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Elements of Lettering lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework stone Thoughts on lettering

In honour of a decade: number 6

Continuing these flashbacks on 10 years of this blog, I present a post from 2013 about Roman letter carvers. 

Here’s an example of my recent letter carving.

A to N on salvaged slate
These capitals are 40mm high and carved into reclaimed and cleaved slate.
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Elements of Lettering

Guide to Letter carving: two

The letter Q is discussed in this video, so sit comfortably and listen out for my tips in this ‘guide to lettercarving’.

Letter Q

Here’s the video. You’ll notice I am carving upside down – this is not recommended for beginners!

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Elements of Lettering lettering Typographic ephemera

It’s 40, can’t you read?

Lettering comes in many forms, none more important surely than street signage that direct people. And within street signage comes texts literally written on to the road to advise motorists of, well, in this case speed.

Forty please
Don’t speed here – keep to 40kmph.

I do not doubt that the Australian Government has a code on street typography. Do they have one on legibility? Notice how this sign is being eroded by nature.

And see this earlier post as it looks as if the piece was given a paint job.

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Elements of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

The Three M’s [not the three tenors]

These three M’s are taken from an interesting book titled Symbols, Signs, Letters by Martin Andersch. The book is subtitled: About handwriting, experimenting with alphabets and the interpretation of texts. I can find scant mention of Andersch on the web, so if any reader can enlighten me do make contact.

It’s instructive to look at the illustrations, all from the 16th century, as being based on geometric forms. There are specific differences in the positioning of the mid-point and of the serifs, most particularly in the left/right balance.

Three M
Pacioli, Durer and Tory

This page re-directed me to The Geometry of Type by Stephen Coles (Thames & Hudson, 2016), which is an excellent guide to the different genres of type. Coles has 15 kinds ranging from Humanist serif to Script. Browsing, I came across FF Yoga Sans, which is described as ‘…a Gill Sans for the 21st century’. In other words it dispenses with Gill’s idiosyncrasies.

20_01_13_Yoga sans
FF Yoga Sans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elements of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Recent letter carving in slate

It has been a while since I picked up a chisel and took the tungsten tip to a piece of stone. So I was delighted to be commissioned by a friend to carve two words into a rectangular block of Mintaro slate from near Adelaide, Australia, approximately 300mm by 75mm. [The text Cantabo Vivere can be liberally translated as Sing to live.]

The photos here illustrate the methods used in setting out the letters, initial cutting and the final piece.

cantabo_rough
This illustrates how the text is transferred to the stone, using carbon paper. Note the outline is a guide only.
cantabo_c
The first cut of the A, with the C almost complete.
cantabo_r
The R is being formed. Note how the shape is being tweaked in the process of cutting.
cantabo_hand
Holding the chisel. Dirty work.
cantabo vivere complete
Complete after being rubbed with at least 400 grit under running water.

 

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Elements of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

George Orwell, the mystery of 2+2= , stereotyping and the Chicago Tribune

I read Dennis Glover’s wonderful The Last Man in Europe during the Australian summer break [Christmas to mid-January 2018], which, if you haven’t come across go immediately to purchase. last man in europeOf course, it helps to have a long-standing interest in the works of George Orwell [aka Eric Blair]. I first read 1984 as a teenager, perhaps in 1973 or thereabouts, with that frightening year a decade distant. [In the 70s there was still a fear of nuclear war between the US and USSR, so 1984 was deeply relevant. I still remember instructions being broadcast of what to do in the eventuality of conflict: crawl under a table.]

Finishing Glover I was set to re-read the classic. Fortunately, Glover has edited a new edition, also published by Black Inc, complete with an introduction. Orwell 1984

This takes up a question he raised in his novel. Put briefly, the US editions end the famous sentence that begins, Almost unconsciously he traced with his finger in the dust on the table, as 2+2=5

However, the British and Commonwealth editions, published by Secker & Warburg offer variants. Yes, the first edition, first impression of June 1949 also prints 2+2=5. Yet the second impression, published in March 1950, reveals, as demonstrated by Glover, an amendment: 2+2= .

In other words the 5 is missing. A crucial difference, says Glover, since the absence of the 5 illustrates that the novel’s protagonist, Winston, no longer has free thought: he has been totally subsumed by the Party. Placing the 5 as the sum subtly affirms that Winston maintains freedom of thought.

