Saturday, May 20, 2017

3 Easy Ways to Transfer Lettering to a Sketchbook Page

Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to add lettering to a sketchbook page than simply drawing it directly on the paper? Sometimes we aren't sure exactly what style we want to use or what size we need to fit in a particular spot. So we sketch a title or a phrase, then erase it; draw it larger, then erase it; try a different style, then erase it. You get the idea. All this trial and error can damage the page as we try again and again to get the lettering just right.

But don't despair! I've come up with three easy ways to tackle this problem, and they can help to make your lettering challenges a thing of the past. I'm using the title of this sketch from my 2016 Tuscany sketchbook as an example. (Fattoria Bacio is the villa where the workshop was held.)

Method #1
Tracing paper + graphite paper

Lay a sheet of tracing paper over your sketch. Play around with various styles and sizes of lettering by drawing them on the overlay.  Sketch the lettering on the tracing paper with a pencil. I like to use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 mm HB lead. (For unique lettering styles, try a website like Check out this blog post for complete instructions on how to preview your text in various fonts online.)

The tracing paper is thin, translucent, strong, and smooth. It's easy to see where you're placing your lettering, and if you change your mind, it's a simple matter to erase your first try with a kneaded eraser. The pencil lines erase much more cleanly than when drawn on sketchbook paper.

Once you've finalized the look of your lettering, it's time to transfer it to your sketchbook page using graphite transfer paper. You can buy commercially-made transfer paper, but I prefer to use my homemade version.

Here's how to make homemade graphite transfer paper:
Take a piece of tracing paper and scribble all over one side of it with a dark 4B to 6B pencil held on its side. (I use a Prismacolor Ebony pencil.) Color the paper a dark grey-black by scribbling in one direction, then turning the paper 90° and repeating the marks in the opposite direction. Then shade it in a diagonal direction. Cover the tracing paper with graphite. The paper should appear glossy and shiny.

I like using my homemade graphite paper rather than a commercial product for two reasons:
1. It's free, and I don't have to run to the store to buy it or order it online and wait a week to get it.
2. I know that any marks that I make using this as a transfer medium will come off easily with an eraser. There are no unknown ingredients like wax in it. It's pure, simple graphite.

I mentioned above that tracing paper is strong. Would you believe I've been using this same piece of homemade transfer paper for at least six years? So the amount of time it took to make it was more than worthwhile.

Now back to transferring the lettering...
  • Tape the sketched lettering design in position on your page. 
  • Place the graphite transfer paper underneath the lettering, black side down.
  • Using a ball point pen, trace over your lettering to transfer it to your sketchbook page.
  • Remove the graphite paper and tracing paper. The lettering is now ready for inking or painting. If the transfer is too dark, simply lighten it by pressing a kneaded eraser on it and lifting some of the graphite.

Method #2
Reverse side tracing

Try out different styles of lettering using a tracing paper overlay on your sketch, as in Method #1. After you've finalized the lettering...
  • Flip the tracing paper over to the reverse side.
  • Use a soft pencil, like a 6B, to trace over the reverse image of the lettering.
  • Flip the tracing paper over so it's right side up. Position it on your sketchbook page where you want the final lettering to be.
  • Use your finger or a burnishing tool to rub the lettering and transfer it to the paper underneath.
  • Remove the tracing paper. The lettering is ready for inking or painting. If it's darker than you like, simply press a kneaded eraser on it to lift some of the graphite.

Method #3
Printout + graphite 

Type up your lettering on a computer. Try out different styles. When you decide on the style you like, print it out in several sizes. Cut them out and try them on your sketchbook page to see which size you prefer. 

Once you've decided on the style and size, you can use your graphite transfer paper to transfer the lettering to your sketchbook page, or give this method a try...
  • Flip the paper over to the reverse side.
  • Scribble over the lettering with a dark pencil.
  • Turn the paper right side up and tape it in position on your sketchbook page.
  • Trace over the letters using a ball point pen to transfer the lettering to the page underneath.
  • Remove the printed pattern. The text is now ready for ink or paint.

After transferring my sketched lettering using Method #1, I decided to paint the title of this Fattoria Bacio map page with watercolor...

