I wanted to make something special for my mom’s birthday this month, and I knew she’d love a calligraphy family tree! I’ve toyed with creating one of these for a long time, but — to be honest — I felt confused about who to put where. It was important to me to come up with an elegant design, which also required some thought and patience! I feel happy with what I came up with today, and I’m sharing how I made it with you in case you’re interested in creating a calligraphy family tree, too.
1. Write Out Your Lineage
Before you get started with the tree itself, write out the names of the people in your family. This may prove to be quite the feat for some people! In my family, for example, there have been a few divorces and remarriages. A good rule of thumb is to stick with biological direct ancestors unless there’s a real feud.
Next, use the layout that you came up with to create a rough draft of a tree. My maternal great-grandparents are at the bottom of this tree, and the tree comes together to pair up my maternal grandparents. While I tried not to exclude anyone, I kept my focus on my mother’s immediate family. That means my dad’s parents/siblings don’t show up on the tree, and I didn’t include my grandfather’s siblings’ spouses or children because I don’t know their names (and I’m not sure that my mom does, either).
2. Make a Pencil Draft of Your Calligraphy Family Tree
Now, choose a high-quality piece of paper. I’m using an A4 sheet of handmade paper from Indian Cotton Paper Co. If you don’t have handmade paper, watercolor paper or drawing paper — cut to 8″ x 10″ or 11″ x 14″ — would be perfect instead! Once you’ve got your paper, use a pencil to lightly draw a vertical line down the center to help you maintain symmetry. I’d also draw a horizontal line 1.5″ from the top of the page and 1.5″ from the bottom of the page so you can center your family tree vertically. Once you’ve made those layout lines, draw a tree trunk with a split, and write your great-grandparents’ names in Janet Style calligraphy.
Work your way up, writing names as you go.
Continue to create a pencil draft with branches and calligraphy until you’re happy with how everything looks.
3. Add Ink to the Names
Now that your names are exactly where you want them to be, pair a stiff nib and Ziller Soot Black ink to write over the names. I chose to use a Nikko G nib since its medium flex is good for writing fairly small words!
While you could get away with using sumi ink for this project, it’s always good to use a waterproof ink like Ziller. That way, you can fearlessly incorporate watercolors into your family tree in a later step.
4. Draw Leaves and Add Ink
Once the ink on the names has dried, use your pencil to draw drafts of twigs and leaves. You can make leaves that look like mine, or you can choose a different kind of leaf shape (maple leaves would be cool, for example). Try to use your leaves to fill in any negative spaces around the names.
I like to ink over the leaves as I finish sections of the draft. You don’t have to do it this way — instead, you can draw out the entire draft before “inking” the tree — but I wanted to see results quicker!
You can add dimension to the trunk however you want to. For me, that meant using crosshatching to denote shadows and grooves. The concept goes like this: you draw closely-spaced intersecting lines to signify shadows. For lighter tones, your intersecting lines will be farther apart.
Continue to “climb” the tree with your crosshatching and leaves.
Once you’ve drawn all your leaves and branches and the ink has dried, gently erase any pencil draft lines with a good eraser.
Once you’re finished with this step, your calligraphy family tree will look something like this:
5. Add Watercolor to Your Calligraphy Family Tree
At this point in your family tree project, you can either leave the tree black and white or add watercolor to it. I opted to add just a bit of Arabic gold to each leaf with my Nikko G nib (learn how to use gold watercolor with your dip pen here). If you would like more color, feel free to paint the whole tree. It would look pretty with different tones of green leaves and brown wood!
When you feel happy with how your tree looks (tip: look at it from at least 5 feet away!), it’s finished.
I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and that you give it a try! My mom is just thrilled with this calligraphy family tree and already on the hunt for the perfect frame. I suspect that if you give your family tree as a gift, your recipient will be just as enthusiastic. 🙂
Thanks very much for reading, and have a wonderfully creative weekend!