Mind Your Ps and Qs | Skillshare Projects

Anna Day

Calligrapher & Designer



Mind Your Ps and Qs

My phrase: Mind your Ps and Qs

I surprise myself with this choice, but ever since doing Jonathan Ball's Vector Illustration tutorial in December, I have been thinking about this phrase occasionally. I followed along with Jonathan to recreate his playful ice cream cone character. I thought about creating P and Q as characters for an illustration of my own, but didn't do it. So I will do a poster here instead.

No one knows exactly when and where this phrase originated or what it first meant. It is usually interpreted as instruction to behave well and not give offence. Yet there are many other possibilities; see http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/01/origin-to-mind-your-ps-and-qs/ for examples. So the phrase is mysterious.

'Mind your Ps and Qs' could be said with an emotion of exasperation or annoyance to a child who is not saying 'Please' or 'Excuse me' as the parent expects. However, I intend to interpret it as a light-hearted, whimsical expression, perhaps suitable for a child's bedroom to encourage attention to both the alphabet and good manners.

My emotion: JOY




I found examples with expressions which relate to pain (OUCH), work (MUST TRY, WORK IN PROGRESS), and an old-fashiioned proverb (Idle Hands . . .), but which have been created to make them fun and/or beautiful. This is what I aim for. Colour will be very important to convey my emotion, joy, and my moodboard contains colours I enjoy.


I want to emphasise P and Q, which I intend to achieve partly by scale, so in all my thumbnails these letters will be larger than anything else.


I started with 1 and 2 imagining 'mind you' and 'and' as script, probably brush script, for contrast with the rest of the text. However, I decided that print would be more appropriate for a young child, perhaps just learning to read, so I limited myself to several print styles for the remainder of my thumbnails.

Nearing the end of my ideas, I realised that I had been assuming upper case for P and Q, because that is I how I remember seeing the expression written. Instead I could use large lower case p and q, which would immediately show these letters as mirror images of each other. Confusion between the lower case forms in typesetting or when first learning the alphabet is an explanation for the origin or continuing use of the expression. I showed the mirror images in 2, 3, and 4, but I could now do it more emphatically and economically in 6, leaving extra space for the words associated with good manners.

My choice is 6. 5 is more energetic, which is appealing, but it seems to me rather jumbled. I like the clarity and spaciousness of 6. The thin monoline printing contrasts with the solid shapes. I thought of using an ampersand earlier, but the one in 4 looks too much like P & O rather than P & Q. I like my delicate monoline ampersand in 6, which relates to the monoline words below, and balances what might otherwise be too much empty space. The exact decoration for the large p and q will be determined when I draw it on a larger scale. Colour and texture will be very important to inspire joy.


Sketch based on thumbnail 6. I want the decoration for the large p and q to be similar, to continue the mirror image theme, but not exactly the same. I decided that a geometric style would be appropriate for these simple, clean cut letters.


After reading Mete's comment I did another drawing which is sort of a combination of thumbnails 5 and 6. It is more energetic, more joyful, and hopefully more appealing to children, which is what I want.


Refined Drawing

I decided to refine my sketch by doing a vector drawing. I want the shapes to be precise, and I intend to use a fairly complicated colour scheme, so I think this will be the best approach for me. Line thickness will probably be adjusted when I start colouring, and some lines may not show if I want adjacent colours right next to each other. I am using Affinity Designer since I don't have Illustrator.



Here is my first colour version. I have provided a background, redrawn the curved lines on the stem of the p, increased the size of 'mind your' slightly, decreased the size of 'and', and moved some objects. There is now more space on the side margins. I still intend to experiment with gradients and/or texture, but comments on this stage would be welcome.


Final Version

I experimented with a variety of gradients, textures, and blending modes. Most of them changed the colours quite drastically. I wanted to keep these clear, joyful colours with only subtle changes to give them some variation and at the same time relate more to each other. I used elliptical gradients to modify Ps and Qs. As well as creating some variation in the colours, the gradients make the shapes look slightly three-dimensional, which suits the curving lines of the stems.

I applied Inner Glow and Outer Glow effects to all the objects, or groups of objects. The inner glow is really a shadow, but I used inner glow because I didn't want it directional. The outer glow raises the object from the background. So these effects enhance the three-dimensional aspect.

I changed the paper texture with an elliptical gradient so the centre is slightly brighter than the edges. My final touch was to use the same gradient on top of the whole design with a Multiply blending mode, which further integrates all the elements and makes them glow.


I believe I achieved what I set out to do, depicting this rather mysterious expression which can be related to both the alphabet and manners (rather dry subjects), with joy, making it appealing to both adults and children.


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