Pens, Brushes & Wedding Bells

I was asked to create artwork for a wedding covenant about a month ago. The bride envisioned a large (24x36") document that would include Scripture verses & their vows written in calligraphy. She also had the idea of including a grapevine border around the text with the idea that the guests would sign their names inside this border instead of in a guest book. Then the new couple would have some art to grace the walls of their home and remind them of their big day.
Always happy to take on a new project, I couldn't wait to try my hand at calligraphy. What fun making all those swoopy beautiful letters! I wasn't very consistent though, and burned through many many pages just practicing. The biggest challenge for me, however, was getting the layout right and getting everything to fit within the dimensions and yet still have the text be readable as wall art. That's a surprising statement from a graphic designer, eh? After a few go 'rounds on layout and dimensions, and the discovery that "double elephant" sized paper (24x36") is about as rare as a siamese elephant, we scaled down to the standard 22x30" paper found in art stores. I bought five sheets to allow for a few mistakes. Since I would be hand lettering and painting this, I couldn't rely too much on the computer. Here's my old-fashioned paste up, working out type size and layout:

I wrote out the main text about four times and literally cut and taped it together to see how it would work. I no longer take for granted those quick key strokes that instantly flow text inside a shape or increase size and leading! The vows are already penned on the above picture. After I figured out where the text went and made innumerable measurements and guidelines, it was time to wrap this up.

Above is a detail of the finished piece; can you find my two errors shown in this photo compared to the paste up? :) If the bride can't find them, I'll never tell my secrets!!

The watercolor painting of the grapevines was the last step, and the part about which I was most nervous and had the least self-confidence. I was aiming for a loose, brushy look, but was struggling to achieve that. After the first two leaves, I loosened up a lot and took a much more "que sera sera" attitude. Basically, I stopped caring too much and started playing around a bit more. That actually helped my painting to go better and made the whole process rather enjoyable. I had memories of watching an old guy on PBS make paintings, talking in a thick brogue about making "happy trees." I'm not convinced the grapes look very happy, but deadlines pressed me to carry on.

The whole project took about a month from start to finish, but what you actually see took 4 evenings. One to put down guidelines, one to pen the vows, one to pen the purple Bible text, and one to do the leaf border. I started around 9:30 or 10:00pm each night, and wrapped up between midnight and 1:00am. Strange hours, but there were no little hands to "help" or accidentally spill ink, and Hubby was happy to read quietly so I could focus on not misspelling anything. I actually have yet to trim the matboard and mount it tonight, with the big reveal being tomorrow night at the wedding rehearsal. I hope everyone is pleased!

The empty space to the right of the vows is for the immediate family to sign as supporters and witnesses of their marriage.


  1. wow, sara. amazing and beautiful!!

  2. Hi, Sara. You don't know me, but I was at the wedding this weekend, and I had to tell you how much I appreciated your calligraphy. What a wonderful idea, and how beautifully executed! It went beyond blessing Gaelan and Emily -- we were all blessed by being able to make our little marks on your stunning creation. Thank you!

  3. Thank you, Sara for this labor of love. The painting turned out beautiful and we all just wished our handwriting did it justice!
    We are so thankful for you and for Steve and your precious family! Thank you for throwing your lot in with us...love, "The mother of the groom".

  4. Also one of the guests, I loved your work -- just beautiful.

    I remember the "happy trees" guy,a nd loved watching him too -- I think he was Swedish or something. His name will probably come to me out of a deep sleep at three o'clock in the morning sometime.