As the holiday draws near, I’m finding myself in need of gifts — mostly little trinkets. That’s why I decided to create an illuminated letter for today’s tutorial! It’s a gorgeous, totally frame-worthy gift for a friend whose name starts with “S”. Believe it or not, this was pretty easy to make because I used one vital shortcut. I’ll share that shortcut, and the PDF that you need for it, in this post!
1. Gather Supplies
You’ll need a few key supplies to create this tutorial. They include everything shown below, which I’ll explain under the photo.
- Printed letter of your choice from the Illuminated Letters Printable Alphabet (you can learn more about this PDF at the end of this tutorial)
- Sumi ink (I keep mine in this glass jar)
- Finetec Arabic Gold watercolor
- Violet India ink
- Straight pen fitted with a Nikko G nib
- Size 0 or 1 paintbrush
You’ll also need a 5″x7″ (127 mm x 179 mm) piece of paper. I strongly recommend using handmade cotton paper with a deckled edge for this tutorial! It will give you illuminated letter a luxe, bespoke feel that simple cardstock just can’t replicate. The paper that I’m using today is from Fabulous Fancy Pants.
Place the handmade paper over the printed letter page. Try your best to line up the edges of the handmade paper with the black guidelines around the letter! Then, put both pieces of paper on a light box (or against a bright window). Once you can see the outline of the letter, lightly trace over it with a pencil.
Once you’re finished, your letter will look something like the “S” below.
3. Add Violet Ink
Now, use your paintbrush to apply violet ink to the outside letter outline and any blank spaces inside the letter. If the ink looks too dark, then add some water to your ink-saturated paintbrush to lighten it up a bit!
As a side note, I considered using watercolor for this step, but I find that watercolor dries with a bit of a dull sheen on handmade paper. India ink does a better job of retaining its vibrancy!
4. Illuminate the Illuminated Letter
Before you begin this step, add a few drops (1/4 tsp or so) of water to your gold watercolor. Let the water sit for about a minute, then use your paintbrush to mix the water and the paint together. You will be rewarded with brilliant liquid gold, which you can then use to fill in the rest of the letter and its flourishes!
Continue to paint until the letter and the decorations around it are filled with brilliant gold.
5. Trace Over the Remaining Lines
At this point, you’re almost done! All you need to do is trace over any remaining pencil guidelines with sumi ink and your Nikko G nib. I chose to use this particular ink/nib combination for a reason! The Yasutomo’s KY series sumi ink doesn’t have shellac in it, which means it dries a brilliant matte black. The Nikko G nib is a medium-flex nib, which means you’ll be able to achieve a pretty consistent line width.
Drawing on handmade paper with a dip pen and ink is something you should do carefully and cautiously. Watch your nib for stray fibers; handmade paper tends to part with its fibers quite easily! You’ll probably find yourself re-dipping your nib in ink often because handmade paper is more absorbent than most other papers.
Once you’ve drawn over all the guidelines, you’re finished! If you want, you can add a few black circles along lines here and there to give the piece additional contrast.
The Cheater’s Shortcut
First of all, I should clarify that there’s no dishonorable cheating involved in this tutorial! To make the Illuminated Letters Printable Alphabet, I enlarged an alphabet from Decorative Alphabets and Initials. It’s a book full of copyright-free alphabets that has been very inspirational to me over the years!
The alphabet I used for the PDF/this tutorial is from page 93, and is an arabesque design.
Of course, you could free-hand draw one of the Arabesque letters pictured above. However: it’s the holiday season, and I’ve got Christmas travels to coordinate, a toddler to take care of, and packages to put in the mail! I’m sure you’re in a similar boat, so shall we agree that it’s fine to trace a letter outline for a guaranteed amazing result in a smaller timeframe? 🙂
My only regret about this tutorial? I wish you could see the piece that I made today in person! Gold watercolor is so beautiful in real life because of the way it interacts with light. It does look pretty in photos, but you’ll be blown away by how all of this comes together when you make it. The vibrant violet ink, the soft cotton paper, the brilliant gold, and the jet black sumi combine to make a piece that’s elegant and eye-catching — perfect for a gift!
If you have any questions about today’s tutorial, please feel free to ask in the comments. Otherwise, have a fantastic (hopefully not too hectic) weekend before Christmas! Thanks so much for reading, and happy creating!