• “Night Before Christmas” Card Tutorial – Guest Post by Molly Suber Thorpe

    Today, I’ve handed over the writing reins to artist + calligrapher Molly Suber Thorpe, author of Modern Calligraphy! Molly will walk you through how to use gold ink to make a tasteful and modern Christmas card with an organic feel.

    Night Before Christmas Card Tutorial - Guest Post by Molly Suber Thorpe

    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.


    1. Finetec Gold Watercolor
    2. Paintbrush (a fairly large size works best)
    3. Brause EF66 nib
    4. Straight pen holder
    5. White mechanical pencil
    6. Eraser
    7. 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.
    8. A7 Envelopes – I’ve chosen to use contrasting color envelopes from Indian Cotton Paper Co. (Cards & Pockets also has great envelopes!)
    9. Mastering Modern CalligraphyThis is my new book! It contains over 2,700 modern calligraphy exemplars, alphabets, and exemplars.
    10. X-Acto knife (optional)
    11. Pencil (optional)
    Indian Paper Co. Envelopes
    Indian Cotton Paper Co. makes gorgeous handmade envelopes!

    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.

    Drawing wavy guidelines
    The quote I’m using takes up six lines, but you can easily apply this technique to longer or shorter text!

    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.

    Making a draft

    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.

    Making a draft

    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
    before christmas
    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.

    Writing the date
    I’ve chosen to write “Christmas 2019,” but you might prefer to use simply the year, or a different holiday. My book also teaches three very different small caps alphabets!

    Once you’re finished, your draft will look something like this:

    The finished draft
    Notice that the draft is very light! Remember: it’s important to use a light touch to avoid making indentations in the paper.

    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.

    Adding Finetec to the Nib
    You can find a detailed tutorial over how to use Finetec for calligraphy by clicking here.

    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!

    Testing out the nib

    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.

    "Inking" the calligraphy

    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.)

    Getting rid of splatters
    If you’ve never used this technique, try it out elsewhere first. The scrap paper you used in step 5 would make the perfect test subject!

    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.

    Erasing guidelines

    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.

    Adding Embellishment to the Envelope

    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.

    Calligraphing the Envelope
    I just love how Finetec inks are opaque enough to pop on both light and dark paper! Even though the paper colors I chose are different, the use of the same ink, same paper type, and same calligraphy style ties them together as a pair.

    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!

    Merry Christmas 2019! I hope that you enjoyed learning how to make this Christmas card.

    About Molly

    8 Creative People Who Inspire Me: Molly Suber Thorpe | The Postman's Knock
    This is Molly at work and an example of some of her eye-catching calligraphy!

    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:

    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.


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock