Kate Widdows

graphic design, illustrative lettering, & type



Dante's Inferno | drop cap



I'm a third through this book already. It takes getting used to – it's a long poem written in midieval times (!) – but once you get used to the language it's amazing. 


Finished the book ! Below are some notes and sketches I made while reading. Dante's last name is Alighieri. 


I really wanted to use a style of lettering from Italian medieval times, as the book is so rooted in the time it was written – before the renaissance, when there was so much fear, superstition, disease, and when the church began to have an iron grip on the masses. 

I looked up some medieval italian letters and used them for inspiration.

Below are my post-brainstorm sketches. 

I have 3 main ideas. 


the idea for me here is depth, and fear. The author goes through so much fear in the story, and brings the reader with him. Psychologically, to me the book is about facing your biggest fears - your own dark side and your own mortality.

Also there is a constant physical traveling down, down, down towards the center of the earth (hell), so the images of crags, crevices, cliffs and jagged rocks and mountains appear regularly.

This one is a relatively simple concept, using some literal imagery coupled with the psychological aspect. However, with such perspective, and the "cap" taking up such a small space in the composition (this might change later) -- I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "drop cap." Let me know what you think about this.


The sketch is quite rough, but the idea is a black square, the letterform in white, and the flames, fire, water droplets and in more subltle white, like one of those old bookplates. More figurative with a not so subtle example of a tortured person with their had down in the earth.

This may not even end up with a devil head in it, I should do more sketching around this one, this is a fun one to work on.


I know what you will say :) -- there's too much going on here, it's too complex and not readable. The letter weight and heavy blackness, in the end, will far outweigh the *delicate* linear drawings around it. Just sayin.

There is fire, tears, wings (of Satan), mountains, stars (which represent 'God' in the story), smoke, and a face.


if you have any preferences, I'd love to hear it, or any comments you might have. Thanks !


thanks for your comments - I am going with CREVICE as my concept. Below is my more refined pencil sketch, going to take it to illustrator next.

the mountainous top of the A might not end up working in digital, we'll see. The style of the A is based on a Florentine example of a calligraphic A from the 1400s (Inferno was published a bit earlier than that, in 1317).

still welcome any comments at all ~


I'm having second thoughts about the surface of the A. Instead of mountains I'm going to try rooftops of the city of Florence, where Dante lived, and where many of the "shades" committed their sins. Based on a postcard I have (pictured below) of a painting Florence. Going to try to draw this as simply as possible, while keeping the buildings varied enough to be convincing.

Conceptually it adds to the piece I think because the cliff holds society, precariously, and how easy is it to "fall" down, into sin. 

Let me know your thoughts. Meanwhile I'm jumping into Illustrator.. Thanks !


Below are some Illustrator sketches, and where I am right now. I tend to not sketch too far with pencil, although I think I probably should. Any comments welcome ! Thanks for all your comments so far ~


UPDATE | Nov 29th

hey you guys - thank you so much for all your comments, you've been very helpful !

I think I am done. I took time away from looking at it and I can't find any ways to improve it at the moment. If you have any suggestions I'm happy to hear it though !

This project ended up becoming more illustrative than I expected, and I have never made work that looks like this, so atleast I know I can surprise myself :)

(posting a version below without the red glow as requested by Jess, but I am pretty sure I want to keep it. )


new idea - black background instead of grey, and the addition of stars. Maybe the stars are too much ? I don't know, which do you prefer ?

Well I am declaring myself finished with the project. I like the stars. The image just above here is my final version. 

Thank you to everyone for all your comments, and thanks to the amazing Jessica Hische for creating this class, it was really fun ~


haha, OK, I had a new thought, and THEN I promise I am done, I'm not gonna change it anymore. THIS (below) is my actual final piece. I think it's simpler and stronger without the shaft of red, with a wider swath of red below. That's the only difference. OK - done !


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