Many of the custom pieces I’ve created involve samples of a loved one’s handwriting. Sometimes the words and phrases are perfect in their form, ready to paint. Other times, they come in bits and pieces to be put together like a puzzle. Over Christmas, I had painted some funny one-liners I found, written in my father-in-law’s distinct handwriting. I asked my husband if he had any other thoughts for his dad’s handwriting and he answered immediately, “Life is Grand.” A simple statement, but one that truly represented his love for life. A phrase that Dear Ol’ Dad lived by, making the most of every moment. He found joy in the simple times and shared that joy with all who knew him. The perfect phrase with one small catch…I didn’t have it in his handwriting.
I went about looking for different samples of his writing that could clue me in to how it would have looked, had he written it himself. There have been other projects I’ve worked on where a letter was missing here or there, but this one was starting from scratch. Most of the letters I found easily, but for the capital G, the best I could come up with was a scribbled out mess.
I brought the handwriting samples into photoshop and began the process of matching up letter form, weight and slant to try to get letters that flowed as if written in one motion. When doing this extra attention is needed to make sure the letters flow naturally together. If you look at the sample writing above, there are five lower cased “n’s,” all of which look different because of how they connect with the surrounding letterforms. Choosing the right letterform combinations is critical.
While still a little rough, it was ready to be transferred to the piece of wood my husband had chosen, a beautifully aged, silvery piece of pine reclaimed from my garden beds. Just enough texture and character to compliment the simple phrase. There’s a little bit of artistic license that bridges the sketch in photoshop to the finished piece below, taking special care with line weight.
Below is another example of piecing together letters to create a very special piece. I was asked to create several small signs with handwriting from a special Dad to his two daughters and wife. He passed away very young and Mom wanted a keepsake in his handwriting for his girls.
For the piece below, my uncle had an old antique barrel and wanted something painted on it. He mentioned that his dad, my grandfather, Pa, always ended a conversation with the phrase, “Keep the faith.” Pa passed away the year after I was born, so I had very little to work from. What I did have was a bible he had given to my grandmother when she converted to Catholicism, which was inscribed on the first page. I was able to use many of those letter forms and approximated the few that were missing.
I believe the biggest appeal for pieces like these is that you can almost hear and feel the loved one through their own handwriting. It’s a connection to the past that is very different than a photograph or video. These projects are among my very favorite to work on, and I feel honored and blessed to be working on each one. Life truly is grand!