Once Upon A Time…Illuminated Letters

May 27th, 2011 by
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Illuminated FFate has a way of making things happen that are supposed to happen. Earlier this week I had to spend a day in Chicago and caught a flight back home to Columbus at the end of the day. When I got in line at position A1 (shoutout to Southwest!), I was surprised to see a friend, fellow teacher and SCAL user, Dorothy, get in line at position A31 (right next to me!).  We were able to sit on the plane and had a great time chatting.

Dorothy told me she was working on a project with SCAL and needed the classic “Once upon a time…” title. I did a little research and here’s what I came up with.

Once upon A time

Sample illuminated manuscript

The “O” is an example of an illuminated letter. Illumination is an embellishment used to decorate or illustrate a manuscript. Illumination was a complex and frequently costly process and was usually reserved for special books: an altar Bible, for example. The term comes from illuminate; to fill with light. This effect was typically achieved with the application of gold leaf to the letters and images, which relfect light and appear to glow.

An illuminated letter was usually the first letter of a page or paragraph. It was always enlarged and was typically in color and gold leafed, while the rest of the text remained in black. The images used to enhance the leters include animales, plants and mythological creatures.  The images were modified to fit into or around the letter or were even shaped to be the letter itself.

There are several fonts that will give you a great place to start when making an illuminated letter. GriffDinShi is a free font available at Ffonts.net and it looks just like the “O” we typically see in “Once upon a time.”

To compliment the “O”, I like the font called OldStyle from DaFont.com.

SCAL Project: Once Upon A Time

SCAL Project: Once Upon A Time

I used both of those, plus some tracings from a book cover, to create this embellishment. The zip file includes Once_Upon_A_Time.svg and a Sure Cuts A Lot (SCAL) V2 project file (.scut2). Download the zip file, unzip it, and you can used Sure Cuts A Lot to import the SVG (File > Import) or just open the project file (File > Open).

Download the Once_Upon_A_Time.zip file

Use it in a project and consider adding some stamped flourishes embossed with  gold. Once you do that, you’ll be ready to start your own fairy tale project. Enjoy! Joe

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Meet Create N Craft Blogger Joe Rotella

Joe’s mom started the family on crafting. As early as he can remember, his mom was crocheting. When she brought home a Brother knitting machine, he was fascinated and soon he was creating designs from Christening dresses to ski wear. He dabbled in macramé, string art and latch hooked rugs when they were hot in the 70’s. Now, in his mid-forties, Joe’s turned his eye to paper crafting. He loves detail and 3D work. His specialty is upcycling.

Joe’s work has appeared in Scrap & Stamp Arts, Just Steampunk! and Somerset Studio Gallery magazines. He’s filmed a segment of Crafting at the Spotted Canary with Joy Macdonell (airs on PBS Fall 2011), many segments for Scrapbook Soup TV and has won Archiver’s One-of-a-Kind Wall Art contest (Ohio, August 2011). He’s served on the Viva Las Vegastamps! design team.

Joe’s an expert on the Zing Air Cutting Machine and frequent teacher at events including Artiscape, Stampaway, Memories Expo and Gen Con.

When he’s not designing paper art projects, he works as CMO at Delphia Consulting.

Send Joe an Email


  1. Amy Day said:

    Gorgeous and educational at that same time! That's one of the things I've always loved about you and your teaching style – you don't just show me how to do it – you help me understand it. Knowing the history, makes the technique extra special. I would love to see what you could do with the metalic markers and this font! Ooh! Weekend play project!

    • Joe Rotella said:

      … or some gold embossing or even gold foil? MMMM Sounds like you better come over this weekend to play… steaks on the grill, sangria, paper crafting… let's make it happen!

  2. Jamie said:

    I would have to agree wtih Amy… GORGEOUS… and educational! I had no clue those embellished letters were illuminated letters… Great crafting information!

    Thanks Joe!

    • Joe Rotella said:

      I didn't either. Carole was the smart one who knew about illuminated letters and that started me on my research. I love learning about this sort of thing.

  3. Venicia said:

    I must agree with Amy. just beautiful!

  4. Being a lover of calligraphy and owning two illustrated manuscript pages dating to 1450 and 1500 , this is an interesting project that I will pursue possibly this weekend since I think I will have a little time.

    • Joe Rotella said:

      Wow!! I bet those pages are amazing!! Check out the fonts in the post. The illuminated one is really nice and I bet you could do so much with it!

  5. Great file. Thanks for sharing. Would make the perfect cover page for so many different types of project–story book, life story, prom or wedding scrapbook. You could really glam this up by cutting the vines from double sided adhesive paper and embellishing with gold or silver leaf or Gilden Glitz from USArtQuest.

    • Joe Rotella said:

      Thanks! You're welcome! I think you could incorporate stamping in/around the letter too and do some amazing things with embossing powders, leaf or perfect pearls. Maybe we need a contest….hmmmm

  6. Denise said:

    Love this project! I have always enjoyed illuminated lettering. I used them in a scrapbook I did on my Canadian cruise journalling and used a gold foil calligraphy pen to add that sparkle to my letters. Steaks and sangria sound really good to me – you're my kind of crafter! :)

    • Joe Rotella said:

      OOO What a great idea! a gold foil calligraphy pen! I've never used one so now I have an excuse to go out and buy another tool! LOL! If you're close by, you could always join us!

  7. Tam said:

    Very nice indeed. TFS

  8. Barbara Johnson said:

    OMG! What can't you do with SCAL? I'm learning slowly but surely. Thanks, Joe, for all of your great information.

  9. RetiredPJ said:

    Many of us have the Krylon 18 carat gold leaf pen, think 40% coupon @ JoAnn's – this would be beautiful! Keep the ideas coming, I may not be creative but I've become a great user!

  10. Winnie said:

    Very nice job, love the font.

  11. Jan said:

    Thanks so much Joe. This is gorgeous, and I'm sure I'll be using it on a layout before long.

  12. JustYolie said:

    Wow, this file is fabulous! I found your site from the SCAL FB group…thank you for sharing it.

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