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.


eric gill

John Skelton and Eric Gill revisited


Previous posts have commented on the similarity in appearance between nephew and uncle. (see here and here.) By chance I found these newspaper clippings in a magazine, dated October and November 1958. I shall have more to write about Gill very soon, in particular the exhibition referred to in these clippings.



lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Lettering on stone – Latinists on stone

It seems stone carving brings out the Latin in people. I declare that I was guilty of this, as demonstrated by this example (17cm x 10cm). Why? Something about the Roman heritage of carving? Something about the permanence of the object that befits a dead language? Any other suggestions most welcome. (The inscription reads: Now I know what loves means. Would that have been better expressed in English? I think not. But then I am a romantic.)

lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Leave the gold behind (forget the frankincense and myrrh)

It’s Christmas Eve. A present has to be finished. This a sandstone bowl on a tripod (stainless steel pins). I need to apply gold leaf to the hollow. In books on ‘how to apply gold leaf’ pages are laboriously written about having to have brushes made from the neutered backside of a Patagonian beaver (better still badger), or some such exotic animal. Then one must have a leather cushion on which to careful ‘breathe’ the leaf – the exquisite leaf. There must be the scent of oils, the sound of birds singing, and one must, of course, be a monk, aesthetic, a Franciscan perhaps. Tush. I use an old paint brush and take the leaf (24 carat) in my fingers. Okay, I break every rule but it works. Happy Christmas.

eric gill lettering

Lettering by John Skelton

John Skelton was a typographer, letter carver and sculptor. He was related to Eric Gill, and I have briefly touched on his life in an earlier post. I took some lessons from him when I was beginning letter carving and kept in touch until his death in 1999. More about him can be found here (The first piece is a brushwork I had from him at one of his workshops.)

History of Lettering lettering

Stonemasons marks and Adrian Frutiger

Being a former stonemason I was pleased to come across this set of illustrations in Frutiger’s masterpiece Signs and Symbols, a book I recommend unreservedly to anyone with an interest in the alphabet/scripts/lettering. (My edition is the 1989 single volume, published by Studio Editions, ISBN 1-85170-401-9.)

These marks are from Strasbourg Cathedral and date from a period between 1200 and 1700, with the top row being the earliest. Frutiger (who designed Univers) observes ‘the origin and development of stonemasons’ signs are closely associated with the social circumstances of the Middle Ages’.

Once masons were being paid, rather than working for the greater glory of God, they needed to mark the stone they had dressed to ensure payment.

[Click on image to enlarge.]

lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Still Point… lettercarving

Polished marble, at 60cm x 50cm, infilled with grey acrylic. Text from TS Eliot. [Carver – J Pitt, July 2011.]

lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework typography

A Melbourne weekend and some public lettering

I haven’t been to Melbourne for years (seven if you ask) so when the chance came for a brief weekend visit there was no argument. When visiting somewhere new my eye is almost instantly tuned in to spotting interesting lettering/signage/typography. Here are a few images, perhaps the most interesting being the typography on the side of the tram.

But at Federation Square there was this carved (by machine clearly) into sandstone. I don’t think it very effective – or legible – but it’s an effort.

Then there are some nice examples of vintage lettering on public buildings.


And a piece bit of store lettering in stainless.


Finally, on the way home, how could I not resist this signage outside the men’s toilets.

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

The joy of having a (small) typography library to hand…and more on Spectrum

I’ve been collecting books since I was a teenager – books of all sorts, though literature and printing predominate. I was fortunate when I was a kid (13 and on) to have two wonderful secondhand bookshops nearby (now both gone) where I lived in south London.

I’d visit them once a week, and I can still remember my excitement at finding the Shakespeare Head copy of Shakespeare’s complete works, as printed in Stratford-upon-Avon. They cost me what was then a fortune – maybe 50 pounds – and I packed them carefully in a cardboard box, lashed it to the carrier on the back of my bike, and, rather unsteadily, and at times having to get off and push (there were several hills between the shop and home) rode back. 

That Shakespeare is one of my pride and joys. As are the various Penrose Annual’s I’ve managed to acquire. Not enough, of course, but sufficient. OK, I know these days one can use ABE and source a copy of a book at the flick of a mouse. But where’s the pleasure in that? That’s why I was delighted a couple of weeks back to stumble upon the Civic and Memorial Lettering volume by Percy Smith. And see where that has led.

Anyhow, this lunchtime, as I was waiting for something to heat up on the stove, I happened to pull down from the ‘library shelves’ the Penrose Annual for 1955. In it I stumbled across this article written by Will Carter on Monotype Spectrum, quite forgetting I had written about Spectrum last November, following an article in the 1954 edition. Carter was a very fine letter carver and printer, and ran the Rampant Lions Press in Cambridge for several decades. [See below for more on the press.]

Carter notes that the capital A of Jan van Krimpen’s design ‘has the cross stroke too high, leaving a diminutive counter that will fill with ink and fluff sooner than any other letter’ [this in the days when letterpress was in its prime] and making it optically too high-waisted a letter’.

He’s similarly critical of the W: ‘Here, it would seem, is a strong case for avoiding the crossed stroke, which is always a little fussy and in a narrow form particularly so.’ 

He goes on to give a wonderfully lucid critique of W in general. ‘Our preoccupation with parallel lines has blinded us to the true balance of white space which should not, as is commonly thought, consist of three triangles of equal area. An imperceptible opening of the two feet and closing of the upper arms will accomplish a proper balance, coupled with the disposal of the middle serif (vide Baskerville) which is an anachronistic reminder that the letter was originally a double V’.

[Re the Rampant Lions: an article in Matrix 27 for 2007, which I’ve also recently acquired – direct from the Whittington Press – notes the press closed in 2006 having been going since 1924.]


In Principio – part 2

[Part 1 is here]

The Latin text translates – In the beginning was the word (or, all our troubles began with words).

The gilding is in copper.