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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
Brand design Typographic ephemera

An aside on the aluminium Coca-Cola container

In itself this object is iconic. It stands 18cm tall, is as tactile as polished stone and sprayed in gorgeous (and brand) red. The distinctive legend sweeps around the middle. As a sculptural item it is magnificent, and it only cost $2 from my local supermarket here in Australia.CocaCola Aluminium Bottle_0004

However, I lament the waste. Were I to live in South Australia I could expect a 10c refund at recycling points. However, that is  the only State in this country with such a scheme. True, my local council provides recycling bins and I could recycle this empty aluminium container – expect it is too beautiful to discard.

CocaCola Aluminium Bottle_0005I find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I admire the thing with a designer’s passion; on the other I curse the waste of a finite raw material: the sheer labour that went into crafting this $2 throwaway; the energy that went into production and getting it from factory to market. And all for what? The contents are hardly sufficient to quench a sparrow’s thirst let alone an adult’s. What then is it for?

It seems yet another example of our contempt for our world: a side-swipe at the less fortunate, a snub at the weak and the poor by a global conglomerate that soaks up resources with negligent ease.

Yet…it sits on my desk as if a tribute. A tribute to what? To the splendour of the imagination. I temper my indignation with the view that at least this container will be preserved and not lost among the millions of others that either fail to be recycled or are, themselves, placed on the shelves and mantelpieces of morally tortured aesthetes.

CocaCola Aluminium Bottle

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
History of Lettering

New Year’s Quiz – final (and a little late)

Who is this?

RK photo

Answer below

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 5.55.04 PM

 

Incidentally, the main image of Koch, taken from Book Design and production (1959), gives the date of the photograph as c1938. This is clearly incorrect as Koch died in 1934. Perhaps 1928 was meant?

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
lettering printing Thoughts on lettering typography

Tschichold and Shakespeare: attention to detail

In a recent post I wrote of Jan Tschichold and his work at Penguin. Shakespeare Tschchold While reading up on that piece I came across comments by one of T’s assistant’s at Penguin. Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen writes: This period [1948-1949] was the typographic foundation of the rest of my life. Our desks were at right-angles, so he could see what I was doing. More important for me, I could watch the way he worked…He was totally uncompromising in maintaining design standards…His craftsmanship was great. I remember that Reynolds Stone had engraved the Shakespeare portrait, in a medallion for the Penguin Shakespeare covers. But Tschichold wanted to make the surrounding border himself. He used scraperboard in actual size, and drew the lettering with a pin held in a pen-holder. He did not need to correct anything: the letterspacing, serifs, everything was correct at the first attempt!’

Until this weekend I did not have a copy of a Penguin Shakespeare. Fortunately I was able to pick up a copy at a Brisbane bookstore, printed in 1957 but (like myself of the same birth year) is ageing magnificently. The paper is unblemished and not yellowing like so many ‘cheap’ paperbacks. In fact, it is much as the day it was released. See for yourself the hand-drawn reversed title on the cover and marvel that this was done with ‘a pin held in a pen-holder’. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Shakespeare detail Tschchold

Source: Jan Tschichold: typographer. Ruari McLean. Lund Humphries (paperback edition, 1990), p 98-99.

Categories
lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera typography

Happy Third

Birthday’s should not go unnoticed, even if it is a blog. After all, behind the blog is a person.gold 3 The actual third anniversary of All About Lettering was on November 2 and, no, there was no celebration. (2nd anniversary blog here.)3 stones

This blog will make 355. I had intended when I began (full of enthusiasm and unaware of the amount of time  it takes to write a post, do the research etc) that I would have published 365 in the first year alone, that’s one a day. That hurdle – if it be one – still remains to be crossed, though it draws ever nearer.

The past year has been one of activity outside of typography (I have been completing a postgraduate course) and the frequency of posts dropped away. Indeed in the first months of the year there were none recorded, and yet I noticed that people were still dropping round to take a look.

Thank you, and to those who have been following since the beginning, a very warm thank you for sticking by. I still have a few things to say and illustrate about the marvellous world of print, typography, lettering and design. So don’t go away just yet. When it comes to numerals there isn’t a lot of good stuff around, but on a walk around my neighbourhood I spotted the stones shown here as a reminder that nature does best (though in truth these stones, forming a wall, were placed by human activity). The other  illustration is a quick calligraphic doodle of mine.

Categories
lettering

Signwriting: revival everywhere

Back in June I posted a brief item about signwriting based on a photo of a couple of guys I noticed hard at work in my  town here in Australia (see here)Gilpin signwriting

I was delighted last night to catch on the local news a brief item about the work of a signwriter down in Newcastle, Australia by the name of Brett Piva. Check out this documentary movie. (You may also like to check out some of my past blogs on the subject.)

The reason give for the renewed interest in signwriting? It’s a reaction against: the non-creativity  of laser/vinyl printing etc; the desire to see the human touch and spirit; the  movement against conformity and sameness everywhere. This feeds into any kind of lettering – be in stone or on paper.

I’m greatly encouraged. Indeed Edward Catich, were he alive today, would have been delighted, since he  started off as a Chicago signwriter before he pursued research on Roman inscriptions that led to his marvellous and, still relevant, The Origin of the Serif.

Note – the illustration is taken from Lewery, A.J. (1989). Signwritten Art. David and Charles, London and shows the work of a Cumbrian (UK) tradesman.

Categories
Typographic ephemera

Sometimes things get to you…

At a recent festival here in Australia I came across this outdoor display. It was one of those things where people are encouraged to write what is in their hearts and then place the inscription on a wall (or similar) for others to acknowledge. So, in this case, yellow triangles were provided, hung on a mesh screen. The juxtaposition of these two sayings by separate individuals (I guess) made me teary.

I wish

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