For years, the 8th grade students of Marin Waldorf School were given beautifully illuminated diplomas at their graduation. The calligrapher that had been doing this as a passion project decided it was time for them to step aside. I was absolutely honored to be recommended to take on the diplomas for the 8th graders of Marin Waldorf School. Originally, I was to make the skeletal diplomas and teach each parent to paint in the decorations for their child.

However, due to the Bay Area's covid-19 shelter-in-place orders put in place starting in March and extending past graduation, that was no longer possible. The parent-coordinator and I came up with a new plan, where I would do it all. But instead of painting each individually, I'd print the diplomas in full color. Then as had been done in the past, I would calligraph each graduate's name & gild the diplomas with real gold. I have documented my process here to give a better idea of the steps involved in custom projects.

Inspiration to sketch

Historic versal gilded initials L, U, & H by Stephan Schriber
Spätgotisches Musterbuch des Stephan Schriber page 13v
Historic versal gilded initials with big curvy leaves by Stephan Schriber
Spätgotisches Musterbuch des Stephan Schriber page 12r
Historic versal gilded initial D by Stephan Schriber
Spätgotisches Musterbuch des Stephan Schriber page 10r
With each project I work on, I want it to be grounded in history, but not stuck in the past. For this project, a lot of inspiration came from Stephan Schriber's sketchbook—*Spätgotisches Musterbuch des Stephan Schriber*. A simplified design and modern colors bring the illumination work into the 21st century.
The rough sketch for Original art of Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
The final sketch based on the above inspiration

Pre-digitizing: Outline, Lettering, & Color

Outline for Original art of Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Outline all the art
Just the painted colors for Original art of Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Paint just the colors using a light table
All the Lettering for Original art of Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
All the lettering

Before creating a press-ready file, I create all the original designs by hand. This leaves the subtle variations in color and texture that makes handmade work so wonderful. However, because I will be digitizing the diplomas, I can make each part individually to be assembled in photoshop. Not only does this gives me greater control on the exact shape and spacing of each letter, I can also re-do each part until its right.

Digitizing

While digitally cutting and pasting the diplomas together, but I take this opportunity to color correct each element. Digitizing work always takes time. It is such detail-orientated work.

Putting all the pieces together in Photoshop for Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Put it all together in Photoshop
Proof of Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Always send a proof to catch any mistakes before it's too late!

Printing

Once I think everything is ready to go to press, I make sure to send a proof to the client. It's not just comforting for the client to have one last update on the progress; this is the last chance to catch any mistakes. And in this case, the parent-coordinator discovered I had forgotten two words! It's embarrassing, but a reality that mistakes happen.

Handwork: Lettering & Gilding

Reenacting writing names on Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Lightpad broke! So I had to line each one. Reenactment because I forgot to photograph while working on it.
Tools used to gild Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
Gold leaf, instacoll sizing, burnisher, and a big fluffy brush used to apply gold to diplomas

Once the diplomas are back from the printers, it's time to make each diploma truly custom—with calligraphy and gilding. Because I kept the gouache blue I had mixed to paint the filigree, the custom names match the printed decorations perfectly! After making sure each name is spelled properly, I fill in each blank shape in the filigree with gilding size (a.k.a. glue) and then press gold on top of it.

With a little spray of fixative to make sure the names last a lifetime, the diplomas are done and ready to be signed by the administrators before being handed out to the graduates. The students may have had a difficult ending to their 8th grade year, but I hope these special diplomas help them feel celebrated and accomplished!

Marin Waldorf School 2020 Diploma by Katie Leavens
The final diploma with name changed to protect the innocent