In 2013, I (Lindsey) discovered a book that inspired me and helped to ignite a passion for the dip pen: Modern Calligraphy. Within its pages, I became acquainted with watercolor calligraphy, the Brause EF66 nib, and project ideas that I couldn’t get enough of! Fast forward six years, and I still look to Molly’s books, Instagram, and website for inspiration. Of course, you can imagine how thrilled I was that she agreed to write this guest post! Today, she’ll teach us how to make a “Night Before Christmas” card using a few basic supplies. Without further ado, here’s Molly:
1. Gather Your Supplies
To get started making this “Night Before Christmas” card, you’ll need just a few things. Feel free to make substitutions based on what’s handy for you! The numbers in the image correlate with the list below it.
- Finetec Gold Watercolor
- Paintbrush (a fairly large size works best)
- Brause EF66 nib
- Straight pen holder
- White mechanical pencil
- Flat A7 (5″ x 7″, 127 mm x 178 mm) cards in a dark color – I’m using black A7 cards by Indian Cotton Paper Co., which specializes in handmade paper that’s perfect for calligraphy! You can use any A7 cardstock, though; it doesn’t have to be handmade.
- A7 Envelopes – I’ve chosen to use contrasting color envelopes from Indian Cotton Paper Co. (Cards & Pockets also has great envelopes!)
- Mastering Modern Calligraphy – This is my new book! It contains over 2,700 modern calligraphy exemplars, alphabets, and exemplars.
- X-Acto knife (optional)
- Pencil (optional)
2. Make a Pencil Draft of the Christmas Card
First, use a white mechanical pencil to lightly draw six wavy lines horizontally across the A7 card. Don’t press down too hard or else you can make indents in the paper which cannot be erased. The aim is to create an organic composition, so there is no “right” way to draw these lines.
Next, in a flowy, stretched-out, all-lowercase style, lightly write out your holiday greeting using the waves as baselines. Draw long strokes at the beginning and end of each line, so the calligraphy runs from one edge of the paper to the other. Don’t worry if this looks like a rough sketch – mine certainly does! – because the pencil will eventually be erased.
My new book, Mastering Modern Calligraphy, teaches this lettering style, which I call “Nautica” (p. 116). It is a loose and uneven alphabet, making for a beautifully organic design.
Notice that I have not only connected the letters but the words as well, drawing long connector strokes from the last letter of one word into the first letter of the next. If you make these word connection strokes long enough, they will read as spaces, while creating unique movement in the composition.
This is the text I chose for my card, including the line breaks I used to make it fit on six lines:
‘twas the night
and all through
the house, not a
creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.
Once you’ve written this text, use small caps print to write the date.
Once you’re finished, your draft will look something like this:
3. Add Gold to Your Christmas Card
Ink your nib with gold Finetec paint. I do this by filling my paintbrush, then pulling my nib gently over its bristles.
Test out your nib’s ink flow on a piece of scrap paper. Some nibs are inherently more finicky than others – like the Brause EF66 I’m using here – and most nibs need a bit of breaking in if they are brand new. Before inking a piece of artwork, I always make sure the nib works and the ink flows!
Once you’ve tested your nib, you are ready to “ink” the design. You may find that you need to refill your nib more often than with regular ink, but if you hold the paintbrush in your non-writing hand, re-inking doesn’t add much time. Even though my lettering style is very casual – with uneven baselines, slant, and letter size – I still work very slowly because it keeps the upstrokes and connector strokes smooth and opaque. The combined factors of 1) using light ink on dark paper, and 2) using paint instead of ink, can lead to translucent spots (especially in upstrokes) if you don’t take your time.
Additionally, I’m using Indian Cotton Paper Co. handmade paper here. Even though this is a great brand of paper for calligraphy, it still has more “tooth” (texture) than cardstock, so I’m very careful about pen snags. If you have chosen a smooth paper for your card, I still advise that you move slowly all the way to the end.
4. Fix Splatters and Erase Guidelines
If you happened to make any pen snags or paint splatters, wait for your work to dry completely. Then, with a very sharp blade, scrape off the ink gently and slowly, working on small areas at a time. (I use a #11 X-acto knife.)
When your card is completely and totally dry, gently erase the white pencil. I like to move my eraser over the whole paper in a small circular motion. If the eraser shavings stick to the paper a bit, rub them with clean, dry fingers until they lift off the surface, then brush them off.
Once you finish erasing, your Christmas card should look something like this:
5. Embellish the Envelope
This card is lovely by itself, but I like to send it in an equally artistic envelope. Start by painting a thin, gold border around the edge of your envelope, both on the flap and on the front. I’ve made a rough, organic-looking border that is very uneven. I feel this complements the loose calligraphy style and the deckled edge of the handmade paper. Even if you’re using paper with a crisp-cut edge, rather than a deckled edge, you can still play with an uneven border.
Next, address your envelope using the same gold ink and lettering style as your card. Here, I have lightly sketched the address using a soft, 2B art pencil. I have chosen this pencil because I can easily erase it when the paint is dry without leaving an indentation.
6. Admire Your Finished Christmas Card
Once your ink dries, there you have it: a strikingly modern, yet wholly organic, Christmas card! I encourage you to extend this technique to any number of projects, from small quotes to large manuscripts. I hope you found practicing this style of wavy, break-all-the-rules calligraphy exhilarating!
If you’re interested in trying your hand at more fun, modern styles, pick up a copy of Mastering Modern Calligraphy, which is brimming with letterform variations, complete alphabets, flourishes, exercise drills, and more!
Molly Suber Thorpe is a hand lettering artist whose focus is on branding and editorial calligraphy work. She teaches Skillshare classes and in-person workshops, and is the author of three calligraphy books: Modern Calligraphy, The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook, and Mastering Modern Calligraphy. Molly is also the founder of Calligrafile.com, a 100% free resource archive for modern calligraphers and lettering artists. This curated library recommends trusted supplies, online shops, books, learning resources, and freelance business tools.
Since 2009, Molly has created custom hand lettering for clients including Google Arts & Culture, Michael Kors, Martha Stewart, Lonely Planet, and Fendi. Her work and words have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, The Guardian, UPPERCASE, and Buzzfeed.
To see more of Molly’s work, you can:
- Visit her portfolio
- Follow Molly on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and/or YouTube
- Check out her books
- Learn from Molly on Skillshare
- Sign-up for her in-person modern calligraphy workshop mailing list
- Bookmark Calligrafile.com
I hope that you enjoyed Molly’s tutorial over how to make this charming and magical Christmas card. Many thanks go out to her for creating it! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment. And, of course, if you’re in love with the Finetec in this post, throw your hat into the 2019 Holiday Giveaways! Thanks very much for reading, and have a wonderful weekend.