If you want to make something beautiful this weekend, try your hand at this tutorial! Artist Schin Loong — a legend in the calligraphy world — shows us how to create a beautiful flourished swan with helpful tips and a dash of humor.
Hi everyone, my name is Schin Loong (@openinkstand on Instagram) and I’ll be showing you how to create a flourished swan envelope. This is a fun and versatile design and you can build it up with all kinds of flourishes and trimmings to make it your own.
If you learn best by watching, I made a video tutorial of this design! You can watch it on my YouTube channel, or just tune in below:
For those who prefer text and photos, I’ve got you covered! Keep reading to find written step-by-step instructions.
1. Gather Your Supplies
Okay, so I’m going to use this flourished swan design on an envelope. If you choose to put your swan on an envelope, too, you’ll need the supplies pictured below (keep scrolling down for a list):
There’s only one thing thing that’s worse than messing up when you’re calligraphing an envelope, and that’s not being able to peel the postage stamp off of the dud envelope for reuse. So, I recommend using a pencil to mark out the space you’ll need for the stamp. Only when the envelope is finished and approved do I stick the stamp on. Saves heartache and my purse!
Next, lightly pencil in an “S” shape in the middle of the envelope. This will be the skeleton for the swan. Make sure the top part of the “S” is smaller than the bottom part, because the bottom part is where we’re going to write the address. On the left side of the “S”, draw a curvy swooshy thing towards the upper left of the envelope. This will be the wing. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect!
3. Start Inking
Now, let’s grab the pen and use some ink! I always start with the swan’s head. I find that the trick here is to keep the neck fairly skinny. After all, swans are known for skinny long elegant necks, right?
Now, here’s the scary part! Take a calming breath and continue the neck all the way down in one swoop towards the bottom. This is where the pencil sketch comes in handy: it helps guide your hand to make a nice oval. (Without a pencil guideline, I know that my swan would probably end up looking like an amoeba or something.) Since you gave yourself a big space to write, you can fill it with any words you like. In the photo below, I wrote Rachel’s name really big and fancy, but I kept her address in smaller plain lettering as courtesy to the postman.
Now, you’ll add in the wing stroke. I always try to make this stroke the thickest strokes in the entire artwork, because that will bring attention to the wing. To do this, you’ll need to really apply pressure to your nib and be confident as you execute the stroke!
This is the fun part.. flourishing! Or “squiggles”, if that sounds less intimidating. The flourished birds of yore always have these beautiful oval squiggles, which you’ll create under the bottom part of the wing. You can keep it consistent for a formal look, but I want a more playful-looking swan, so my squiggles are pretty freeform. You can also see how I turned the envelope upside down to write my ovals. This makes the ovals easier to make, and they end up looking more natural … try it; you’ll see what I mean.
I liked how the squiggles look, so I added a second layer of squiggles underneath. You can add a third if you like, because now we’re just adding on layer by layer and building up this swan. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things so I stopped at two.
This is what we have so far. Getting there!
Now, make the tail under the wing. It should have a sharp-ish nature to it, and there are plenty of variations you can make to this design (remind you of any calligraphy drills?). Making things a bit sharp provides a nice contrast to the wing squiggles too. If you have space, you can make a really dramatic tail. In the picture below, you can see that I’m also starting to add patterns and designs to tie up loose ends.
No matter what flourishing you do, make sure everything is in harmony with everything else. No blobs, deflated balloons, or unconfident lines. You can always add more pencil lines to try new shapes out, but make sure your ink is dry first before messing around!
5. Add Water
Here’s what I have so far. It looks weird … we don’t want a swan that’s just floating around in space. Time to be brave again and add some big ol’ flourishing on the bottom space so our swan has some water to glide on.
Well, here it is. Wait for the ink to dry, erase the pencil sketches, pop on the stamp, and your swan is ready to soar!
If you like this design, be sure to check out my book Calligraphic Drawing for additional fantastic flourished animal ideas. Thanks for reading!
About Schin Loong
Schin Loong is an artist and calligraphy teacher. When she is not working on art, she enjoys playing the piano and knitting. She is currently going bananas under the quarantine and lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her dog Wuffles. You can find her at her website, on Instagram (@openinkstand), or on YouTube.