Rackel Gehlsen, a wedding planner in Tucson, contacted me about this exciting project — mirror calligraphy for a seating chart on a huge mirror. She said it was so big, it could only be transported by truck to the venue. I collected a deposit from the bride, Samantha, and did a little research on the best way to execute this project. I learned that china markers, or wax pencils, mark on smooth and ceramic surfaces, but can be wiped away easily, which was the most important part of the planning of this piece.
The Guest List
There were about 130 guest names to be written, divided among 13 tables, on this 6 foot tall mirror. Samantha also wanted her and the groom’s names to be written across the top of the mirror, along with the date of their wedding. Rackel and I coordinated with Jorge of Endless Decor to get the mirror to the venue. I slated 2 days in my schedule to complete the mirror calligraphy seating chart. I only had 1 day after all, which is probably for the best. I tend to take longer on projects than I need to, but I’m getting better about it!
If I seem like a “list person” to you, then you are right, and I did make a list of things to bring. Planning for a project is thinking about how I will do it and what supplies I’ll need. Since I wasn’t going to be in my studio, I knew I would have to be on top of my tools. Wouldn’t wanna be a 30 minute drive from an important piece of equipment!
Here’s what my list read, with why I packed it:
- level — to make sure my lines were parallel to the top edge of the mirror
- masking tape — to make sure I was using the space of the mirror properly
- Windex — for any smudges and to make for a fresh writing surface
- paper towels — to use with Windex
- lightweight gloves — to wear while writing so my hand would glide
- pencil — I always seem to need a pencil
- china markers — to mark guidelines directly on the glass
- measuring tape — to plan out the blocks of text
- ruler — in case I needed to measure smaller things
- square ruler — to make sure my lines were perpendicular and pleasing ;)
- fine-tip oil-based paint pen — to letter names with
- Broad chalkboard marker — to write the newlyweds’ names at the top
- X-Acto knife — to scrape away any mistakes
- snack — so I wouldn’t get jittery or grouchy
- . . . list of guests’ names, written in a notebook — I’d rather work from paper than a screen
I wish I had brought a water bottle and my phone charger.
Plotting the Text
I started the day with a good breakfast and met Jorge at Skyline Country Club around 10 a.m.. He and a partner brought the mirror to the room (amazing view, I couldn’t stop smiling). They removed the mirror from the frame and propped it up against the wall for me. Jorge told me that mirror measured 4 feet wide by 6 feet tall. The frame of the mirror overlaps the mirror by half an inch on all sides. I started doing some math. I wanted the names at the top to be big and legible, but I also wanted to keep the measurements of the names and table numbers easy for myself. I’m great at making things complex when I don’t have to.
Arranging the Text
I won’t get into exact measurements with you at all, but I decided to do the mirror calligraphy in three columns and 5 rows. Each name and table number would be about an inch tall. After I was finished, I saw I could’ve made things a bit bigger, but better to have space left over than not enough. I plotted the space for the guest’s names first. I left space at the top for the names of the bride and groom and their wedding date.
Marking the Mirror
It took 2 hours to mark the spaces for the names. I started by lining the edges of the mirror with masking tape. I made sure to leave space for where the frame would overlap the mirror. I sometimes make silly mistakes like writing in places that no one will see.
After I had tape all around the perimeter, I started carefully marking the measurements of the rows along the sides of the mirror, using my regular pencil to make the marks and label the number of the row.
After I made the measurements for one row, I carefully stretched masking tape from one mark to the other. I used my level to make sure the horizontal tape lines were relatively straight.
Accuracy is important to the overall aesthetic. This isn’t to say that my lines were spot on and exact to one another, but the mirror calligraphy would be consistent. Each block of names would be more similar to one another than not. Accuracy also helped me make sure I absolutely had enough room for everyone’s name.
I didn’t really plan on this, but having the masking tape in place for the rows meant that I could make measurements more locally (and accurately) for the columns. When I put the tape in place for the columns, I made sure that I accounted for the space I wanted to leave in between the blocks of names. I planned to center the names under the table numbers as best I could and I wanted to give my eye an accurate sense of the space I was working with.
