I’ll be the first to admit that figuring out calligraphy and lettering layout can sometimes be more difficult than writing the actual words you want to lay out! That’s because there are so many choices as far as how to present your information: do you justify to the left, do you center, do you add illustrated elements to highlight certain information? What do you want your viewer’s eye to focus on first, and how do you achieve that focus?
Today’s blog post endeavors to answer those questions with three different layout techniques that also serve as mini-tutorials. Today, you’ll learn how to casually fill in negative space, how to plan out your layout with a rough sketch, and how to use Photoshop + a printer to make life (a lot) easier when creating formal pieces.
1. “Go with the Flow” Layouts
I am all about “Go with the Flow” lettering layouts. That’s because these layouts are spontaneous, zen, and fun. Basically, you start by writing some calligraphy and text, then you use design elements to balance out the placement of your words. Let me show you, for example, how to create a layout as shown in the envelope above. First, you’ll start with writing out your mail recipient’s name on a scrap piece of paper in the approximate size and style you want to use on your envelope; there’s no need to use a dip pen … a regular pen will work just fine! I have opted to write in Amy Style.
Next, measure the length of the name. Once you have that measurement, you’ll be able to center your calligraphy appropriately on the envelope. Here, for example, I know that the recipient’s name measures 4-1/8″. If I divide that by two, I get 2-1/16″, which means I need to make faint pencil marks 2-1/16″ from a center vertical guideline that I draw on the envelope. That way, the name will be centered.
That’s the only measuring you have to do in this particular case! In other projects, you can skip this step altogether: it’s really up to you. Once you have your measurements, you can make the very faint pencil guidelines on your paper denoting where to start your calligraphy, stop your calligraphy, and a horizontal base line and top line. You can then write in the calligraphy style of your choice; I wrote in the Amy with walnut ink.
Next, you can use a ruler to draw faint horizontal pencil lines above and below the name, then go over those faint lines using a marker or watercolor paint.* These horizontal lines will ensure that anyone observing the envelope will immediately be drawn to the recipient’s name; the lines set the name apart from the rest of the piece.
*To learn about using a dip pen with watercolor paint, visit the Watercolor Calligraphy Tutorial.
Next, I like to draw a vertical guideline under the name. The vertical line can be wherever; my personal preference is to center it.
You can then draw faint horizontal guidelines for an address, and write an address below the name. Since I used Amy Style calligraphy to write the recipient’s name, I’m going to use Sans Serif letters to write the address. There’s no exact science as far as which fonts to mix and match; I just think that plain Sans Serif contrasts nicely with the pleasant loops used to create the Amy.
The great thing about making a left-justified address like this is you don’t have to worry about the spacing. As long as each line of the address starts at that vertical guideline, you’re golden.
Once you’ve written the address, you can see that there’s a lot of negative space. By that, I mean that the envelope design looks “naked”, like it needs a little bit more oomph. A prime spot to put a design element is to the left of the address below the name; that way, you can balance out the address and make the envelope less right-heavy.
It’s never a bad idea to repeat design elements in order to establish a theme. To that end, you can repeat the design pattern on the upper right side of the name, like so:
While you can — and should, if you wish! — follow this envelope art tutorial to a “T”, the main point is to show you how to build a layout around one element. We started with the recipient’s name, we added a fuss-free address, then we put in different design elements to balance everything out. While this tutorial depicted a Mexican-inspired design motif, banners and arrows also make for wonderful space fillers! The “Go with the Flow” lettering layout is best for casual art and calligraphy/lettering pieces, like artistic wedding invitations; mail art destined for a friend; and no-fuss, boho art pieces.
