This is part three of a three part series on combining calligraphy with watercolor.
Taking your artwork into the computer can be helpful if you need to create something that can be reproduced, or if you want to build a library of watercolor forms and washes to reuse at a later time. It allows for greater flexibility, too – for example your calligraphy doesn’t have to sit straight with the first try, you can write a few versions and frankenstein everything the way you want it later on. I use my digital watercolor washes for designs like wedding invitations or other event design work, or as textures for my lettering work. In some cases I create something from scratch and really make it fit to the occasion, but often those pieces will go into my ever-growing library of watercolor design elements.
There are other applications like digital scrapbooking, or blog graphic design where digitizing watercolor backgrounds may be the perfect solution for your needs.
Digitized calligraphy can be printed on letterpress or digital invitations, on apparel and homeware, or be turned into rubber stamps or blog graphics. There are a few ways of digitizing for different result, I’ll explain the most basic and hassle-free version here.
You’ll obviously need a computer, scanner and some kind of editing software for this.
Digitizing your calligraphy
After you’ve done your pencil sketch, make sure you ink the piece as cleanly as possible. It’s best to use bright white paper and really black ink, as you want the maximum amount of contrast you can get.
If you want your project to be in color, you can either scan it in greyscale and add the color in the computer (recommended), or scan in color and print directly from the resulting file. This can sometimes end up in slightly distorted colors. For letterpress and rubber stamps you’ll need to scan in black and white.
Make sure your scanner bed is free of dust and scan at least at 300 dpi, better 600 dpi in greyscale.
Then open your editing software (I use Photoshop), adjust the levels a little bit (this can be found in Photoshop under Image -> Adjustments -> Levels), or just scan in black an white), clean any dust with the eraser tool, and crop the image. Save your image as a TIFF or JPG with no compression.
Now your file can be reproduced in print. This is the simplest, quickest way to do this.
For combining your digitized calligraphy with a watercolor background, please read on.
Digitizing your watercolor backgrounds
Again, make sure your scanner bed is clean, then scan your watercolor background at least at 300dpi, better 600 dpi, this time in color.
You will need to adjust the levels and brightness a bit in your editing software, I usually check the color balance too when I’m at it. Then remove any dust particles with the eraser tool (dust in the colored areas can be removed with the healing brush or stamp tool). The background (if you have any white background) should be completely white now, and any colored background should be free of dust and scratches. For most applications or simple printing this will suffice.
Save your image as a TIFF or JPG with no compression.
If you find that you need to remove the white background from the image, make a copy of the background layer, delete the background, select the white color (Selection -> Color Range), invert the selection, make it a bit smaller (1–2 px), and cut it out. You can now paste the texture into a new file without having it surrounded by the white background – this may be needed when you want to put your watercolor on a colored background. This is a very short explanation for a slightly complex process, there are great step-by-step tutorials on the web on how to do this.
Combining digital calligraphy and watercolor
If you want to merge your calligraphy with the watercolor background again, there’s a simple was to do this. You should now have two files, one with your text and one with your wash. Copy the wash, make a new document (the size will automatically be the size of the wash, if you need it bigger, enter the size), and paste it. Now copy and paste your calligraphy, or parts of it (you can select parts with the lasso tool), and set the text layer (on the right lower side) to Multiply. As if by magic, the white background will disappear. You can move the text parts around, and even rotate them to make them fit to the background exactly as you want.
Save your image as a TIFF or JPG with no compression. If you want to keep the layers, you should save it as a TIFF. It’s now ready for print!