Calligraphy – create an illuminated letter with Cathy Stables

Ref: S1D32283

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About this course

Learn the processes involved in gilding and painting an illuminated letter. Develop the skills needed to produce your own illumination.

Course Description

During this course, you will learn how to use simple gilding and painting techniques to copy or adapt a beautiful historical letter.

Copying or adapting gives an insight into the processes, tools and materials used by the medieval illuminator producing beautiful rich colours and intricate detail, combined with the spectacular effect of gold leaf. Examples of various styles of illumination will be looked at.

The course will cover the different processes involved in gilding and painting, experimenting with several gilding techniques, together with transferring real gold. The most suitable weight and type of paper for gilding and painting will be discussed. Trials will be used for mixing opaque watercolour (gouache) to lay the flat colour down first. On top of the flat colour, you will consider the skills used to apply intricate detail with a fine brush, working towards the finished piece.

The course is suitable for calligraphers who would like to use illumination, together with calligraphy, or those who would like to employ precision and detail in their work. The tutor will give group demonstrations and one-to-one tuition to help you to produce a beautiful historical letter, or alternative design of your choice, if preferred.


Timetable for one day courses

Students should arrive by 9am for registration.

Classes are from 9.15 - 5pm

Lunch is included.

Course Materials


  • All essential materials, including hot press watercolour paper, gouache, palettes, brushes, gold leaf and gilding mediums are supplied for use on this course.

What students need to bring

  • Any Designers’ Gouache paints in any colours you have
  • Any good quality, small sable brushes you have
  • Pencil, ruler and eraser
  • Preparation: if you have a design in mind for your illuminated letter, please bring it along.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Sable paintbrushes, sizes: 2, 1, 0
  • A box of Designers’ Gouache paints or individual tubes in a range of colours (eg. scarlet or flame red, cobalt blue, primary yellow, black, white, yellow ochre) if you wish to purchase additional mateirals.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio. This includes stout covered footwear, i.e. no open-toes or sandals, and safety boots, if specified.


Cathy Stables, heraldic artist at West Dean College

Cathy Stables

Cathy Stables has a BA Hons in Graphic Design from Exeter College of Art, later studying Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldic Art.

Courses of interest

Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.