Illuminated Texts(title)

THERE are two ways in which texts can be illuminated. You can buy a square or oblong of perforated paper at a fancy-shop, with the text outlined upon it in pale gray, and, with floss and split zephyr worsteds, you can work the letters, shade them, and produce very pretty effects. Or you can take a bit of Bristol board, measure and sketch your own letters, and make them of any beautiful colors you like with a camel's hair brush and water-paints. Some people practice still a third method with oil-paints and a wooden panel ; but this is more difficult, and so few of you boys and girls who read ST. NICHOLAS have oil-paints, or know how to use them, that it is not worth our while to speak further on this method. Neither is it worth while to say much about the first way, for however pretty the perforated embroidery may look when it is done, and however neat the stitches may be, it can never have the freedom or value of a text done in the second way ; nor can the doing of it ever give the same pleasure. Still, since some of you may like to try it, I will add that all the rules for grouping and distributing the colors, according to their symbolic meanings, apply to the embroidered as well as to the painted illuminations, and it will be quite safe to follow them in laying out your work.

TEXTS PAINTED IN WATER-COLOR. The paints absolutely necessary for illuminating purposes are four in number: Black, white, vermilion, and cobalt, or ultramarine blue. Most paint-boxes contain these four; but for any of you who do not happen to have a paint-box, I would recommend buying what are called the "half-moist " colors, which are the pleasantest and easiest to use. Buy half a cake of each of those mentioned, and, besides, lemon yellow, carmine, gamboge. Prussian blue, and burnt-umber. If you want to make your list very complete, you may add sepia, sap-green, rose-madder, cadmium, neutral tint, and violet carmine; but these are luxuries, not necessaries, and you can do very well without them. Gold and silver paints are, however, indispensable. The best are those which come in tiny shells or saucers; but these are also the most costly. A good substitute is the preparation known as " Bessemer's Gold." It is a fine dry powder, sold in small bottles, with larger bottles of a liquid which dissolves it, the price of the two bottles being seventy-five cents. They last a long time, and are much cheaper than the little shells, which cost twenty cents apiece, and barely hold gold enough for a single capital letter.

The Bristol board should be thick and smooth. A pale tint of gray or cream is better in most cases than white. Two brushes are needed, a large and a small, besides a third brush kept exclusively for the gold paint. For other implements, you will want only a lead pencil and ruler; but, above all, you want that care and patience so indispensable for producing anything really fine, delicate, or worth having. There is no royal road to anything, remember. All our little successes must be earned step by step, slowly and faithfully, with nothing shirked, nothing hurried, and we must be willing to give the time which is needed to make each step perfect in its way before we pass on to another.

After the materials, the next thing to be considered is the design. Pretty patterns for letters can be picked up almost anywhere-from signs, newspaper headings, book-covers, or the ornamental work in churches. A little practice will make it easy to vary and combine them. There is a " Book of Alphabets " also, published by Mr. Prang of Boston, which it would not be a bad idea for boys and girls who live near each other to club for and buy. Its price is two dollars and a half; it contains an alphabet of capitals in color, and of small letters in a dozen different styles, ancient and modern, and is a great help to young beginners.

The first step after trimming the Bristol board to its proper size, is to measure the spaces and draw parallel lines, between which the letters can be I sketched in with lead pencil. Make the pencil lines very light, that they may not show through the color. Next, paint in all the small letters, being careful to keep the edges neat and distinct, to dot the i, and to add the commas and period. A mixture of white with the other paints makes it much easier to put them in smoothly. This mixture is known to artists as "body color." After the small letters are finished and shaded, paint the capitals in the same way; and, last of all, add the gold and the ornamental touches, the flowers, vines, arabesques, and little hints of contrast, which add so much to the richness of the effect. I cannot tell you what colors to use, or what designs, for these depend on your own taste and fancy, and every worker must make them out for himself. But if you begin with simple things,-with a single line, for instance,-a line which says something brave or sweet, or comforting (the Bible is full of such lines), painting it in plain gray letters, shaded on one edge with black, and one vivid capital in scarlet, or blue and gold, you will have done a valuable and delightful thing ; and going on little by little, your powers will increase, till by and by you produce work which is beautiful for its own sake as well as for that of the thought which it enshrines.

I will add a list of rules for the choice and placing of the colors. Every color has a meaning; did you know that? and there are certain words which must always be painted in certain colors, and no other.


Rule I. Capitals and initials should always be of a different color, or ornamented differently, from other letters of the text,

Rule 2. Letters belonging to words which do not begin with a capital must all be of one color.

Rule 3. It is not necessary that all the letters should be shaded, but the shaded letters in the same sentence should be shaded on the same side. Black or dark brown shading makes a red letter appear more brilliant. If one letter in a sentence is lightened with gold or bright color, the other letters must be lightened to correspond.

Rule 4. Never paint an unimportant word in a striking color.

Rule 5. Sacred names, such as Christ, God, Lord, Savior, Creator, should always be painted in red, black and gold. The letters I. H. S. should also be in red, black and gold, and all personal pronouns referring to Deity, such as Him, His, Thy, Thine, must be in the same colors, which are called canonical.

Rule 6. Do not use these colors combined except in words denoting the Deity, or pronouns referring to Him. Ever since the first gospel was illuminated this rule has been observed, red being used to signify love, and sometimes also creative power; gold, to signify glory; and black, awe or majesty. If you notice, you will find these colors constantly used in the decoration of churches.

Rule 7. It is not desirable to use gold and silver in the same word. Never put a blue letter next to a purple or green one. Gold harmonizes with all colors.


Various nations hold traditions about the meanings of colors. Even our North American Indians have ideas upon this subject, and, strangely enough. these traditions agree in the main all the world over. These are some of them :

Red is the color of life and happiness. It is from this idea that the expression "Red-Letter Days" comes.

Blue is the color of heaven, and should be used for words which denote heavenly things, such as piety, truth, constancy, divine contemplation.

Yellow or gold means not only glory, but faith. goodness, marriage.

Green symbolizes spring, youth, mirth, hope in immortality ; also victory, as in the palm and laurel. which are emblems of a conqueror.

Violet means suffering.

Gray, the color of ashes, means humility, mourning, and penitence.

Purple was the color of pomp and royal state. Kings and emperors allowed this color to be used in churches, otherwise it would have been sacred to imperial use. In former days, princes, even in their cradles, wore this color, hence the phrase " Born in the purple."

White denotes innocence, light, faith, joy, religious purity. Sometimes silver is employed in place of white.

Black typifies night, darkness, death, sin, mourning, and negation. It is proper to use black in such words as no, never, not, nevermore.

You understand that I do not prescribe these colors to be used always exactly after these rules: but it is well to know the rules, and, as they may be helpful to some of you, I give them. The best rule is taste, and that is a thing that grows by using. So don't be discouraged, any of you, if you chance not to succeed the first time, but remember Robert Bruce and the spider, and "Try, try again."

--St. Nicholas, April 1877

Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-Century Girls' Series website; please do not use on other sites without permission

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