• How to Make a Gorgeous Calligraphy Family Tree

    I’ve wanted to create a calligraphy family tree for years, and my mom’s birthday gave me the excuse I needed! Today, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to make a frame-worthy family tree for my mother. My hope is that you’ll feel empowered to try making one, too!

    How to Make a Gorgeous Calligraphy Family Tree

    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.

    My Family Tree | The Postman's Knock
    I started with the youngest people in my family first and worked my way down from there! That order makes sense to me since the oldest part of a tree is the part that’s closest to the ground.

    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).

    My Family Tree
    Try starting with your great-grandparents at the bottom of your family tree, then work your way up.

    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.

    Calligraphy Family Tree Draft
    I used Janet Style calligraphy with plenty of flourishes (as taught in the Intermediate Calligraphy Online Course) to write these names.

    Work your way up, writing names as you go.

    Calligraphy Family Tree Draft
    I realized at this stage that I had forgotten my grandmother’s second husband (Jack), my grandfather’s second wife (Brenda), and Brenda’s daughter (Tatum) in my draft. They’re important members of the family, too, so I made offshoot branches for them.

    Continue to create a pencil draft with branches and calligraphy until you’re happy with how everything looks.

    Calligraphy Family Tree Draft

    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!

    Inking Over Family Tree Names
    Right-handed people may want to use an oblique pen for this portion of the project since it’s easiest to achieve a right-leaning slant that way.

    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.

    Inking Over Family Tree Names
    Sometimes, handmade paper fibers catch in a nib, causing ink drag. If this happens, just go over mistake strokes with Bleed Proof White ink! (Example: The “a” of “Tatum” looks a bit thick. I was able to fix that later with a dab of BP White.)

    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.

    Adding Leaves to the Calligraphy Family Tree

    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!

    Adding Leaves to the Calligraphy Family Tree

    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.

    Adding Leaves to the Calligraphy Family Tree
    Notice how the shadowy parts of my tree feature closely-spaced parallel lines.

    Continue to “climb” the tree with your crosshatching and leaves.

    Adding Leaves to the Calligraphy Family Tree

    Once you’ve drawn all your leaves and branches and the ink has dried, gently erase any pencil draft lines with a good eraser.

    Erasing the Pencil Draft
    It’s very important to erase gently on handmade paper! Otherwise, you might rub paper fibers right off.

    Once you’re finished with this step, your calligraphy family tree will look something like this:

    How to Make a Gorgeous Calligraphy Family Tree

    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!

    Adding Finetec Gold to the Calligraphy Family Tree

    When you feel happy with how your tree looks (tip: look at it from at least 5 feet away!), it’s finished.

    How to Make a Gorgeous Calligraphy Family Tree
    I love how Finetec gold adds an elegant shimmer to this tree.

    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!


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