Illumination which is the art of embellishing individual letters or symbols on a page of written text has been around since 1500 BCE, when scribes began to illuminate Egyptian Books of the Dead. The word “illuminate” means “to fill with light and usually, the first letter of a page or particularly important passage is decorated with patterns and may contain intricate symbolic drawings or a miniature. As the printing industry progressed, illuminations became too labor-intensive and fell out of style thus an English artist William Morris came in, in the 19th century and led a brief revival of the art form. This has resulted in many calligraphers being able to create commissioned illuminations, often as monograms for special occasions.
Focusing on the shape, form and symbolic value of a single letter can bring an extra dimension to your artwork. It is also rewarding to create within the rules of traditional illumination. Exploring different letter shapes as the basis of your work lets you play with space and contours and takes you far away from the ever-present rectangular boundaries of paper and canvas. Following your imagination ‘to the letter’, you will discover more creative potential of mankind’s most powerful invention – the alphabet. You can also explore the possibilities of illuminated and embellished letters in mixed media artwork, combined with text, imagery or standing alone.