I use all three of these methods often for adding lettering to my sketchbook pages. They offer quick, simple alternatives to drawing directly on the sketchbook page or tracing a design through 140 lb. watercolor paper using a light box or a sunny window.

I hope you'll give them a try and see how easy it is to add the perfect finishing touch of hand lettering to your own sketchbook pages.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Find the Perfect Lettering Style for Your Sketchbook Page

Hand lettering can add so much to a sketchbook page...

It can personalize your sketches and make them more interesting, meaningful, and graphically pleasing.

You can change the mood of a page from serious to playful with just a few strokes of the pen.

You probably use your natural printing or handwriting for the majority of your sketchbook journaling, but sometimes it's worth it to take a few extra minutes and come up with something more stylish or special. A decorative hand-lettered title can even end up being the star of a page!

Here's an easy way to find the perfect lettering style for any sketchbook page.

1. Go to my favorite font website, You'll see a home page that looks something like this...

2. Choose a theme like "Fancy" or "Script", then click on a category. "Decorative" and "Calligraphy" are two of my favorites.

3. Look for the "Preview" box in the middle of the page. Type your title or text in the box where it says "Type your text here".

4. In the "Fonts" box, change the number of fonts you want to preview from 20 to 50 or 100, if desired.

5. Click "Submit". You will now see how your text looks in all of the fonts in that category. (Note that you'll have to click on multiple pages to see additional lettering options after the initial 20, 50 or 100.)

6. Click on different categories at the top of the page to see even more options. The website will continue to preview fonts using your chosen text.

7. Choose the font that suits the style and feel of your sketch. Copy your chosen lettering style by hand or download the font to your computer.

Here's how I download fonts onto my Windows computer:

1. Click "Download" (to the right of the font style) to download the font into your "Downloads" folder.

2. Find the zip file in the "Downloads" folder.

3. Double-click the zip file. It opens and shows a file with the font's name.

4. Double-click on the font file to open it.

5. Click "Install". The font automatically installs onto your hard drive.

The font is now available to use in various applications like Microsoft Word, Publisher, etc.

Now that you know how to find the perfect lettering style for your sketchbook page, would you like to know how to transfer that lettering to the page without tearing your hair out or damaging your page? Stay tuned for my next post entitled "3 Easy Ways to Transfer Lettering to a Sketchbook Page".

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ArtWalk Greece

You've seen the pictures...brilliant sunlight reflecting off whitewashed walls...

blue dome roofs echoing the color of a cobalt blue sky...

crystal clear water....

soaring mountains...

and spectacular pink and orange sunsets over the Aegean Sea...

Now put yourself in the picture!

During my October sketching trip to the Greek Isles you'll be bowled over by the spectacular beauty of the places we'll be visiting.

If you'd like to know more about this amazing 12-day Art Walk Greece tour, stop by the Blue Walk blog to read an interview that Jeannette Candau  did with me a few weeks ago. (Jeannette is the co-owner of The Blue Walk tours.) We sat down and talked about why I enjoy travel journaling, what inspires me, and what type of instruction you can expect during our Greek Isles adventure.

Jeannette will be our guide during the Greek Isles tour, and I just love her attitude toward travel and the art of experiencing a new place. She totally gets the whole idea of travel journaling, of slowing down and taking the time to make lasting memories of a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Read the interview here.

To learn more about the trip, visit the "Greece Workshop" page here on my website or stop by I'd love to have you join us!

Register here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Step-by-Step Watercolor: The Modern Illuminated Manuscript

I made a decision several months ago to give up the commission side of my art business. As my calendar had filled with teaching engagements and trips to far-flung places, it became more and more difficult to find time to squeeze in the labor-intensive custom artwork. But when my friend Mary approached me a few months ago about doing a very special piece for her, I couldn't say no.

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.

Tim loved many different kinds of music, so Mary wanted me to include something in the memorial referencing that fact, but instead of doing something generic like musical notes or a treble clef, I thought it would be better to add some meaning to the musical motif. Since he was a fan of Chicago, Mary suggested I feature a portion of the chorus from "Feelin' Stronger Every Day".

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!

Jade has a touch of golden brown on her paws and face, so I painted those areas first then added light- and mid-tone washes over both dogs.

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.

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