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Artful Names

How are illuminations used in books? Find out about fancy fonts---and make your own decorative designs. John Hancock would be proud!

  • Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Have students look closely at several illuminations (in which the first letter on the opening page is intricately illustrated) on the first pages of books. Have them find recent books as well as those that are copies of medieval works. Illuminations typically contain the first letter of the first word of the opening paragraph. See how the letter relates to the word.
    2. Students compare these illuminations to an alphabet book, noting the similarities (the word begins with the featured letter) and the dissimilarities (the illustration in most illuminations is decorative rather than representational).
    3. Students look at various type fonts in a typography book or on a computer and choose a type style that appeals to them. Use Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils to draw a large first letter of their name in that font. Then have them make the letter the main part of a picture that illustrates something important about themselves or an idea that the letter represents.
    4. Students add details with Crayola Metallic Colored Pencils. Fill in areas of color with Crayola Markers.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

    LA: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

    LA: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others.

    VA: Select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.

    VA: Describe and place variety of art objects in historical an cultural contexts.

    VA: Know and compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures.

    VA: Analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.

  • Adaptations

    Students may complete an illumination letter for both their first and last names. While illustrations for the letter of their first names may represent each of them personally, illustrations for the letter of their last names should represent something about their families.

    Medieval illuminations were hand drawn by a few selected, educated monks to illustrate the lengthy, hand-lettered texts that they produced. Challenge students to create their own illuminated manuscript by writing an original story, illuminating the lead letter on each page.

    Students research life during Medieval times. Have students write a friendly letter to a parent or guardian, summarizing their research of the time period. The opening letter of each paragraph should be an illuminated letter, sized as an icon. For younger grades, this activity can be completed in small groups, with each paragraph written on a piece of large chart paper. The friendly letters can be posted in the classroom for display.

    In small groups, have students choose 3-4 letters of the alphabet to create as illuminations, with pictures included in their drawings that reflect their class of students, units of study for the school year, etc. The completed illuminations can be compiled as a book and displayed in the classroom for viewing. Also, students should take a digital picture of their illuminations for uploading to a classroom electronic file.

    Often gold-leaf ink was used in the Medieval illuminations. Advanced students can research and study the application of gold leaf to illuminated manuscripts. Using Crayola Metallic Colored Pencils, students simulate this effect on their original illuminations.

    Students research famous handwriting styles, such as that of John Hancock, a notable signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Compile research into an electronic format for presentation to a small group or class.


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  • Creativity.
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  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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