I know . . When are we gonna get to the juicy part, the letters?!?!?! Here’s a little secret: Your letters and words could be impeccable, but if they’re not properly spaced, then the whole piece is going to be unsettling to look at. The viewer won’t know exactly what’s wrong, but their eyes are not going to want to linger, no matter the size of the piece. Putting thought and planning into where the letters will live will only add to their sauciness. ;)
Last stretch — I marked the spaces for the names directly onto the masking tape using a sharp regular pencil. Then I grabbed my ruler and a wax pencil and made my lines to write the mirror calligraphy on. I also marked the vertical center of each box so that as I wrote the names, I would have another visual tool to help me place them more accurately.
Then I took a break out on the deck. Always take breaks. Stretch, drink water, take deep breaths. Smile.
Okay back to work.
Beginning to Write
I bought 3 brand new pens to bring with me because I didn’t know what I had left in my pens from my studio. I wanted all the ink to be consistent throughout this huge mirror calligraphy. I opened the first one and it was the wrong size!! It was an “extra fine point” and what I needed was “fine”. All 3 new pens were wrong. Since time was limited, I got started with the fine point pen I brought from the studio.
I started writing the mirror calligraphy while standing. I tore the page of names out of the notebook I brought with me and taped it to the wall. And I just started going on down the list, writing the names in a thin but elegant Copperplate script.
To protect the writing surface from the oils on my writing hand, I started out writing with a glove. I thought it would also help my hand glide over the glass. Unfortunately, the glove gripped the surface and might erase my wax guidelines. Instead, I used a page from my notebook under my hand, which solved all 3 issues.
I think I got through about half of the tables before I had to leave and get my sons from school and eat dinner.
The Bottom Half of the Mirror Calligraphy
The bottom few blocks of names were challenging because by now I was getting closer to the floor and eventually laid on my stomach to finish the last few names. By this time, I was alone and the mirror was too big for me to move to a table!
This is another time when breaks come in handy. By now the sun was going down and I still needed a steady hand for this kind of special maneuvering.
I saved these for last because I knew that some of the letters were going to be a little taller than the space I allotted for them, purposely. While writing them, I wished I’d written them before the names so I wouldn’t have to center the words over the list, but that’s just the way it worked out. I only remember scraping off and redoing one or two table numbers. Once I wrote the word, “Table” enough times, I learned how much space I need for it.
The wax pencil I used was not easy to wipe off. This was good when I was writing the names, but not so good when I had limited time to erase the lines. I would still use it for mirror calligraphy.
The Grand Finale — The Couple’s Names
I started by just writing the names out a few times in the style I wanted use. I found the center of that line of text. Using the wax pencil, I started drawing large letters in the center of the mirror to place the text. I grabbed my large marker and wrote the names. I thickened the strokes in the appropriate places for this style of letter.
I wasn’t happy with a few of the letters and when I tried to clean them up, forgetting I was now using a water soluble marker. The letters just got worse and worse. When I went back over the letters to smooth lines and make the strokes more dense, I would lift the paint that was already there. I ended up doing the names about 3 times, all the while considering maybe coming back in the morning to start fresh. But once I got over the learning curve, things started to go more smoothly. I removed all that glorious tape and took some time with the Windex to really clean up smears and smudges. Mirrors are difficult to photograph in the first place and flecks and prints can be hard to detect until it’s too late.
I left a note instructing how to remove the marker and to take care around the top of the mirror, along with my phone number just in case anything weird happened.
All in all, it took me about 15 hours to complete this project, research, gathering materials, and travel time included. I felt confident starting this job because of the experience I have working on a smaller scale and the experience I have with writing in this style. I am always amazed that with each new piece I do, I can fall in love with the letters a little bit more.
Did you get this far and decide you’d like me to provide calligraphy for your big event? Well that makes two of us. Let’s get this conversation started!