What the what? What is that?

This week I am sharing a bit of history about illuminated manuscripts from the medieval period with my History of Graphic Design class. Initial caps are those big fancy capital letters that a page would start with. The manuscripts—which were typically created by monks—were referred to as illuminated because the illustrator used gold leaf to color some parts of his drawings. The gold leaf reflects so much light that the pages glowed.

The inhabited initial caps are those in which people and creatures live.

I am asking my students to create one for themselves, so I designed this example.

Click on any image for the large version.

The Process

First, I studied a variety of blackletter/gothic alphabets and chose the style of D I wanted to use. There are so many styles!

Blackletter image search results on Google

Blackletter image search results on Google

Then I sketched the D out large in pencil on 11×14 100lb Strathmore bristol paper. You can see how I made several corrections to the placement of my lines along the way. Usually I would sketch with a much lighter hand than this. However, in order to have the lines show up in a photo, I made them darker.

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap, step 1

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap: the initial pencil sketch showing lots of line corrections

I picked three living things that I like a lot: a cat, a dragonfly, and a gardenia. The dragonfly does not look too happy being crowded at the top there. I misjudged the size and placement of this creature.

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap, step 2

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap: the addition of cat, dragonfly, and gardenia

I erased and redrew the dragonfly. Then I lightly erased all the pencil lines I didn’t need.

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap, step 3

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap: the final pencil sketch with unwanted lines erased.

Next, I traced over the pencil lines with a Write Dudes medium roller gel pen. I would not use this brand again over pencil lines—it skipped and jagged a lot.

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap, step 4

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap: the inked version

Finally, I colored it in using Prismacolor colored pencils. I created subtle depth using multiple colors blended together, and in places I pressed more firmly to get a darker color.

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap, step 5

Illuminated Inhabited Initial Cap: the final-for-now version, colored in Prismacolor colored pencils

I may go back in some time and further decorate inside the blue letterform. Historical initial caps often contained a great deal of detail and ornamentation. But for now, mine is complete.


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