhance presentations, stationary items and other computerised displays. I like all other persons, who have received a grant of arms beautifully presented by the heraldic artists and calligraphers at the College of Arms, immediately created my own digital copy of the arms that can now be reproduced anywhere and adapted to other formats. On the basis of cost alone it appears to be a “no brainer”. Once the initial payment has been made to cover the creation of a digital heraldic display, that we should expect to be roughly the same regardless of the process used, the opportunity to use the resulting digital image anywhere and in whatever creative sense is available forever, without deterioration and at much reduced future cost. Digitisation as a reprographic process is here to stay and will grow. Using digitisation in heraldry as part of a creative process is less well understood and has probably only recently been seen as an option but ultimately digitisation will take its place at the forefront of the creative process in heraldry even if in the first instance it will continue to share that accolade with the work of classical heraldic artists.
I have looked at the work of two heraldic artists who have embraced the process of digitisation. The first of these is David Allan, a highly regarded craft member of the Society of Heraldic Arts (SHA) who in October 2016 produced an article for the SHA journal No.93 entitled: Coming to grips with digital heraldry and calligraphy. This appears to offer one of the first positive acknowledgement of the value of digital processes applied to heraldry and issues a challenge for others to familiarise themselves with the processes. David has worked as an heraldic artist and calligrapher for 25 years at the Court of Lord Lyon and throughout that time has used computers to aid his work. You may recall his design for the branding for the XXXII International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences shown here. David further describes the traditional methods of heraldic design and the adaptations he has made, in particular in using a computer to plan, execute and update his work as part of the design process.
David uses traditional methods to produce heraldic paintings and calligraphy and also state-of-the-art technology to create digital heraldry, which he considers to be ideal for stationery and has also converted his calligraphy styles into digital calligraphy. He finds this is an excellent, and less expensive way of producing pedigrees, certificates, etc.
Further examples of his work can be seen at http://www.allanart.org
Second is our member Quentin Peacock of QXDESIGN in Cambridge (http://www.qxdesignstudio.com), also a member of SHA, who gives further detail here:
I have been creating vector artwork for 20 years and have been focussing more and more on heraldry over the last 6 years. I have been lucky enough to work with heralds from the College of Arms, primarily Clive Cheesman, and have been privileged to work on the heraldry used on the Team GB kit for the Rio Olympics - this was designed initially by myself and Clive digitally, before being given to Tim Noad to create the hand painted version on vellum.
As the trend for digital versions of artwork grows I think it is important to discuss the pros and cons of using this new technique. Firstly, digital artwork will never, and should never, replace traditional hand painted heraldry. The purpose of heraldry is changing for the digital world, and the requirement of digital artwork files is increasing, especially with corporate clients.
Vector artwork uses mathematical formulas instead of pixels, this allows files to be altered and enlarged with no loss of detail or clarity. This makes them very useful during the design stage of a Coat of Arms as colour combinations can be explored with general ease. Other areas where vector artwork files can excel includes creating: perfect symmetry, uniform paint strokes, and separating and isolating various elements from a full achievement, among others. Having a digital version of artwork also allows the client to use their Coat of Arms in many applications. Digital and vector artwork can lack in personality and style. It is also very easy to have a less consistent style throughout a single piece of work.
I like to think how computers would have been utilised by heraldic artists from the past, I can then use these ideas to improve on existing artwork and to inspire me during the design process. As heraldry is traditionally a hand painted art form, I like to try to recreate this style in my digital designs, and even try to create the effect of burnished gold leaf.
Illustrated above are the arms of the College of Arms and Homerton College. To see more digital heraldry designs created by Quentin you can visit:
We would like to hear your thoughts and possibly your experiences with regards the use of digital heraldry. One criticism I have already received is that the quality of digital heraldry is too good. It has clear crisp lines and uniform painting that de-humanises the process and the effect. Perhaps that thought is akin with the progress that that has been made in the music recording industry, where long-term use of vinyl has moved to CDs and downloading of digital copies. However despite all of the concerns, our much loved vinyl still exists today alongside our digital copies.