Illuminated Letter A Watercolor Tutorial - Cecilie Okada Design

Illuminated Letter A Watercolor Tutorial

Illuminated Letter A with Watercolor

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In this tutorial, I have drawn letter A, the start of a creative adventure with an illuminated lettering alphabet, where I combine interesting letter shapes with flowers, birds, and animals.

When you have a good process in place, creating new, exiting forms is not difficult. What you need are two simple things: Good reference material, and a willingness to let your hand roam freely. Yes, you’re quite right: that’s called creativity and it’s there in abundant measure in all of us, if we just give it a tr

In this article, I will share some easy, concrete tools that you can use to jumpstart your own creativity. 

A simple method to spark your creativity

I know that the number one problem most people have when starting an art project is: “what to draw?”. If you first select a general theme, it’s simply a matter of using a solid process to narrow it down. 

In this illustration, my general subject is: The letter A and flowers

Take a look at the two short videos of my illuminated letter A. Below the videos is an easy step-by-step procedure for making quick decisions on reference material, which is a great tool to spark your imagination, as well as how the drawing process works.

Time-lapse drawing an illuminated letter A

This time-lapse video shows the drawing process of the illuminated letter A. Before drawing, I did a number of sketches to figure out the basic letter and flower shape I wanted to combine.

Time-lapse of drawing and painting an illuminated letter A

In this time-lapse video, I paint the illuminated letter with watercolor and then add colored pencils and white gouache to complete the artwork.

How to find your alphabet reference

First, you need an alphabet with the letter A to look at for reference. Something to give you the starting point, and an interesting version of letter A. Then you can play freely with that shape and draw your very own letter.

I used an old vintage book with beautiful fonts for inspiration. But there are endless amounts of websites with amazing fonts you can use for this purpose, such as This is a link to Celtic Uncial font, the letter A I used as inspiration from my book.

I used the letter A in this Unical alphabet as inspiration for my drawing

How to quickly decide on a flower photo for reference

Secondly, you need a photograph of a flower. But Help! there are simply too many flowers in this world to choose from. I will show you a simple, intuitive way to make a choice.

I used an old field guide with pretty botanical illustrations, but you can use the exact same method that I describe below with an online plant directory. Below is a description of how to select the kind of flower to use for your reference photo:

  1. Close your eyes, open at random and point your finger somewhere on the selected page (or a spot on your screen, in case of an online directory. Do some random scrolling first). It’s important to accept whatever plant shows ups because you will most certainly be surprised at how interesting any plant can be once you proceed to step two.
  2. Type the name of the flower into Google and open the image feed. Endless options will show. The Latin name will show in your Google search results in the box to the right, and if you copy and paste the Latin name of the flower, you will in most cases get even better photographs. 
  3. Save 5-6 photos that show the flower in interesting ways.
  4. Out of these, perhaps 4 end up being useful.

 Closing my eyes and pointing a finger on a random page in my field guide, I selected the flower Purple Marshlocks or Comarum. I then looked up the flower on Google. 

The drawing process made easy

With the letter A in the alphabet in front of you, draw the letter in a playful, doodling way. Let your hand loose, don’t try to draw something beautiful, and do it fast. Fast keeps your critical eyes at bay. Once you have a letter shape you like, you are ready to start drawing your illuminated letter. 

With the selected flower photos in front of you on the computer screen (or as print-outs), start drawing shapes freely with inspiration from what you see. Don’t try to draw replicas! Draw with a free hand, creating shapes that you enjoy. Play! With a quick and freehand, the shapes you draw will probably look nothing like the flowers in the photos.

Once you have a flower shape you like, draw that shape once again. But this time, somewhere halfway through, start adding the shape of the letter A as you sketched it before. An integrated shape will start to unfold on your paper. 

The keyword here is to go easy, to let your hand carry you. Listen to soothing music or an interesting podcast, something that will chase your critical mind away into a secluded corner while you work. 

Try this method, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the amazing artwork you create!

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