The Calligrapher's Life

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Taking a Crack at Illumination

modern illuminated proj
If I were to say that I found the nerve to start this project from my inspiration and self-study, I’d be fibbing. When I caught my first glimpse at illuminated lettering in a new calligraphy book, I couldn’t wrap my head around sitting down to try it on my own. So, guess what? As usual, it took my art class to force me out of my “scary zone”.

Illuminating letters can be serious, scary stuff for a newbie. Most calligraphy books that touch on the subject, display artists working with paints, inks, gold leaf and gesso. That can be very intimidating. And, unless a newbie is truly enthusiastic about illuminated lettering, she’ll balk at its complexity and move on.

But, illuminating letters doesn’t always have to be “scary”. Actually, artists can create illuminated letters simply designing them with a few colors or covering them in complex drawings that’ll usually make a novice’s head spin.

Illuminated manuscripts gained popularity in the 7th century to document stories and events in the era. Calligraphers use the term to describe brightly colored pages highlighted in gold. The illuminated letter is meant to attract the eye to the page with various designs and colors among dark, gothic-style lettering.

When I finally practiced this letter, I grew fascinated with its versatility. Creating large letters with an endless supply of colors and design varieties brought hours of fun and experimenting with paint. But, I most enjoyed working with the gold gouache.

The gold goauche lit up the page making it look fairly similar to the ancient manuscripts I tried to emulate.

Any calligraphers ready to try illumination don’t need to start on a full-size project like I did (see photo above). Try one letter first, like an initial. It’s much easier to get acquainted with illumination with a small project and, then gradually build onto it with a favorite gothic-style lettering for a simulated manuscript like mine.

Note: All images are copyright and must not be used without permission


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