Gold-Leaf Calligraphy


Learn about Illuminated Manuscripts then create your own illuminated gold-leaf letter.


1. In Medieval times (before the Renaissance, around 1400), most people did not know how to read. Their main sources of education and community involvement, outside of their families, were their churches and temples. Only a few wealthy or educated people could read and write, so religious ideas were communicated through pictures.

2. One method of creating a picture that was especially awe-inspiring was to coat the background with a substance called gold leaf. Gold leaf is paper-thin sheets of gold attached to clay. It was used to surround a central painting, and reflected light beautifully. Gold leaf creates the illusion of light, and sets a glowing, ethereal mood Examples of paintings that contain gold leaf are still available for you to see in museums.

3. Gold leaf was also used in collections of writings called Illuminated Manuscripts. The Illumination was actually a small illustration of the first letter of the first word in a paragraph. A complex little drawing was done around the letter to show the meaning of the word or idea.

4. To create your own gold-leaf style illumination, begin by thinking of words that describe a specific feeling or emotion. Make a list of these words, then think of images that the words make you think of, such as a smiling face for happiness or a rainy day for pensive. Choose your favorite word.

5. Look closely at different letter styles, or fonts, such as the type styles you can find on a computer. You can also look up different lettering styles in a book on calligraphy.

6. On construction paper, use Crayola® Markers to draw the first letter of the word that you wish to illuminate. Color in the letter with a bold color.

7. Use Crayola Fine Tip markers to draw a scene around the letter. Leave spaces in your drawing.

8. Fill in the spaces with a gold Crayola Crayon for an awesome gold-leaf effect.

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.


  • Make gold-leaf name plates for your favorite books or gift books. Leave an open line for the owner's name, then illuminate the book plate with illustrations. Cut out the book plate, and glue it inside a book.
  • Write a story about a time period in history, a current news story, or another topic you are studying. Illuminate the title and the first letter of each opening paragraph in your story.
  • Make an Illuminated Alphabet for a younger friend. Illustrate every letter of the alphabet, and use the pictures you draw as hints about the illuminated letter.

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Fine Line Markers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Markers
  • Construction Paper



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6


  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • Less than 1/2 hour
  • 30 to 60 minutes


  • Children research historic uses of gold leaf in art, architecture, and to enhance communication.

  • Students list words that describe a positive feeling, and select one to illustrate.

  • Children design an alphabet letter in an illuminated manuscript style.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards