Saturday, 15 March 2014

Designing an Arts & Crafts Style Illuminated Letter

A couple of weeks ago I gave myself the very special treat of a 3 day course at Cambridge Botanic Gardens.  I'd picked up a booklet there on one of my many walks and was intrigued by the title, especially as it involved the use of gold leaf.  Now I haven't picked up a paintbrush in months ... I've been under such other demands as work every day, doing my knitting course and the occasional bout of sewing. It really takes a lot of concentration for me to complete a painting, so taking 3 days out was just what I needed to get started again.  The course was held in a lodge adjoining the garden and our classroom looked out over tranquil gardens ... magical.  Georita Harriott, an award winning botanical artist, led the course.  I've seen and admired her work before and felt privileged to be taught by her.

We started out with a lecture on Arts & Crafts decoration, learning more about the work of William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and, unknown to us all on the course and a revelation, Lewis Foreman-Day.  They had all been influenced in turn themselves by medieval styles and had 'raided' works from the past to make their own designs.  Our decorated letter could take the form of either a boxed style or a more free flowing design and I chose boxed ...  I am thinking of designing a logo for 'Marguerite Designs' and thought this would lend itself to the development of that.

Anyway, we began by choosing a style of letter and scaling it up with a grid system.

After tracing our selected letter, we could then decorate.  I chose to use acanthus leaves entwining the letter 'D' - the acanthus was a typical Arts & Crafts motif.  While I was outdoors, lunching on one of the benches, I noticed the daisies, or marguerites at my feet and thought they would be a perfect accompaniment ...


We then had to select the area that would be decorated with gold leaf.  This process has to be done first, before any painting, as there is a danger that the gold can stick to the underlying paintwork.  I felt quite brave and decided to do the whole 'D' like this!  I also felt it lent itself to doing the daisy centres as a kind of accent.  A glue called 'Ormoline Gilding Medium' has to be painted on first - it's best to use an old paint brush for this, as it's hard to wash off.  It can dry quite clear, so it helps to mix in some Yellow Ochre watercolour with it to identify where it's been painted on.

Once dry, the medium has to be re-activated, which is done by breathing on it in succession around 10 times - this can be quite comical!  The gold leaf is then laid over the top and a smooth seashell, such as a cowrie, is used to polish over the backing paper.  The gold then separates itself from the paper and sticks to the medium.

  I loved doing this!  It seemed quite magical!  I really want to do some more ...  The next stage was painting in.  I quite liked the look of blue next to gold, which I'd seen in medieval illuminations, so I decided to use shades of it all over the background.  I found the candy stripe border around an Arts & Crafts style carpet illustration.

The Arts & Crafts artists, particularly William Morris, used natural plant colours and dyes in their works, so  I was keen not to use anything too bright.  I chose a chalky green for the acanthus leaves, in several shades along with an ochre centre.  I could use this in the striped border too, where I'd also used a strong crimsony shade to tone in with the daisy petals.

The daisy petals came next - they are not white as imagined - they have pink edges and the undersides are quite a strong shade.  Lastly, came the stems and leaves, in a yellowy green to distinguish them against the background, and finally some ochry stems.

I'm pleased with how everything turned out.  The course came along at just the right time, as I needed a bit of TLC and rest and recuperation.  I'm thinking about my logo now .... coming soon ...  


  1. Ooh! So pretty. Thank you for sharing the process, it was fascinating.

  2. Beautiful Diane. So proud you took the class and enjoyed it..


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