2. Rough Sketch Layouts
It’s never a bad idea to experiment with a calligraphy or lettering layout in the form of a rough sketch. Rough sketches don’t have to be pretty; they exist solely to give you an idea of how your piece is going to come together. You can also use rough sketches as a quick way to decide you want to use one layout over another. I like to use rough sketches if I want to make something that looks nice, but doesn’t need to be perfect. This condition generally applies to art pieces I’m going to put in my home or give to friends and family. Let’s say, for example, that I want to send a birthday card to a friend, and I would like to have a general plan before I put pen to paper. First, I’m going to start with a couple of sketch ideas to determine what theme I like best:
From observing the rough sketch samples, I have determined that I like the third sample the best. The Flytrap font, with its vintage feel, will complement the delicate roses and make for a compelling card. I have also determined that the layout of the roses will ensure that the eye is drawn to “Happy Birthday”. Once you are satisfied with your rough sketch, you can go about executing the “real thing” on the piece of paper you want to use. (For this project, I am using a 6″x6″ square of watercolor paper.)
To figure out centered spacing, I would recommend making a rough sketch of letters and measuring them just as I showed you in the “Go with the Flow” layout technique. Or … just justify everything to the left!
As a side note, if you like these roses and want to learn how to create them, you may visit the How to Draw Roses post.
Again, the “Rough Sketch Layouts” technique is best if your piece isn’t super-formal, but you want to make sure you’re making the right decision as far as design elements, font/calligraphy style, and placements. It’s a nice way to try ideas out without having to commit a lot of time!
3. Full-On Planned Layouts
Full-On Planned Layouts are essentially an exact plan of what you are going to create. The goal is to create a to-scale layout that you can trace over in order to create your final, perfect piece. These layouts are the most time-consuming, but with the help of Photoshop and a light box, you can make them not-so-time-consuming. For Full-On Planned Layouts, you can use the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan (Photoshop and Lightroom), which is $10/month. I also use a LightPad 930. You can of course, manually measure out and write everything, but I’m showing you the easiest, most efficient way I know of to do full layouts.
In the example I have made for the sake of this post, I am going to create a menu. I always start by writing my calligraphy using a regular pen. I do this because a regular pen isn’t as time-consuming as a dip pen, and the spacing will be very similar. I am using Kaitlin Style calligraphy, which is very-fuss free and popular for artistic-whimsical weddings and events.
You’ll notice I didn’t worry about the slope or the centering of the words; all of this will be fixed in Photoshop. When all your words are written out, you’ll scan them into your computer and open them in Photoshop. For efficiency’s sake (and so you can follow along, if necessary), I have created a video showing how to work with the calligraphy in Photoshop to make a good Full-On Planned Layout.
Once you’re finished in Photoshop, you can show the rough draft to the client (if applicable) for approval. Be sure to remind them that the final result will be calligraphed, but this will be the exact layout and spelling of all the words. Once you have the green light, print out the result; make sure you’ve implemented that black border that I showed you in the video (make sure your back color swatch is black, then enlarge the canvas size by 0.01″)! The border will help you to place your paper correctly on the printout.
Lay the print-out under your paper, and put both your Photoshop print-out and your paper on top of a light box.
Then, write over the words with your calligraphy pen.
Using this technique, once you’re finished, you’re really finished. There are no lines to erase, and hardly any mess-up risk factors.
You may wonder what to do if your paper is too dark to use on a light box. First, make sure you charge your client accordingly (if applicable) for this extra work. Next, you’ll measure everything in your Photoshop print-out and, according to those measurements, draw faint guidelines accordingly on your dark paper using a soapstone pencil. It’s a time-consuming process, but necessary if you are unable to use a light box.
The purpose of this tutorial is to show you different techniques that will result in the same thing: a beautiful piece with a nice layout. Remember that, to a large extent, your personal style will dictate layout — and you really don’t need to adhere to any specific formula. What I have given you today are general guidelines that you can take into consideration or completely ignore … the important thing is that you’re making pieces that make you happy! You may have noticed that today’s post focused mostly on art pieces rather than calligraphed envelopes; for more information about envelope layouts, I recommend reading Addressing Envelopes for an Event.
If you have any questions or additional tips (which are always welcome), of course please feel free to comment! It’s always great to hear from you. Thank you again for reading TPK; I appreciate your time, and I hope you learned something new today!