Glover asks how the 5 may have dropped out of sight, and this leads to an interesting typographic adventure. Scholars have suggested the 5 ‘fell out’ of the forme, a plausible explanation to those who know about letterpress. [I will not go into the fascinating complexities here of how a dying Orwell may have contacted his agent or copyeditor between the printing of the first and re-set second editions: for this see Glover.] Except for the fact that, writes Glover: ‘The second impression used the stereotype plates made from the original type set for the first edition…’ I’ll return to stereotype plates in a moment.

eric blair tombstoneWhat Glover concludes, helped by expert assistance from Carolyn Fraser of the State Library of Victoria, who has the benefit of also being a letterpress printer, is that ‘…the ‘5’ [in the second impression] was intentionally bashed flat by the compositor after the standing type had been stereotyped (cast in metal), and the flattening job had been done inexpertly, slightly damaging the ‘=’. In the pre-digital age, when printing was a costly and time-consuming mechanical process, any opportunity to make corrections without having to make a new stereotype would have been gladly taken up’.

Now, I do not know enough about stereotyping to assert this is what did happen, and neither can Glover categorically assert this is true. This premise is based on knowledge of the printing industry around the 1950s, intimate knowledge now largely extinct as the practitioners have now passed. If there is a reader of this blog who might be able to throw further light on this thesis please make contact.

In the meantime, enjoy this video I discovered while trawling the web for information on stereotyping. It’s a wonderful historical document in its own right and I am much indebted to Jeff Quitney for making it publicly available. The clip shows how the Chicago Tribune was put to press in the 1930s.

 

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Elements of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Lettering deconstructed: an occasional series

Take a look at this piece of suburban street lettering, taken in Australia in the past few weeks. It is of a kind that can be found almost anywhere.

Lettering deconsructed
Street signage with amendments such as potholes and tyre tracks

This is lettering at its earthiest, lettering that has withstood frequent potholes and a motorist doing a wheelie. Yet the message remains: this is a 40km/h zone.

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alphabet Elements of Lettering History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering

Geofroy Tory, the Apostrophe and the letter S

Simon Griffin, writing in Fucking Apostrophes, [Icon Books, London, 2016] observes that ‘Geoffroy [sic] Tory is considered one of the people responsible for introducing it [the apostrophe] to the French language in the 15th century’ (p.16).

the S
The letter S as drawn by Geofroy Troy in his Champ Fleury

A disputable claim given that Tory’s Champ Fleury wasn’t published until 1529. Nevertheless, turning to that volume, Tory himself writes: ‘…if it should happen that one has occasion to write in Attic letters such verses, wherein the S should disappear, one may write them clearly & wittingly without putting the said letter S where it might be lost, and put an apostrophe over the place where the S should be. This apostrophe, being above the line at the end of a word, signifies that some vowel or an S has been dropped because of the metrical quantity of the vowel that follows it in the next syllable or word’ (trans. George B Ives, Dover edition, 1967, p.138).

the S by Catich
Hand drawn S by Catich from The Origin of the Serif

Tory elaborates on the letter S itself, noting its Greek origin and that it makes ‘a hissingsound, of the same quality that red-hot iron makes when it is dipped in water’ (ibid, p.139). He goes on to note how a letter S (sigma in ancient Greek) represents silence ‘…for which reason the ancients often wrote it alone above the door of the place where they ate and drank with their good friends; in order to put it before their eyes that such words as they should speak at table must be spoken soberly & listened to in silence; which cannot be if there be excess in eating and drinking, which are things not meet for decency at table & for pleasant company’ (ibid, p.139).

Note: For an earlier piece on Tory go here and for more on Catich and The Origin of the Serif here

Categories
Elements of Lettering

Thoughts on lettering on stone

I was recently contacted by a guy seeking some initial tuition in learning how to letter-carve. As I was nearby I called in to see him and ran through a few basics. As I was there I realised how important it is to master the following:

  • Proper preparation of the letters – spacing and shape. Need to draw on paper first and then transfer to the surface of the stone.
  • Need to keep stem widths even throughout
  • Attention to terminals
  • Close attention to characteristics of each letterform.
  • Build/make yourself a frame so can cut standing – not hunched over a bench.

Enjoy.

Happy to answer questions – and also browse the blog for other entries on letter-carving.

 

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Elements of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typographers typography

Adrian Frutiger remembered

Adrian Frutiger passed this life on 10 September 2015. Read here for an obituary.

I previously wrote about Frutiger here.

In his Signs and Symbols he writes of the value of ‘interior and intermediary space’. Adrian Frutiger and interior spaceDesigners take especial note. ‘The beauty of a sign,’ he writes, ‘is often the result of a struggle between the resistance of the material and its conquest by the instrument…By contrast, the Oriental way of thought and expression…puts the creative act more into the mastery of a gesture with which the brush lays the sign on paper’. [Studio Editions, London, 1989, p.101.)

I did not know of Frutiger’s personal life so as a mental health social worker I find he lost two daughters to suicide prompting him and his partner to establish a foundation

http://www.fondationfrutiger.ch