Designing arms or a badge for use in the SCA can be more of a trial than it needs to be. So often, a new member will come to the process not just with preconceptions about what he or she wants but will then get frustrated at the entanglements of the heraldic bureaucracy. Here are some tips that may be useful.
Come to the process with your ideas about color and charges, but try to also maintain an open mind. The heralds can help you get something very much like what you want if you are patient and take the view that you want something medieval.
Remember, your arms or badge will be your identifying symbol, like a corporation's logo. If you choose a humorous or un-medieval symbol, you may be sorry.
Once you've designed something, don't submit it right away. Put a color picture of it on a wall and look at it for a week or two. You might be sick of it by that time, and you've saved yourself time and trouble.
Medieval heraldry did not necessarily say anything about the owner, and when it did, it was probably less direct than the way we tend to think about it in the 20th century. For example, many new members will tend to think "I'm a fighter, so I should have a sword on my arms," or "I like to drink, so I should have a tankard of beer on my arms." In the Middle Ages, one was more likely to use a sword in armory because it was a symbol of justice, or a fierce beast to denote bravery. Or just as often, the choice of charges didn't really mean anything. (My arms are Per pale argent and azure, three clarions counterchanged - a clarion is a stylized musical instrument. So am I a musician? No - I just took a fancy to clarions, which are a very early heraldic charge, in use by 1240. In short, they don't mean anything, but they're easy to spot across a battlefield.)
Remember to try for simplicity and boldness of design. Don't try to put a meek little housecat in the middle of the shield. Put a big, fierce hairy cat sprawling across the shield, with big claws and teeth. Don't put a bunch of different charges all on the same shield - go for one or two types of charge. The effect should be striking and memorable.
Look at examples of good medieval heraldry. Foster's Dictionary of Heraldry is a good start.
Make several different designs that accomplish what you want. This enables you to choose from among several examples, and also gives you alternatives if your primary choice cannot be registered or you change your mind about it.
Finally, remember that the heralds are here to help you design good medieval arms - don't be afraid to use their expertise.
© 1998 Balian de Brionne (Roger Jordan)
Permission granted to web on July 13, 1998.
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Please contact Edward with any corrections/changes.