Thank you to all subscribers/followers over these 4 years. I will post some of my personal favourite posts in the next few days. Keep watching…[image – using discovered Rowney lion printing water colour tube, left second finger, drawn on concrete floor – actual size 170mm by 110mm. (PS – actual drawing for sale including house. Plus plenty of books etc on lettering and calligraphic arts. Apply.)
U&lc was a typographic magazine published by the International Typeface Corporation between 1973 and 1999. During the early 1990s I was fortunate to be on the subscription list, with the illustrations shown here coming from the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue (northern Spring, 1993), appropriately showcasing the letter X (and double X). The page size is 27.70cm by 37.70cm.
The original founding team in 1973 (Herb Lubalin, Aaron Burns and Ed Rondthaler) stated in the magazine’s inaugural editorial: ‘U&lc will provide a panoramic window, a showcase for the world of graphic arts – a clearinghouse for the international exchange of ideas and information’. Such tasks are now achieved through the web. But how much nicer to have a permanent record of type design printed on paper, gracefully ageing at the edges, likely to disintegrate one day (the paper was newsprint stock), yet full of vigour.
[See here for a blog and archive of the magazine.]
…and with a nod to a more famous, if less morally coherent place on the west coast of the USA.
The standing letters, about 1.5m tall, celebrate the opening of a new art gallery near me, named after Margaret Olley (1923-2011). The gallery, part of the Tweed Regional Gallery, in northern NSW, Australia, was officially opened last week to much fanfare – a speech by the Governor-General no less, who had known the artist for many decades and spoke movingly of the artist, her life and her work. As this is not an art blog I will leave you to seek out more on Olley, but click here as a good starting point.
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.
[Two Titans was published by The Typophiles, NY, 1990 and printed by Martino Mardersteig in Verona.)
It is rare for individuals who carve lettering to be remembered. I have carved a number of public inscriptions in the UK and I doubt anyone in a thousand years time will pause to reflect on the hand behind the cut. I would not expect otherwise. So I was taken aback when browsing Alan Bartram’s indispensable Lettering on Architecture (one of two books that should be on the bookshelf of any serious student of lettering – the other is Nicolete Gray’s A History of Lettering – see here for an earlier post on her) of the revelation that certain monumental inscriptions in Roman can be identified with one Luca Horfei and Matheo de Meli, in or around the late 16th century. Now I would like to write more on these characters, and Nicolete Gray gives a hint as to where to find further information – none other than James Mosley. For those who have not stumbled across that name before take note. He was librarian of the famous St Bride printing library in central London for many decades (until 2000) and what he didn’t know about printing history could…well, it could be written on the back of a postage stamp. He is a legend and I remember visiting that library when I was working in Fleet Street and being awed by the great man’s presence. Of Mosley, and this is a digression, a long one, I quote from Bulletin 32 [page 19] of the Printing Historical Society that I happen to have to hand: ‘After lunch, the company reassembled for James Mosley’s “Morris and the ‘Rugged’ School of Typography”. The most invigorating and original of the day’s offerings, this included a particularly fine and telling sequence of slides and [unscripted] commentary bringing to life an apparently neglected context of Kelmscott typography lying in some of the freehand drawn lettering of its period.’ You get my drift. Anyhow, regarding further commentary on Horfei and de Meli, that can be found in Mosley’s 1964 article ‘Trajan Revived’ printed in Alphabet. However, Gray offers a glimpse when she writes that Horfei followed the style of the writing master, G.F. Cresci, and designed ‘much of the lettering connected with the great town planning works in Rome inaugurated by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90)’ [p.147]. The illustrations below show: Luca Pacioli B; a B based on Trajan from Cresci (1570); and lettering designed by Horfei and cut by de Meli (1588).
It was two years ago that I first mentioned Nicolete Gray, writing then that I would have more to say about her (see here). Well, finally I do!
