I recently had an opportunity to create a custom marriage certificate and after getting so many messages and emails about it, I wanted to share a bit about what this is and my process!
Question: Is this a certified certificate? No. The couple will still have to go to their county clerk to get their government issued marriage license and certificate. However, many brides today will opt to commission a custom marriage certificate as a beautiful keepsake of their vows and promises to each other. This is also a popular alternative to a guestbook if the couple wants to include lines for their family and friends to sign.
For this certificate, we decided to incorporate important details of their wedding, simple vows, and pull in their wedding colors by adorning the sides with the bride's favorite florals. Each certificate is an original, one of a kind as every element is handwritten and hand painted, customized to the couple's wedding.
Finding the right paper was the most important task. If you have a paper that's too thin, the paper can bend and show creases. If it's too rough or textured, it might not take nibs well...but on the flip side, if it's too smooth, the watercolor may not blend well. I found the Arches 260lb cold pressed watercolor paper to be the best of both! Surprisingly, the 260lb cold pressed was smoother than the 190lb cold pressed, but still had enough texture that I wanted for the realistic botanical illustration paintings. You can see the thickness and how stiff the paper in this picture:
Other supplies I used were:
- John Neal Copperplate Practice Pad - this is a graph paper with slant lines. I use this ALOT for sketching out designs
- 0.5 Mechanical Pencil
- Watercolor Pencils & Water Brush - I decided to use watercolor pencils (vs. watercolor tubes) for this project because the botanicals were intricate. I used a water brush to directly pull the pigment from the pencil and found that it helped me to better control the amount of pigment that I'm laying on the paper. Any brand should be fine, but I used Faber-Castell and bought individual colors that I needed
- Gouache & Finetec Arabic Gold Ink
I. Sketching/Designing the Layout - Using only a pencil, graph pad, and ruler, I first drew the dimensions of the final paper and marked the vertical center line. Then, after finalizing the wording with the bride, I worked on the layout of the entire piece. This part of the process will probably be the most time consuming. From sketching, revising, to finalizing the draft, it took me about 4 hours. You will have to think about the script styles you want to use, the spacing of the lines, the size of the script, and make it fit into the dimensions of the final paper. I combined my love for Copperplate and Spencerian script for this piece.
For the botanical illustration part, I printed out a variety of photos that I found on Pinterest & the bride's engagement dinner. I chose some close ups as well as floral arrangements to see how florals look from different angles. Looking at these photos helps me to study the shape of the florals!
II. Ink the Final Draft - Using a Micron pen, after I was completely happy with the final draft, I retraced the pencil lines with the pen. The 260lb paper is pretty thick so you won't be able to see every single letter clearly, but inking it helped me to see generally where each word started and write in a straight line. I retraced both the calligraphy and the illustration so I can see generally where to write when I'm working on the final paper.
III. Ink/Paint on Final Paper - Using a lightpad, I lined up my final paper on top of the graph paper, taped the sides, and started inking the calligraphy portion first. Most of the text was done in gray gouache ink and the couple names were written with Arabic Gold Finetec ink. After the calligraphy was done, I used a pencil to lightly sketch the florals on the final draft. This part was hard because I couldn't see all the little details of the florals, so I just sketched a general area each flower was positioned, then looking at the final draft, I re-illustrated it onto the final paper.
IV. Watercolor Botanicals - The last step was to finally add some color to the florals! This was my favorite part. Using a water brush and holding the watercolor pencils in my other hand, I picked up pigment directly from the pencil and started adding layers to the florals and leaves.
More BTS pics and details of the certificate! Click on the arrows to scroll for more. Congratulations again Sarah & Sam! <3