The Making of an Advent Calendar
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
We have had an amazing response to our illustrated Advent calendar for 2020! We really had no idea. I told my husband that I did not think I had a chance of being able to pull off an Advent calendar... Obviously I underestimated what prayer and grace are capable of, and now I have been humbled. About a week before the first Sunday of Advent I was looking around online for supplements to help with living the advent season more deeply according to the traditional calendar. As many of you probably know there is not much out there for the old calendar. I was disappointed, but it also inspired me that even if I could not make a particularly nice calendar, it was still worth doing. Many of you may have heard of the quote by GK Chesterton 'anything worth doing is worth doing poorly...' At least this is the frame of mind that got me to decide to begin.
With three calendars already under my belt I was able to get started more quickly. I began by reading over the Gospels for each Sunday and then finding images (usually from the missal) that I thought children would most especially connect with. Next, I look for any first-class and second class feasts that fall during the week - for these I usually have larger images. After that I begin mapping out the feast days and searching for images of the saints that seem to fit with the emerging design. I also begin to think about borders, headers, and other images that will help the children enter more fully into the season. I look up the moon phases and things in nature that coincide with the liturgical season to help children form the important connection between these two realities -- the natural world and the spiritual world. It is a mystery how the Holy Ghost inspired the creation of the liturgical year over the centuries following Christ's life as the Church grew. But, we do know that it was closely linked to the seasons and what people were experiencing in the natural world around them -- I hope the illustrated calendars can help recapture some of this union.
There is still much that I hope to improve in these calendars over the years because, as you may have guessed, my hope is to illustrate the entire liturgical year... of course only by the help of grace and prayer. There are several persons, among them deacons, priests, and monks, who have offered to help ensure that all the content of the calendars is in keeping with our Catholic tradition and the deposit of faith that has been passed down through the centuries. I live near Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert Oklahoma - The monks here follow the new calendar with regards the saints feasts (called the sanctoral cycle) --- with some exceptions because of preference for Benedictine saints --- but the old calendar for Sundays and other major liturgical feasts throughout the year (called the temporal cycle). In keeping with their spirit, these illustrated calendars give preference to the old calendar, but I also try to incorporate as much as I am able of the new calendar (without ever leaving out the old!) It is my hope that someday the troubles created by the differences of these two calendars will be reconciled... I can hope right? But it certainly makes it tricky sometimes.
Back to the process --- after I sketch out a basic plan for the overall calendar and have all the elements captured, I then transfer everything using a light box to a pen and ink sketch. This then becomes the black and white version of the calendar that is fun for children and adults to color. My previous three calendars never progressed beyond this step. But thanks to my dear little sister, Rose, who is also an amazing artist, we were able to then go beyond and translate everything into a full color calendar.
I won't go through all the details of how we did this since there was so much trial and error and it would take too long... But the basics are that the image was transferred onto watercolor paper (which is where most of the color comes from) and then details are done with colored pencil.
Rose and I worked side by side to make sure that all the colors flowed well and had a connected feeling... It was quite the marathon and my hands have been sore for several days since. Here are a few pictures my dad took and shared with me when he popped over to check on our work.
Yes, we just set up some easels in my bedroom because it was the best place to work undisturbed.
Credit certainly goes to my dear husband for helping keep our four young children occupied to allow me the time to work. Much of my inspiration for this project has come from realizing as a mother with little children how difficult it can be to try to share the faith when juggling homeschooling, house keeping, and animal/garden chores (for those who live closer to the land...) It can be hard to keep up with the liturgical year. For my family just having the images up allows us to discuss liturgical year easily around the dinner table and know beforehand which feast days are coming up. Even the smallest child who cannot read can look up and recognize many of the saints and ask questions about those they do not recognize.
Once My sister and I had finished the last of the drawings, we scanned everything in to the computer and then adjusted errors using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. We uploaded the files to our Liturgy of the Home website as well as my Etsy shop which I had opened a year ago to sell hand-painted Saint Peg doll... that is another story! The calendar has gone far and wide (even Estonia!) quite quickly and I think this was in large part thanks to several connectors on Instagram who helped spread the word for us --- We are so grateful to all of you!
Many people have been asking about (and we have been discussing) purchasing a printer that would allow us to print and sell physical copies of the calendar... Maybe even make an entire year in a scroll format that people could have mounted on their walls? But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.... Many people don't have home printers or wish to have a higher quality version made for their homes.
I am beginning on the design work for the next calendar which will be the 12 days of Christmas - from Christmas day to Epiphany -- focusing of course on the feast days but also on the symbolism of the 12 days of Christmas song. Please keep me in your prayers.
As you probably have discovered we are a very small outfit and a simple family trying to work on a very important project. We do want to turn this into a full time business, God willing, and we are grateful for your patience and prayers as we grow and continue to strive for perfection even though we know we are far from it.
Thank you! And a blessed Advent to you!