There is an ancient tradition of using the humble alphabet for decoration and artwork. From medieval calligraphy and illuminated initials, to illustrated alphabets for children and decorative type, the artistic possibilities are endless. Alphabets and alphabet letters are also a popular choice for children’s rooms and nurseries, being vaguely educational as well as decorative, and providing lots of potential for personalised wall-art. I am repeatedly inspired by some of the many creative alphabet projects that I come across on the internet, so thought I would put together a selection of some of my favourites here.
Alphabet Art intended for children can be found in many different forms:
- Decorated alphabets – where the letters themselves are embellished and decorated. This is a technique with plenty of heritage, and there are classic Victorian examples, such as that by Kate Greenaway which I have always especially loved.
- Traditional illustrated alphabets (of the A is for Apple variety) also have a venerable heritage. Artful Kids produces a personalised twist on these, by using a child’s artwork to illustrate a letter (see above). There are also a few free printable versions to be found on the internet, including this one:
- Animated Alphabets – where the letters are drawn to resemble another object or character are a further variation. Some of these can be incredibly imaginative and may be based on a particular theme. For example, check out this printable version created from birds.
- Photographic Alphabets – a more recent trend which is particularly popular at the moment, is to use photographs of objects ‘found’ in the environment to provide an alphabet. Sometimes these might be actual letters from lettered signs in the environment, but at other times they might simply be shapes which are photographed in such a way as to resemble a letter in their form. These are theoretically quite easy to recreate for yourself, but do in fact involve a certain amount of hard work!
Alternatively you can create your own Alphabet Art, using some of the suggestions below:
- Take some inspiration from Eric Carle, and create a collage of letters cut out from decorative papers, magazines, wrapping paper, children’s artwork etc. on a plain or decorated background. You could do a complete alphabet, a name, or just a single initial.
- If you are doing a single initial, why not try creating a 3 dimensional one from a mosaic or a collage of different paper fragments, or indeed any other material you can find. I’ve seen these created with buttons, crayons, pasta, seeds and pulses, lego, postage stamps and even pieces of old toys to make decorative letters. This kind of 3-dimensional work is often best mounted and framed in a shadow box if you want to protect and display it long term. Check out some of the following links for ideas and inspiration:
- Create your own decorative collage of letters from coloured card using these templates for an animated alphabet , which would make a great display.
- Create your own photographic alphabet art using this fabulous and extensive online resource created by Leo Reynolds on Flickr. Or turn it into a scavenger hunt with older kids, and take the photos yourself to create your own collage using gel medium transfer.
- If you’re handy with a needle or sewing machine, try creating appliqued alphabet art, by cutting out letters from fabric, and stitching them onto a fabric background. By using a variety of prints and colours this can produce a really decorative effect. In fact you don’t even have to stitch them – you can just glue it instead.
- Take a leaf from of the criminal world, and use the classic technique of cutting letters out of newspapers and magazines. Headlines are best for this, using a variety of different letter styles, sizes and colours for effect. Turn them into fridge magnets by laminating and attaching them to some self-adhesive magnetic sheet. We did this to create a personalised door sign.
- If you want something more 3-dimensional, you can purchase cardboard letters designed to be painted and decorated however you like. You might try decorating with old comics for example, or with paint and foam shapes, scraps of fabric, or even wrapping wool around it.
- For younger children, cut out the initial letter of their name from a large sheet of paper, and temporarily glue it onto another sheet as a mask (spray mount glue is ideal for this if you have some). Alternatively, create the initial using masking tape. Then let them paint over the whole sheet before removing the tape or mask.
- For older children, why not let them have a go at some Graffiti Art using a large canvas or sheet and some old spray paints. Probably best as an outdoor activity!
- Print (or cut out of coloured paper) a single letter onto a sheet of paper, as large as possible, then frame. Really simple, but surprisingly effective.
All of these are simple techniques that are a great way of providing some personalised artwork for a child’s room, and also for learning about letters. If you have any more to suggest, add them in the comments below, and I shall expand the list to create a more permanent resource.