I love Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments. All three hours and forty minutes of it. And not just because of nostalgia because my family used to watch it every year. Not just because Charlton Heston is so epic, it’s comical, but then loops back to epic again. Not just because that parting of the waters scene and the tornado of fire still impresses me… but because I had a huge crush on Joshua.
In the winter of 2012, I was in my second year of living alone–my family and fiance were 300 miles away in Dallas while I was working in Lubbock–and at the height of a stressful year of wedding planning. By that time, I had learned to love living alone, but I still craved time with my loved ones. Maybe it was the wedding DIY bug, but that was the year I starting crafting for the home. When the Christmas season started, I discovered Hallmark Christmas and brought out my acrylic paints. Probably in the middle of my fifteenth cheesy romantic comedy, I created this:
I was so proud of this. It didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to–I wanted a faux chalkboard look, but I didn’t know how to pull it off–but I was still happy with this thing that I created. I’ve brought it out every year as a reminder of my years alone, of the time that I was juggling so much but still embracing the Christmas spirit.
This year, I finally decided to take the art of handlettering seriously and learn how to do it. I started in May, and I can confidently say that I have moved from a beginner level to an intermediate one. Let’s just say that means I’m good enough to cringe when I brought out my Christmas decorations this year.
I decided to put my new skills to use with revamping my old Christmas canvases. I’m really happy with how this one turned out, so I wanted to share with you!
Handheld pencil sharpener
Black acrylic paint (or, a black canvas)
White paint pen
Estimated Cost: Under $15. I had all of these items at home already, so it was really cheap.
Step 1: Sketch!
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do pencil sketching. This was a crucial step that I missed in my 2012 canvas: I assumed my mental picture would translate well on canvas without prior planning. However, sketching helps me see how my hand shapes letters, and how the letters fall into place. It lets me play with layouts and learn what works and what doesn’t.
Step 2: I see a canvas and I want to paint it black.
You can skip this step if you want–most craft stores have black canvases now. However, I’m cheap and I happened to have a couple of plain canvases in my craft closet. I used about three coats of acrylic paint to completely black out the canvas. I prefer acrylic for crafts like this because it’s cheap, opaque, and versatile.
Step 3: Sketch with chalk.
I chose to sketch with blue chalk because it would blend into black well when I rubbed it off. Sketching with chalk allows you to make mistakes–because even if you sketch on paper, you don’t really know how it will end up until you put it to the right scale! For this piece, I ended up doing some last minute changes once I saw how the words filled up the canvas.
Pro Tip: Use a pencil sharpener to sharpen your chalk! It is so much easier to draw with when it’s got a sharper tip!
Step 5: Use a paint pen to paint over the finalized design.
Again, this step is up to you. I’ve seen perfectionists use a tiny brush to paint in with acrylic paint, and more practical artists use a paint pen. I wanted clean lines, so I chose a paint pen. I used the Sharpie oil-based white pen because 1) I had it already, and 2) my Craftsmart paint pen (Michael’s store brand) was not bold enough on the black canvas. I noticed that the Sharpie pen picked up some of the black paint and blue chalk as I wrote, making it come out duller. To make up for this, I had to wipe it off on another surface every few letters. I also went over the letters 2-3 times to get it as bright as I wanted it.
Warning: Oil-based pens can be–well–oily. Watch your hands as you write and give the paint enough time to dry before you attempt to do overlapping lines.
Step 6:Use a tissue to gently rub away the chalk.
After the paint has dried, use a Kleenex to rub away the chalk. I found that a soft, circular motion was the right amount of gentle and abrasive. This gives the piece a nice, chalky finish to complete the faux chalkboard effect.
Step 7: Display, Brag, Revel in Your Amazingness!
Show all your friends your awesome skills. I’m going to use this technique to polish up another piece. Follow me on Instagram @nerdladydraws to see how it turns out!
If you tried this technique, let me know how it turned out! If you know a better technique, share it in the comments!