Back to ‘Basics’ – Illuminated Initials

There is certainly nothing ‘basic’ about illuminated initials, but for a calligrapher they are definitely one of the foundations of our craft. I love to experiment, I love to try my hand at what’s ‘trending’ (e.g. chalkboard signs!) but always along my calligraphic journey, I like, or rather – NEED – to return to ‘The Basics’ and explore the tools, techniques, and craftsmanship of scribes of yore.

And what better way to study Illuminated Initials from 500 or so years ago, than by taking an on-line class?!

Harvest Crittenden at Acorn Arts offers several on-line classes each year on top of her face-to-face workshops and appearances at IAMPETH conventions and calligraphy conferences. I am only 1/2 way through the 4-week class but already so grateful for the chance to really slow down, take my time, draw and explore the fine detail of some of these amazing capital letters (e.g. Lombardic caps). Week 1 was just that: looking at fine examples of historical forms and then trying to re-create our own keeping in mind proportion and balance and a letter’s character. I really admire some students in the class who have little lettering background and their willingness to dive in. Harvest does a great job in explaining/showing where our letterforms come from in such a short time! She does remind everyone that to study these more in-depth is a whole other life-time – but she gives just enough information to help the newbie create a well-balanced, well-drawn letter to use for their final project.

Drawn Letter inspired by historical Lombardic capital letters
Drawn letter inspired by historical Lombardic capital letters

Which brings us to Week 2: Gilding! I’ve taken my share of workshops where we explored gilding a bit but I always shy away from it when ‘on my own’…not sure why when I find it so fascinating! I think the reason I shy away is that 1) gold is expensive 2) it takes a clear work-space and good tools 3) it takes time and patience 4) and often the weather has to be just right. BUT – whenever I do take the time, it is oh-so-gratifying! Harvest, again, is such an expert at giving us precise instruction to be successful – and almost every possible hint as to why something might not be turning out the way we want! Check out her free video about gilding with Instacoll. She did not discuss how a cat can disrupt the proceedings causing you to put your pinky in drying Instacoll thus causing a dimple in your gilding – but that must be a blog for another day!

Letter transferred to a small piece of vellum with Instacoll added to accept gold.
Letter transferred to a small piece of vellum with Instacoll added to accept gold.

Anyway, I can’t wait for weeks 3 and 4 where we will finish our initial with painting & decorating and tooling the gold. So looking forward to those!

Thanks for reading this far – if you have any interest at all in exploring gilding, do check out the video – it is a great resource.

Until next time,



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