Illuminated Letter Project

It’s April 17th, a milestone in the history of Star Wars: The teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out today! Besides that, my most recent art project is finally finished.

Understanding this project requires some knowledge of illumination, or the art of decorating manuscripts and books with colored, gilded pictures, decorated initials and ornamental borders. This ancient art form was most popular during the middle ages, but dates back to Egyptian times in 1310 B.C. Illuminations were often used to decorate bibles and prayer books, and were usually created by monks and nuns. The first letter of a passage would be enlarged and decorated with pictures of animals, plants, motifs, human figures, and even miniature paintings. After the letter was drawn, it was often inlaid with precious metals such as gold and silver. Because such care was taken to create books containing illuminated letters, they were very expensive, and could only be afforded by the very wealthy (aristocrats, royalty, high placed clergy members, etc.) .

The idea behind this project is to take a letter that is the first letter of something significant to you and the transform it into an illuminated letter. The requirements were to have a human, plant, and animal component to your design, as well as defined borders. I was really inspired by art nouveau and the work of Alphonse Mucha, so  I decided to do a art nouveau style illuminated letter.

Rough Draft and Transferring

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The six images above show the development of the rough draft. I wanted to include a strong central female figure, as in much of art nouveau, but in my piece, I wanted her to be a warrior. The woman has a pretty neutral expression, but her sword and chainmail make her look more serious. My interpretation of this is that she is some kind of peace keeper. I had a lot of difficulty when deciding on her outfit because I wanted something simple and flowing, but with some kind of armor. I didn’t want to overdo it with the armor and make her look cheap or too weighed down. In the end, I got the chainmail ideal by looking at wedding dresses. Yes, that’s right, wedding dresses. There are some really beautiful art nouveau/Bella epoch style wedding dresses out there, and One that I found was decorated with beads and chains that I thought looked similar to chain mail. For my animal component, I choose to use geese. I like drawing wings, and I thought the geese would fit well into this piece. The last image is a partially transferred version of the final rough draft, which is not shown here.

COLORING! (and Illumination)

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Wow! That’s a lot of pictures. I apologize for the poor quality of some of the images. Coloring the final draft took me a pretty long time. I used a set of 36 prismacolor pencils, which are really useful for blending. I love how the finished project turned out. It was really enjoyable to color and fun to look at. For the illumination part, since I can’t afford gold (I’m an artist, duh), I used a couple of gold paint pens.

I hope you have learned something about illuminated letters and have found this project interesting. My next big artwork will be a zentangeled chameleon. Are you intrigued? Just what is a zentangled chameleon? You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out. 😉

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