Hi everyone! Ana here, and I’d like to begin with a confession: I rarely sketch or calligraph for fun. See, my desire for perfection is on par with my fear of mistakes. So, of course, the one night I decided to exercise my calligraphy skills, I was mid-stroke and a bead of abyss-black sumi ink practically jumped onto my page. I think I even saw it laugh! But instead of seething with frustration or pulling out a fresh page, I just kept going. I looked at this inky intruder and said, “I’m going to turn you into something cool!”. This sympathy card tutorial is dedicated to all my fellow artists—anyone who’s ever had their dreams dashed by spattered ink, a stray line, railroading, or a smudge.
First, let’s get situated. For this tutorial, you’ll need:
- 5”x7” blank watercolor card
- Straight pen and Nikko G nib
- Size 3 (or so) watercolor brush
- Black gel pen
- Good eraser
- Triangular ruler
- Sumi ink
- Gold watercolor (I used Finetec Moon Gold)
1. Make Measurements and Outlines
First, orient your card portrait style. You’ll begin by making the center text box. To do that, start by drawing two vertical lines that are 1-1/4 inches from the long edges of the card.
Now, make two new lines that are 2 inches towards the center from the short edges of the card. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a box!
Now, let’s break out that sumi ink, straight pen, and Nikko G nib! Use a ruler or straight edge as a guide to trace over the box you just made with sumi ink! It’s fine if the line bleeds a little bit because this project is about beautifying imperfections!
3. Add a Sympathy Card Message
For this project, I chose to use the Lasso Hand Lettering style. Why? Well, it’s flourished and fun in all the right places, while still formal and elegant in all the others. “Thinking of you” is a bit of a serious, sentimental statement, so I picked a style that would fit the tone but still give some creative wiggle room.
First, sketch out that phrase with your pencil! Consider using guidelines if doing so will help you with spacing and letter consistency.
Once you’ve sketched out those words, trace over them with a black pen. I find it easiest to letter with a regular black gel pen, so that’s what I used!
Be sure to let all of the letters dry before you erase any pencil guidelines!
4. Start Smudging!
Generously dip your straight pen into the sumi ink. Then make a nice thick, stroke somewhere on the card. It should be more of a short, squat stroke and can even just be a drop of ink.
Now, use your fingertip to smudge the mark you just made in one sweeping motion. It should just be a quick little flick — you don’t want to give too much of a tail or length to these marks! I give mine a bit of bounce and curve for a little extra character.
Continue smearing blotches throughout the card. You can really put them anywhere, but try to create a good balance of white space throughout the card so not one single area is saturated with these dark petals.
5. Create Flowers
This part is my favorite because you really get to put your personal creative touch on the card. Using the straight pen and Nikko G, trace around the smears so they begin look like flower petals!
You can leave some of the petals untraced, too, and they will still look really pretty! This piece is all about creative personality, and I want you to employ your own! Now, sketch flowers out around the card in pencil.
Now, trace over the pencil flowers with your dip pen.
6. Add Gold!
Now, it’s time to prepare your gold watercolor! Use your paintbrush to mix a bit of water into the paint until it reaches the consistency of cream.
Remember the smudges we made with our fingers? This is going to be a similar technique. But this time, either brush the gold straight onto your fingertip or dip your finger in the palette.
Brush some gold ink onto your Nikko G and trace over and around these smudges just like before.
You’ll finish up this step by returning to your sumi ink. Use your dip pen to hash some little fray lines around the border. Then, add more black tracings throughout the card for even more detail and layering. You can do this with your straight pen or a thin (size 000) watercolor brush!
7. Use Your Art Water
After I drew out all of the little leaves and petals, I realized the card could use some more depth and contrast. So, using a watercolor brush dipped in your sumi-stained art water, paint your card … between the flowers, over flower petals — whatever you prefer!
8. Add a Few Final Touches
Now, add a second line around the center border using your black pen. It’s okay if the card is still a little wet from your art water; I found that it added more imperfect-perfection to the card! Once you’ve done this, you’ve finished your sympathy card.
As a kid, my dad always told us: “There are no mistakes — there is only art”. Keep this in mind as you approach your creative endeavors! Art and inspiration comes from everywhere; If anything, I hope this tutorial has taught you that.
Thanks very much for reading,