Decorating Letters with Doodles: A Workshop

Decorating with letters (and numbers) is an easy way to personalize your space. Use initials, words, dates, short phrases—just choose a meaningful combination, and you’ve got an instant conversation or statement piece.

Illustrator Colin W. gathered some of Hallmark’s design community in a half-day workshop to decorate letterforms. In this case, the exploration was as much about process as it was about result.

The assignment: Grab a letter and doodle.

SUPPLIES
Letter forms (paper wrapped, wood, laminate, whatever—ours were similar to these)
Acrylic paint
Interior paint testers (an easy way to get background colors)
Brushes (all different sizes)
Permanent and paint markers
Acetate sheets (for palettes)
Butcher paper (to cover the table)
Cups (for water)
Blow-dryer (for the impatient)
Playlist (for inspiration)

THE PROJECT

Like most professional creatives, Hallmark artists and designers are accustomed to creating work for assignments, with pre-determined color palettes, design direction, even composition. This workshop gave them a chance to freestyle on blank canvases—in this case, craft-paper-covered capital letters.

GETTING STARTED

Everyone begins with a letter and paint colors. A few choose their favorites of both; others pick shapes they like and colors that grab their attention.

For design ideas, some came prepared with inspiration from our archives and collections of patterns and illustrations, or from online research.

“I’m not doing anything specific I found there, but I saw tiny multicolored patterns,” says illustrator Kim P. “Somehow that got me to fruit.”

(Note: Hallmark artists aren’t permitted to copy any part of designs they find outside of our internally created, legally approved collections, for obvious reasons.)

Others show up with sketchbooks and test patterns.

“I didn’t know what colors would look good on the craft paper, so I practiced a little,” says Madison, who begins by covering about half of the surface of her letter H with abstract white shapes. “I know I like painting on a white background, so I’m giving myself both.”

Lynn, a lettering artist who specialize in cut-paper collages, dives right in. “I’m not really a painter, so I’m starting with the kinds of shapes I’d make with cut paper. And there are some really great colors here,” she adds, indicating a color palette that includes yellowish beige and pale and neon pinks.

Pro tip: For a project on a 3D form, doodle things you do all the time and are comfortable with.

DOODLES IN PROGRESS

Pretty soon, the tables are strewn with letters covered in repeating patterns, recognizable figures, and lots of abstract shapes, lines and marks.

The process seems to go something like this: Paint something. Put the letter down. Stare at it.  Pick it back up. Add another pattern or squiggle or shape. Put it back down. Squint at it. Repeat.

Overheard:
“I’m panicking a little. I may just stare at this for a while.”
“I’m just going to sit here and contemplate life.”
“I’m doing eyes on an I. So conceptual.”
“Is there a neon orange around here? I’m looking for an obnoxious orange.”
“I drew a squiggle and decided it was teeth. Now it’s not teeth.”

Pro tip: Choose forgiving figures and shapes, so if they doesn’t fit just right, it’s OK.

WRAPPING UP

With an open-ended project like this, the hardest thing seems to be figuring out when you’re finished.

Megan puts her letter O down. “I’m going to stop,” she says. “I never know when to stop.”

From across the room, Kim asks for a group vote: “OK, you guys—should I add black lines?”

Lynn offers words of wisdom: “If you’re wondering if you’re done, you probably are. Just put it down. You can always add something later.”

Pro tip: Take a photo of you work at each stage (or with each new color or pattern). That way, if you go too far, you can start over and know when you should stop. (Or, as Megan admits doing sometimes, just post the picture of the piece before you messed it up.)

ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE ALPHABET

At the beginning of the workshop, Colin wondered if something would hold the alphabet together—a shared color palette, subject matter or approach, maybe.

One benefit of creating in a group is obvious: they’re sharing ideas with each other. As the afternoon goes on, a plant motif from Lynn’s G makes its way to Jeannie’s R and Madison’s C. Lynn doodles in a style inspired by Kim’s work (“It’s faux Swedish!”). And as the different creators add their letters to the “finished” table, through lines emerge.

The result does feel like a collection. Not matchy-matchy by any means, but connected here and there—maybe just by the vibe of a bright, cold Tuesday afternoon spent creating with friends.

Photography by Kevin Cozad.

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