Her cousin, Rita, had been her best friend since childhood. They were like sisters, always there for each other. Rita's husband, Tim, had recently passed away, and Mary, wanting to help her friend in some way, had the idea for a very special sort of memorial. It would be a tribute in the form of a traditional illuminated manuscript, but with a modern twist. Not only would it include a formal reading from his funeral, one which had great meaning to the family, but it would also capture the essence of who he was as a man.
(If you're not sure what an illuminated manuscript is, you can read about them here.)
I'd like to share with you how I approached this unusual commission and give you a glimpse into the life of a man who was cherished by his wife, family, and friends.
|"Tribute to Tim", 9" x 12", ink and watercolor on Stillman and Birn ivory Delta series 270 gsm paper|
The design process began with Mary emailing me background information about Tim. We discussed what some of his interests had been, and she began gathering the appropriate reference photos for me.
I started practicing the chancery italic calligraphy style, which I hadn't used much in recent years, and experimented with different nib sizes and inks to see which would give me the results I wanted.
|I used a Speedball C-5 nib and DeAtramentis black ink|
Since I wanted the piece to have a vintage feel, I chose ivory-colored 270 gsm Stillman and Birn Delta series paper for the final artwork. It comes in 22" x 30" sheets, its surface is smooth enough for the lettering nib to glide across, and it doesn't wrinkle or bend when watercolor is applied. Also, since I use Stillman and Birn sketchbooks with 270 gsm paper quite often, I'm familiar with how the watercolor behaves on it. That gave me one less thing to concern myself with on this project.
The rough sketch was drawn on tracing paper with a pencil. I did a draft of the lettering on one sheet, then layered another over it to draw the border. That way I wouldn't disturb the lettering when I modified or erased parts of the border design. I started by drawing one of the Celtic corner designs then tracing it onto the other three corners. The small illustrations were blocked in and curving vines added to fill the remaining space.
I used a Daylight Wafer LED Light Box to trace my design onto the Delta paper. (Disclosure: The nice folks at Cheap Joe's Art Stuff gave me this product to try.)
I like that it's flat and thin, so my hand doesn't hang over the edge of the light table when tracing. And it has different levels of illumination. It was easy to see through the heavy Stillman and Birn Delta paper to trace my lettering and border design.
I did my tracing with a pencil, then inked the lettering.
I thought it would be wise to complete the lettering first and proofread it very carefully before tracing the elaborate border. (Not that I've ever made a mistake on an important project, mind you!) The decorative border was drawn with a Sakura Pigma Micron 01 black pen.
Everything looked good...I was ready to begin painting. The vines came first, painted with mixtures of olive green, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, and permanent alizarin.
Next, I began painting some of the small illustrations of things that Mary had told me were meaningful to Rita and Tim. First, a lucky penny. Mary hadn't stipulated that the penny be from a particular year, but I thought, "Why not use a significant date on the penny?" A quick email to Mary, and we decided to use the year Rita and Tim were married, 1998.
Calla lilies were important to the couple, so I decided to make them a prominent feature of the border.
Tim was a wine connoisseur, so I painted a bunch of grapes and trailing grape vines...
As a little surprise for Mary, I added a pair of mourning doves. Mourning doves are gentle birds who are faithful to each other and mate for life. I thought it was fitting to include them in the painting to represent Rita and Tim's devotion to each other.
Tim was a CPA, and I found the perfect way to reference that - a CPA symbol with intertwining Baroque-style letters.
He was also a very spiritual man, so Mary suggested we include this Christian symbol.
Tim was of Irish heritage, and he and Rita had enjoyed traveling to Ireland, so we wanted to include something Irish in the piece. Looking through books on Celtic design, I came across this corner motif - it was perfect! I debated long and hard about what color to paint it and finally decided to use pure Cobalt Blue. I thought it would lift the page a bit and keep it from becoming too heavy and serious.
The large initial capital A block was begun by painting the vines to match the border vines I had already painted.
Here's how the illuminated manuscript looked so far....
Tim loved his dogs, Jade and Charles, so we wanted to include them in the artwork. Even though the drawings of them were small, I wanted to be sure they were fairly accurate. (Each dog sketch was only about 1-1/4" high.) They had to be recognizable, after all!
Some dark brush strokes were added, and I called the pups done.
On to the finishing touches...
I ordered a set of Finetec gold watercolors from Paper and Ink Arts, so I could give my illuminated manuscript a look smiliar to the medieval ones with their gold leaf accents.
The hardest part about using this set was deciding which of the five gold tones to choose. (I picked the second from the left.)
The decorative elements on the right side of the painting were given gold borders...
then finished off with blue, yellow and red watercolor.
I painted the background of the Celtic corner motifs gold...
along with the large letter A. I added a few final touches to the border around the A...
then decided to add more fine-line flourishes of gold with a small round brush throughout the vining border designs on the manuscript.
It was finally finished! I couldn't wait to take the painting down the hill to Mary's house and show it to her. I sat her down, told her to take a deep breath, then revealed the illuminated manuscript in all its colorful glory. "Ohhhhhh....," she breathed. She looked at the painting, then at me, and there were no words that could convey what her eyes told me. It touched her. She loved it. And she couldn't wait to share it with Rita, knowing how much it would mean to her and what a comfort it would be to her every day.
|Click to enlarge|
As we talked about the painting, we marveled at how we had worked together to create this exceptional piece of art. I told her about my deliberations over what color to paint the Celtic corners. She looked at me and said quietly, "Leslie, that blue is the exact color of Tim's eyes." It still gives me chills to think about it. How did I know...?
I'm so thankful that my artwork can make a difference in someone's life, that by using this creative gift that God has given me, I can create something wonderful where there once was only the spark of an idea. I hope that this painting will bring light to Rita's life every day and remind her of Tim, who loved his life with her so very much.