The Best "How-to" Decorative Letters Book

If you’ve looked at the stunning art in medieval manuscripts and wondered how they were made then the main book you need for learning illumination is The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy by author Patricia Seligman and calligrapher Timothy Noad. 

As SCA scribes know, illumination is a unique craft with its own techniques. It is not watercolor or acrylics. It’s not even illustration. So ferreting out its methods is tricky. The Illuminated Alphabet is the best book to help you learn methods to re-create historic illuminated letters. 

The book begins with a brief illuminated letters’ history, describing artists creating them and their patrons. It then delves into basic illumination techniques and a materials’ list. 
  •  paper and vellum
  •  brushes, pens, and pencils
  •  paints and inks including gouache, egg tempera, and watercolors
  •  gilding techniques such as the combination of gold leaf and gesso

My favorite explorations in the book are Noad’s illuminated letter adaptations from period masterpieces. They cover five individual manuscript styles: 

  • Celtic 
  • Romanesque
  • Gothic
  • Renaissance 
  • Modern Revival

Each style includes upper and lower-case letter designs, borders and decorations, materials used, gilding instructions and a gallery. The examples featured are:

  • the Lindisfarne Gospels 
  • the Book of Kells 
  • Emperor Henry II’s Periscopes
  • the Lincoln Psalms
  • a Bestiary Lion 
  • Books of Hours
  • Whitevine Lettering 
  • William Morris
  • a Horoscope Initial
The Illuminated Alphabet has detailed instructions for each project and how they were adapted from original sources by the book’s artist. Step-by-step photographs and instructions include tips on the techniques you’ll use. 

The book’s 
detailed, information-packed instructions are a surprisingly easy, indispensable guide. Whether you’re interested in the many processes described or how illumination changed through time, you’ll find this book combines the best of traditional and new masterpieces. 

The Illuminated Alphabet shows any budding SCA scribe how to create long admired beautiful letters. You too can create medieval-style illuminated letters  that make your Monarch jealous.
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