Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, founded on June 4, 1988, by Jeanne Sauvé in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Luc Saucier, a member of La Société des calligraphes de Montréal, has been associated with this institution since 2005.
1) What is the Canadian Heraldic Authority?
From the twelfth century, European knights adopted the practice of decorating their shields in order to be recognized when they were clad in armor. The primitive coats of arms, often very simplistic, were useful in clearly identifying the person sporting them. Over time, monarchs assumed control of the granting and official use of coats of arms, which allowed them to pay tribute to individuals and groups. A coat of arms thus came to be perceived as a mark of honor awarded by a sovereign. Heralds of arms – officers of the court who also acted as diplomats – were charged with the task of conducting a census to collect the various coats of arms held by the sovereign’s subjects.
The Canadian Heraldic Authority, which is connected to the Chancellery of Honours, is authorized by the Crown to continue this age-old tradition. The main tasks of the Authority are to grant new heraldic emblems (coats of arms, flags, and insignia) as well as indigenous emblems; register the coat of arms, flags, and badges that have been the subject of an official concession; approve Canadian Forces badges, flags, and other military symbols; and provide information on heraldic uses and their standards, as well as heraldic artists specialized in different fields.
Since its inception, the Canadian Heraldic Authority’s mission has been to prioritize the traditional arts and their practitioners for the realization of its coat of arms grants.
2) What brought you to work for the Canadian Heraldic Authority?
I was invited by M. Robert Watt, a Canadian Herald of arms, to interview with them in Ottawa in December of 2004. M. Watt had been informed of my capabilities by Claire Boudreau, the current Herald of arms who at that moment was his assistant. My candidacy had also been presented by Judy Bainbridge and Cathy Sabourin, calligrapher and principal artist and Fraser herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority, respectively. Prior to the interview, I was tasked with the calligraphy of a prescribed protocol text block. Once the piece had been recieved, I was invited to their offices in Ottawa. The interview was conducted in French and I was asked to present my portfolio and rendered their names in calligraphy at the end of the meeting. Having fulfilled all the necessary requirements, along with the added bonus of being bilingual and a thorough understand of heraldry and its rich history, I was hired on the spot!
3) What skills are required in order to perform this sort of work?
Patience is key! Honing your concentration skills is also a must; the work required to writing an entire texte bilingually, between 700 and 800 words, each with an x-height in the millimeters, is gruelling. It is important to focus on the text letter by letter and to rid ourselves of the thought of the word as a whole in this case, to reduce the risk of inducing typos. These types of mistakes can be extremely hard, not to mention costly, to fix. Another important factor is that in a bilingual text, the English text block often contains less words than the French and the layout must be adjusted consequently.
The quality and continuity of the calligraphy must also be constant, causing the calligrapher to constantly question their decisions, re-evaluate and perfect their stylistic decisions. All that being said, there exists no real recipe that can be followed each time for the headers. The pieces vary and the headers must be done as a function of the coat of arms proper to the individual documents.
4) How many artists and calligraphers does the Canadian Heraldic Authority’s roster?
There are presently six calligraphers and eight heraldic artists who work freelance for the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
5) What training is required in order to be recognized as a heraldist or calligrapher for the Herald of Arms?
Art schools in Canada offer training that allows the heraldist to draw from different resources, techniques, and a certain scholarly recognition. In addition, the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada offers a Heraldry Proficiency Program that awards a certificate in heraldry. The apprentice calligrapher, on the other hand, must be self-taught and pay for workshops to acquire knowledge. No state-recognized school program exists in Canada that can certify a calligrapher. Finally, the pool of scribes empowered to do the work required by the Herald of Arms shrinks as digital hegemony makes the very act of writing obsolete. We are a rare breed!
6) Can you describe the creative process involved in working on these types of documents?
First, I receive the text of the document by email. I later receive the original document in the mail, set in a custom-made wooden box for protection. The document already bears the coat of arms painted by the heraldist. You can imagine the precautions I must take when handling this document. I reformat the text in Microsoft Word and crop everything according to the prescribed template in order to be as close as possible to the desired result.
I draft the headings and have them approved by Coppermine and Fraser Heralds of the Heraldic Authority, who jointly assume the role of Artistic Director, after which I can sketch the guidelines. From one book to another, the x-height of the lower case can vary between 1.5mm and 2.5mm.
The inscription of headings, usually in capital letters, is a particularly crucial step; the letters must be impeccably executed and be exactly the prescribed length. Once this step is completed, the calligraphy of the body of text can begin. The style I use is always the miniscule Roman, although other scribes prefer to use the Foundational. I use Kobaien black ink for the body of text and a fine gouache of appropriate colour for the blazon of arms (Winsor & Newton, Holbein, or Schmincke). My preferred nibs are Brause 0.75mm for the text and Brause 3mm or more for the headers. Shell gold is used rather than gold leaf in coat of arms concessions.
Lastly, a document like this requires one month of work.
7) Has your personal style evolved over the years doing this type of work?
Yes. I have noticed an evolution in both my style of writing for the body of the text and for the headers as time has passes. Having just finished my sixtieth piece for the Canadian Heraldic Authority, it is possible for me to measure this evolution online by reviewing my pieces on the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada.