Categories
calligraphy lettering Thoughts on lettering

O my Giotto

How often do you draw an O? How often in this age of keyboards do you pick up a pen, pencil or brush and draw an O? How often do you give thought to the creation of an O? Here are some of mine. Now, these are not necessarily an O – yes it is a circle but an O is more than that. An O has style and grace, and is not a pure mathematical or geometrical ‘form’. Nevertheless…without more ado here is my [rather primitive] selection

O large
Freehand O drawn with bamboo pen

Why this interest in O? It comes from having picked up Vasari’s Lives of the Artists [Penguin Classics, 1965 (reprinted 1976), trans. George Bull] who describes the artist Giotto picking up his brush when asked for a sample to give to the Pope. This is the relevant section – ‘The courtier told Giotto for a drawing which he could send to his holiness. At this Giotto, who was a very courteous man, took a sheet of paper and a brush dipped in red, closed his arm to his side, so as to make a sort of compass of it, and then with a twist of his hand drew such a perfect circle that it was a marvel to see. Then, with a smile, he said to the courtier: ‘There’s your drawing.’ As if he were being ridiculed, the courtier replied: “Is this the only drawing I’m to have?’ ‘It’s more than enough,’ answered Giotto.” [p.64.]

O with pen
O with the bamboo pen, made by John Skelton

Well, the Pope saw the O and was mightily impressed and Giotto got the commission. Vasari continues: ‘And when the story became generally known, it gave rise to the saying which is still used to describe stupid people: ‘You are more simple that Giotto’s O.’ This is a splendid witticism, not only because of the circumstances which gave rise to it but also because of the pun it contains, the Tuscan word tondo meaning both a perfect circle and also a slow-witted simpleton.’ [p.65.]

As an encore, here is an O from the Rev. Catich’s The Art of the Serif:

Letter O Trajan
Art of the Serif by Catich

Isn’t that so beautiful? How about we all take time out to draw some O’s?

Categories
calligraphy History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typographers

The [not so] New Typography

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NonHuman books, and particularly the version produced by a machine of Tschichold’s The New Typography (1928). After publishing this piece I realised that I did not have a copy of this book, much to my surprise; confusing it with Asymmetrical Typography, which I do. Rather than wait, I got onto ABE and within moments located a copy in Melbourne – the 1995 University of California reprint. new typography

The text reads of its period, but given the current crisis we are in, has prescience. Take for example:

Unity of Life! So the arbitrary isolation of a part is no longer possible for us – every part belongs to and harmonises with the whole.

It’s also worth bearing in mind his view [the late 1920s, one hundred years ago] against the cult of the individual, which is what we have seen these past how many decades, in so many creative areas – think architecture, think novels, think music.

The creator disappears completely behind his work. People of today regard the arrogant thrusting forward of the man before his work as aesthetically embarrassing. Just as every human being is part of a greater whole, and is conscious of his connection with it, so his work should also be an expression of this general feeling of wholeness.

new typo title

Categories
calligraphy

Ink

In this digital age the use of ink is ever restricted, putting aside that used in Biro’s and the like. imagesBy ink I mean that liquid which is put into a fountain pen, or, as described by M. Therese Fisher (The Calligrapher’s Handbook, Faber and Faber, 1983): ‘It must be freely flowing, and be even in colour. It should have a grittiness rather than a stickiness. It should be non-corrosive, non-posinious, not easily erased and non-fermentable’.

According to Fisher there are two ways to make ink. Firstly, mix gum with lamp-black; secondly, treat salts of iron with tannic acid. The latter fades to brown, the former is permanent and does not change in colour.

The Chinese had a method for the preparation of lamp-black. They used distilled water, or rainwater, which was poured over the lamp-black made from the ‘incomplete combustion of oils’. Apparently kept for three years is ideal, rubbing frequently with the hand to preserve the polish.

For Indian ink images-1try this 1825 recipe: ‘Put six lighted wicks in a dish of oil, hang an iron or tin concave cover over it so as to receive all the smoke; when there is a sufficient quantity of soot settled to the cover, then take it off gently with a feather upon a sheet of paper, and mix it with gum tragacanth to a proper consistency. Note: the dearest oil makes the finest soot, consequently the best ink.’

Categories
calligraphy lettering printing typography

Mardersteig and Felicano: a Christmas gift

The beauty of this illustration (taken from the privately-printed Two Titans by Hans Schmoller) requires few words. The original is hand-coloured and comes from Mardersteig’s Alphabetum Romanum published in 1960, some 500 years after the death of the Italian writing master.