Today there are many accomplished and brilliant lettering artists and typographers. In the field of letter carving in the UK there’s Brenda Berman and Annet Stirling at Incisive Letterwork. I am sure you can think of many others now active in typographer and graphic design – please let me know. However, back in the 1940s and on it is true to say that women were not often noted (or noticed perhaps) in the field. There were exceptions, and Nicolete Gray (1911-1997) was foremost among them.
She was an historian of lettering as well as a practitioner, and among the projects she completed (in partnership with John Skelton – whose daughter Helen Mary is also an excellent lettering artist) was the one illustrated here, made out of wood to commemorate Shakespeare in 1964.
Writing about the piece she says: ‘The work is interesting, I hope, as an experiment in the sort of expressionism particularly suited to lettering…I wanted my letters to work at different depths and, as it were, to wear different clothes…As I read the poets and tried to understand their place in their time, their names took on shapes and the letters in them characteristics: Christopher Marlowe with his great R’s striding across the wood, like Tamburlaine over the map of the world…And Shakespeare himself? One thinks not of him, but of the people he created. He is Protean, impossible to grasp.; I found that I was trying, as I carved each letter, to express something of his immense revelation of all the depths and delights known to human consciousness. So some of the letters are in boisterous relief,; some gay; some, like the last A and R, cut as harsh, ruthless forms through the surface cherry wood down to layers of dark rosewood and ebony.’ [From Expressionist Lettering in Calligraphy and Palaeography, 1965, Faber and Faber.)
For an obituary of Gray see here (from The Independent newspaper).
These illustrations were taken this week of a hand painted sign in the local town a few kms from where I live. Judging by the style I’d estimate the sign was painted in the 60s or perhaps 70s. It is a nice example of slab lettering combined with shading to make the lettering seem as if engraved or incised. (Shame about the orange graffiti.)
The next illustration, taken from A.J. Lewery’s Signwritten Art (1989, David and Charles), shows a page from William Sutherland’s The Practical Guide to Sign Writing and Gilding, and Ornamenting on Glass (1860).
The early Romans didn’t much like the letter K. According to Tommy Thompson, writing in 1942 (The ABC of our Alphabet), the letter was disliked ‘from a standpoint of design’, so they, he writes ‘substituted C for the voiceless K’.
Now Diringer has this to say of K: ‘…the Greek alphabet had two other signs for the k-sound, the K and the Q, and we find in the South Etruscan alphabet the sign C used (as a k) only before e and i, the K used before a, and the Q only before u (Etruscan has, as we have seen, no o). The Latin alphabet adopted all the three letters with their phonetic values, but in time it dropped the K (which, however, continued to be used as the initial of well-known or official words, such as Kalendae or Kaeso) and used C for the sounds of both g and k, the letter Q being retained for the k when followed by a u.’ (The Alphabet, 1968, vol 1, p.419).
My preference is for the style where the upright does not quite connect with the <
If you liked this you might like a diversion on R here.
So wrote Geofrey Tory as introduction to his 1529 volume Champ Fleury, The Art & Science of the proper & true Proportions of the Attic Letters, which are otherwise called Antique Letters, and in common speech Roman Letters. (All quotes from the 1967 Dover edition of the translation published by The Grolier Club, 1927.) Part two of this book considers the letters and proportions in context of the human body, or, more precisely, ‘compared to those of the natural body and face of the perfect man’. His method is geometry – the circle, square and triangle – and when I was starting out in letter carving I filled my notebook with examples of this system. Why? I forget, for the letters are, to the modern eye, stale, dull and passionless. Nevertheless, there is sometimes need to look back and reflect on how things were once done; maybe even learn something. (Such as to be reacquainted with the nine muses and the seven liberal arts – see page 38 of the Dover edition.) As for Tory (1480-1533), Steinberg writes that ‘… not least of his achievements – [he was] the teacher of Garamond’. (Five Hundred Years of Printing, Penguin, 1955, p35.) The first two illustrations are from the 1967 volume, the last is my effort back in the 1990s.