The same question mills through my email inbox every month or so: “How can I write calligraphy on a watercolor background?” The answer: it can be done, but you’ll have to do it in a way that may not seem intuitive! In this article, I’m going to teach you how to combine calligraphy and watercolors in a manner that results in smooth, crisp calligraphy strokes that don’t bleed.
1. Choose a Watercolor-Friendly Paper
When you’ve got your eye on a project that incorporates calligraphy and watercolors, you’ll need a hardy paper that’s water-resistant. My favorite watercolor paper is Strathmore 140 lb. because it can handle a lot of moisture before it starts to warp!
It’s important to note that dip pens can be a bit finicky on watercolor paper. Watercolor paper nearly always has some tooth and texture to it, so remember that you’ll have to use a light touch as you write!
2. Start with a Pencil Draft
Behind every polished masterpiece is a draft! Pencil drafts can take a while to make, but they save you time in the long run. If you begin your calligraphy piece with a pencil draft, you drastically reduce your chance of making a mistake!
Try writing out an exact draft of your calligraphy or lettering. It’s okay if you need to use guidelines (like letter baselines) in order to achieve an ideal draft!
3. Trace Over the Draft with Waterproof Ink
People usually think that the watercolor should go on first, then the ink. I would advise against going in that order! Why? Because it’s very difficult to create calligraphy on a watercolored surface. The watercolor makes the surface too smooth and unpredictable, rendering it tough to create professional-looking strokes! The only way you can create the calligraphy first, though, is by using a (very) waterproof ink. That’s where Ziller Soot Black comes in.
I’ve experimented with several inks over the years (see: Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins and Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part II: Bombay, Speedball, and Winsor & Newton), and Ziller ink is the only one that was completely waterproof for me! Just use a dip pen and the nib of your choice to trace over your pencil draft.
Let the ink dry, then use an eraser to get rid of any remaining pencil lines. You want to make sure they’re all gone before you go over them with watercolor — otherwise, the pencil draft will be visible through the watercolor!
4. Go Over Your Calligraphy with Watercolor
Once you’ve erased over your pencil guidelines, paint over the calligraphy with your favorite watercolors! Try to use light colors. That way, you’ll have plenty of contrast!
Once your watercolor dries, feel free to use Bleed Proof White ink to draw stars and light beams around your calligraphy. Doing so lends a fun and festive look to the project!
And that’s it! This is the exact order I’d recommend combining calligraphy and watercolors in. To recap, that’s: pencil draft, ink, and watercolor.
While we went over how to make a simple watercolor piece today, this process can apply to a variety of projects. It’s the same process I’d use for illustrated watercolor maps, for example! If you’re making something like the map pictured below, pencil drafts and waterproof ink are absolutely imperative.
I’ve also used this process to add watercolors to place cards! Remember, writing on a surface that has dry (or wet, for that matter) watercolor paint on it is never ideal. Instead, write first, then paint second!
I know that this is a simple article, but it contains important information! My hope is that it helps you next time you want to create a project that incorporates both calligraphy and watercolors. If you have any questions about combining these two mediums (or different mediums), please feel free to comment below! I’m happy to help if I can.
Thanks very much for reading TPK, and have a fantastic weekend!