How Words Find Their Colors: My Process for Creating Calligraphic Art

By Phawnda Moore in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

A calligrapher’s mission is to bring words to life. When a clients ask me how a verse becomes a work of art, or what my process is, I tell them it can happen in two ways:

The first way is that the quote chooses me and then the colors appear. The second way is that the colors (of an abstract piece I’ve made) choose me, and the quote follows. It’s a lot easier with the first option, but as Julia Cameron explains: “The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”

Let’s take a quote from my Inspiration series (the Apache Blessing) and explore my process for that particular piece.

Step 1. Really listen to the quote

Here is the Apache Blessing:

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,
May the moon softly restore you by night,
May the rain wash away your worries,
May the breeze blow new strength into your being,
May you walk gently thorugh the world and know it’s beauty.”

Take time to savor the words in the verse; I believe this is the foundation for all that follows. And in this case, I noted that the word “beauty” seemed to fit each line: sun, moon, rain, breeze.

NOTE: It helps a lot to love the words you’re lettering. I’m drawn to words with eternity; I love when they are fresh every day. And words with spirit, that feed my soul. And visual words, too—those make my job easier and more fun.

Ultimately, the verse simply said to me, “Walk gently through the world and know its beauty.” I vowed to slow down more and observe. (A reminder that I need often—how about you?)

I also realized that these words connected me to the Earth and its wonders. Each unique season, the changing weather, the mysteries of flowers and trees. Waterfalls, mountains, deserts, clouds. Visualizing these scenes was awesome.

Step 2. Explore those feelings on paper

When I create the backgrounds for these quotes, I am totally focused on exploring color and technique. I’m playing and delight in knowing that I have no idea what will happen next! Then certain pages are chosen and wait in a closet for an audition.


As if on queue, one day I introduce a quote to those pages, rather like a matchmaker! And we’re on our way.

Step 3. Analyze the verse with each background

The third step is to consider the verse with each background . . . the Apache Blessing could have had a cool-colored background (rain and moon) or warm-colored (sun and the warm invitation).

I asked myself, “How does it make me feel?” Warm. Connected. So warm it is.

And when I paired the words with a gold watercolor background, it looked earthy, the texture suggested roots or branches, from sun-given light. Not only for the Earth but for its people.

The choice was made.

Step 4. Add the words to the background

Last is to actually create it (which is where some folks think I start!)

I lay out the words on graph paper, deciding that for the somewhat busy background, contrast should be accentuated. After experimenting with blues, violets, and purples, I chose a deep violet and an emphasis on “beauty” at the end.

Hmm, perhaps a flourish? Oh, yes!


Usually, I aim for everything to be pleasing—the colors, the words, the meaning. When that happens, my mission is accomplished.

Prints of this 12″ x 16″ Apache Blessing are available in the Inspirational Album on my Facebook page. Thanks for visiting. . . savor a little beauty today!


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