After a couple of weeks and a vacation to Muncie, I've learned something very interesting. Not wholly useful in the modern world, but quite stimulating really.
Well, when I say learned, I mean "crash coursed". It would take me a few years to really grasp it enough when I can look at a coat of arms and break it down or "blazon" except maybe the basics. My friend Sebastian. is a herald for a medieval reenactment and education organization called The Adrian Empire. It a is a national organization and quite nifty. If you are able to find a group in your area, try it out!
Back to Heraldry. Sebastian is quite knowledgeable about heraldry and can blazon almost any arms you give him in a few seconds. So far I've learned that there are five colors, the colors often readily available at the time when heraldry first began: Azure (blue), Gules (red), Vert (green), Purpure (purple), Sable (black). They also had two metallic colors: Or (gold) and Argent (white/silver). There are rules governing what colors (if any) can be on top of colors and when metals can be on top of one another. Other tinctures (colors and patterns) are things that emulate furs or other textures. It all sounds complicated at first but the basics are very simple.
Then there are the lines and ordinaries (field divisions) of the shield. Quite a few in fact: Bend, Bend Sinister, Piles, Pallet, Chief, Fess. It is really fascinating! Here's a link to another resource that helps break down heraldry.
In America we do not have any laws that govern the display of arms, badges, or crests. As such the Adrian Empire has free reign to make, display, and have arms both for their groups and the individuals in the Empire. If however, one of the members were to go over to Europe and have a patch on their luggage of their own created arms, they may be arrested. This is because in Europe they have laws governing the display of arms and heraldic items. They get touchy if people start making and displaying their own.
However I do hope to get quite good at it and learn from Sebastian. It would be one of those skills that while may not be entirely useful in this modern world, it is certainly fun and intriguing.