Long ago, family crests — which technically are called “coats of arms” — were used as a way to show family achievements and high-ranking status. In modern times, however, you don’t have to be a descendent of nobility or an impressive knight to have a family crest. Today’s tutorial will show you how to design your own family crest using a printable template and watercolor botanicals!
1. Print and Use the Family Crest Template
The family crest template — which you can download by clicking here — features a traditional shield shape. You can print off the template on any paper, then cut out a 5″x7″ (127 mm x 178 mm) piece of watercolor paper.
Next, consider whether you would like to include a banner under your crest or not. The banner might say your last name, or something like “ESTABLISHED 2017”. In today’s tutorial, I won’t be making a family crest with a banner, but you can see lots of examples of crests that have banners on this Pinterest board. If you choose to make a crest with a banner, make sure the top and bottom of your paper are touching the dotted lines on the template. If you plan on making a crest without a banner, line up the paper with the solid lines. Put the template and the watercolor paper against a light-filled window, and trace the shield shape (and, optionally, the banner shape) onto the watercolor paper in pencil.
Once you’re finished tracing, your paper should look something like this. Try to make your pencil lines much, much lighter than mine! I wanted to make sure you could see the pencil lines in this photo, but in “real life”, they should be very faint.
At this point, you’re ready to start painting!
2. Paint a Botanical Border
To make your family crest’s botanical border, you’ll want to start with a fairly small brush — size 0 or 00 is perfect!
Next, use a drop or two of water to moisten some turquoise watercolor paint. I am using a custom watercolor palette from Greenleaf & Blueberry here, but I recently ordered this Sakura Koi set, which would also work great for this project!
Turquoise Stems and Leaves
Use the turquoise paint to make stems and leaves like the ones shown below. To create them, you’ll start by using a light touch to paint curved lines for the stems, then paint leaves on the ends of the lines. For the most part, your stems and leaves will be outside of the pencil guideline, but a few should be inside to give the illusion of overgrowth.
Purple Stems and Leaves
Next, moisten some dark purple paint and use it to to make fern-like leaves. To make fern leaves, simply paint a wavy line (the stem), then paint several thin leaves coming off of it. (I switched to a smaller brush — size 00 — to achieve the thin stem and leaves.)
The placement of the stems and leaves doesn’t really matter. What you’re going for here is a fairly even distribution of each type of plant around the pencil border.
Brown Stems and Leaves
Next, switch it up by adding a branch with a coniferous feel to it. To make it, start by using light brown paint to make a curved line with smaller lines coming off of it.
Next, paint tiny lines coming off of each of the small lines that you drew.
Finish up by painting 5-6 of the coniferous branches around the family crest outline.
Yellow Leaves and Dots
Now, paint three clusters of long, thin yellow leaves. These leaves should somewhat resemble the leaves you may see on spider plants. Once you’ve painted the yellow leaves, use your bush to make various sizes of dots around all of the botanicals.
As you wait for the design to dry, you can use water to moisten your black watercolor paint for the next step!
3. Trace Over the Pencil Outline
Saturate your paintbrush with black paint, then trace over your pencil lines. Tracing requires a steady hand, so make sure that you’re relaxed and breathing evenly. Tension tends to lead to shaky lines! Don’t paint over any of the leaves or stems that intersect the pencil line. Instead, lift up your brush and paint around them.
If your hand is feeling especially steady, you can try painting a small inside line that is parallel to the outline. This step isn’t required, but it gives the family crest more dimension.
Allow a couple of minutes for the watercolor to dry, then move on to the next step.
4. Add Lettering
This step is utterly customizable! Again, if you reference this Family Crest Pinterest board, you’ll see that artists use a variety of lettering in their crests. Some people opt for adding numbers, others add complete initials, and still others write entire names. In this case, I decided to write a simple Flourish Formal “B” for “Bugbee”, my last name. You’ll notice that I made pencil guides and a draft first to ensure even spacing. Since you spent so much time and care making the crest’s border, a pencil draft for the lettering is a good idea! Doing so leaves less margin for error.
Next, you can use the watercolor calligraphy technique to draw the letter using a dip pen. I would recommend using the same watercolor paint that you used to trace over the pencil lines in the previous step. Remember: watercolor paper can be difficult to write on with a dip pen because it’s quite fibrous. Proceed with care, and don’t worry if you have re-trace over upstrokes with thin downstrokes. If watercolor calligraphy seems a bit intimidating, feel free to use a regular black pen instead!
The result will look something like the photo below.
Wait for the watercolor or ink to dry, then erase the pencil lines.
Congratulations, you now have a family crest!
What to Do with a Family Crest
If you like your family crest, you can frame it and display it in your home. I have this one on display in our living room!
You can also use the techniques described in the Digitizing Artwork and Calligraphy eCourse to make your family crest into a computer graphic. You can then use that graphic on wedding invitations (see an example here), calling cards, or printed art to give to your family.
A modern family crest doesn’t have to be just botanicals. You can also include things that are family-specific! For example, the family crest below, created for my friend Rodger, features a southwestern flair to celebrate his New Mexico home. It also alludes to a variety of things that he and his wife enjoy, like Paris, aikido, and calligraphy.
If you’re interested in making a family crest like the one pictured above, you can learn how in this blog post. The process is a bit more involved, but you may end up making something that you really love!
I hope that this tutorial inspires you to give making your own family crest a try! If you don’t love the design described above, you’re spoiled for options as far as other things you can do. Definitely give this Pinterest board a look for inspiration! From font to colors to shape, you can modify your crest to look exactly how you want it to look.
If you have any suggestions or questions, of course feel free to comment! Otherwise, have a fantastic and creative weekend!