Mardersteig and Feliciano

[Two Titans was published by The Typophiles, NY, 1990 and printed by Martino Mardersteig in Verona.)

Categories
calligraphy Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera

Something very graphic for the weekend

I confess  the name Marian Bantjes is one with which I am unfamiliar. But then I am sure, too, that she has not heard of John Pitt. We bumped into each other (or rather me her) when I plucked her book I Wonder from one of our bookshelves where it had lain dormant for some years. My partner (another Marian) had brought the book back from a visit to New York, and it’s signed by the author. It’s a lovely volume, richly illustrated and superbly designed by Marian (the NY one). I’d love to hear from other readers who share my enthusiasm. This illustration is but one of many I could have chosen.

marian bantjes

Categories
calligraphy

Something italic for the weekend: the ‘scholar penman’

Handwriting is still taught in schools. But probably not to the extent that Alfred Fairbank would approve. A British civil servant in the Admiralty he is probably best remembered today for the classic King Penguin of 1949 A Book of Scripts. (The cover designed by Tschichold from ‘a design by Juan de Vicar, 1547’.)

He led the crusade for a revival in the italic hand during the 1920s and 1930s, claiming that handwriting had reached a peak of excellence in the Italian Renaissance, particularly through Arrighi in his manual of 1523.

Fairbank writes: ‘The person of graphic taste who finds little opportunity to create has an outlet, however modest, in his handwriting, and this is why so many adults take to the italic hand’. 

The illustration below, meanwhile,  is a wonderful example of how to design a title page. The roman font is Dante (designed by another scholar, Giovanni Mardersteig), while the italic is in what is often described as Bembo Condensed Italic, which was designed by Fairbank himself. The block was done by Reynolds Stone.

 

 

PS – article in Sydney Morning Herald on tattoo and handwriting here.

Categories
calligraphy lettering typography

A long overdue note on Michael Harvey

Prompted by the chance spot of a news item announcing the publication of his latest book – Adventures with Letters. For those who do not know Michael’s work please check this link. MH has been working in lettering/calligraphy for more than 60 years, being taught the art of letter cutting by Joseph Cribb, one of Gill’s assistants. He is a renowned and distinguished typographer as well. His earlier books, including Carving Letters in Stone and Wood (Bodley Head, 1987) and Creative Lettering Drawing and Design (Bodley Head, 1985), were among those volumes that influenced me when I was starting out. I’d recommend them to anyone wanting to know more about either discipline.

The link to his new book can be found here.

 

Categories
calligraphy lettering

Something mysterious, something Gid

Sometimes an illustration hits you with such force that you just want to share it with others. Such is this, which I came across in Book Design and Production, vol 2, number 2, of 1959. The accompanying text relates that it comes from Livre D’Heures of 1959 and was designed by Raymond Gid using the Vendome type family. Of this type it is described as having a ‘resemblance to wood-cut or stone-chiselled lettering’. A same is shown below, though it does not seem to bear much resemblance to the text above – answers please.

Categories
calligraphy eric gill lettering Thoughts on lettering

Masterful and beautiful: David Jones

The lettering of David Jones has featured once before in this blog (see here), but is of such individuality and beauty it is a shame not to show more. Those who follow Gill (or like his stuff) will know that Jones was part of that ‘set’, being once engaged to one of Gill’s daughters. (He died a bachelor.)

The illustration shown here is from about 1948 (the text reads Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will: Jones was Catholic), so dating from what Nicolete Gray in The Painted Inscriptions of David Jones [Gordon Fraser, London: 1981], describes as a period when his work started to take on a painterly style.

This piece (40.5cm by 33cm) is done in pencil, DEO in red, other letters in yellow crayon under the pencil. The background is black and yellow wax crayon on a green-gray watercolour wash. Gray notes that the open R in the first line is the first example of its use in Jones’s work.

On a personal note, David Jones is buried in Brockley cemetery, London SE4, very near where I lived, since Jones spent the last years of his life (he died in 1974) living nearby. I visited the site a few times and once assisted John Skelton when he was asked to ‘renovate’ the grave.

Categories
calligraphy typography

John Dreyfus – an invitation

I’ve written about John Dreyfus before (see here and here) but this is a piece of ephemera which fell out of one of those SSI Newsletters I wrote about last time (see here).  To my regret I did not have the honour of taking up the invitation so cannot report…(You will need to click on the images to enlarge.) For an appreciation of Dreyfus please click here (to be taken to the Atypi site).

calligraphy and typography card

calligraphy and typography card_0001