Illuminated Manuscripts


Illuminated Manuscripts have always blown my mind. I love telling the story about the monks who dwelled in stone huts, freezing their bums off along the coast of Ireland. They wrote and rewrote the Bible by hand. In order to make things a bit more enjoyable they would doodle. Their doodles were pretty epic, and are so precise that some have a hard time believing that such minute detail could even be possible! Aliens? Maybe…. But more likely these guys were just really, really good at drawing. And had all the time in the world to perfect their craft. That is… Until the Vikings arrived! I love to show my students the trailer for the stunning movie, “The Secret of Kells” (It’s on netflix too!). We watched this animated work of art in college. The trailer does a great job of quickly portraying the story of these illuminations and totally intriguing all of my students.

After the trailer we look at this, the Chi Rho page. One of my personal favorite works of art! I pull it up on my smart board and we try to pick out things we see, like an ‘I Spy’ game. If you look really hard you can find some faces and animals, keltic knots and lots and lots of swirly things.


What you need:

Let’s get started!

Step One:

Students are to draw the first letter of their first name, nice and big, filling the page, take your time and draw your letters thick and lightly at first in case you need to erase. Some prefer to use a ruler, others free hand their letters. Try to use a font that is representative of your personality!


Step Two:

Fill your letter with drawings. I give my students complete creative freedom with this, but demonstrate how to build off of one doodle and give each table a couple of pattern and tangle references. If a kid is doing very intricate, detailed work I will give them a micron pen fairly early on in their drawing.


Step Three:

Trace, carefully, with a micron pen. These things are one of my favorite art supplies! Just remind your students to be very gentle and to hold them straight up and down so as not to snap the tiny tip off…


Step Four:

Color in with colored pencils. Blending colored pencil to make ombres always looks nice. To do so begin by coloring dark with your first color, then lightening up and overlapping another color on top, pushing harder as to mix the two. I am a fan of pushing down hard with my colored pencils to achieve a really bright, market-esque look but sometimes a nice light shading looks great too. Be sure to keep your colored pencils very sharp!

Have fun!

Student Examples: