The relevance of hand lettering to developments in type design

roland_scriver's picture

Hello all!

I am putting together a project in which I am trying to assess the impact of hand lettering on type design. In this respect I want to find out what kind of influence styles such as graphiti, 60's psychedelic poster lettering, and more contemporary scrawl have on the modern design of type. I also want to know what kind of influence calligraphy has on type design at the present time. I would like to hear any thoughts you have on the subject, as well as tips and tricks for both type design, and hand lettering.
The idea is to put together a book encouraging students to study letter forms by drawing them ( the computer seems to have had a negative effect since the days of hand rendering on how students learn about form).

timd's picture

Eric Gill might be a good subject (although out of the range you have described), he saw himself as a stonecarver more than a type designer, but still produced a design which can hold its own against most modern designs. His prowess as a carver and engraver, which in turn gave him a familiarity with pitfalls of letter drawing, were instrumental in the commissions to create typefaces. I have just finished Fiona MacCarthy's biography which is fascinating. This has some beautiful drawings (scroll down), I tried the email address to get a copy but have had no reply. I know it's not exactly what you had in mind, but I found it stimulating.

hrant's picture

> encouraging students to study letter forms by drawing them

It's very important to realize the difference between drawing and painting/lettering, the difference between the way you shape black/white versus what interface/tool you use.


William Berkson's picture

I head a talk by the House Industries folks, and they are interested in just this juncture between lettering and type, so I'm sure they could give you some good ideas.

roland_scriver's picture

Thanks a lot for all the posts so far!

Your words are extremely helpful in this early stage of researching and collating material for this project in that I can begin to see all the various threads which connect to the subject area of lettering and type.
Stone carving and engraving are fascinating subjects, and as important in the development of the letterform as calligraphy, and the other areas I mentioned; the Eric Gill biography sounds like some pleasant reading, I shall certainly make the effort to locate a copy. It would be fantastic if I could find someone to give me the stonecarver/engravers point of view; I wonder what the difference would be between how a stonecarver looks at letterforms, and how a calligrapher looks at letterforms? Obviously there are differences in the media, but does this shape the preferences of the practioner; does the aesthetic taste vary depending on the profession? It is true that there is a difference between the way you shape black/white, and the interface/tool you use. That remark made me really think about 'shaping', it created a link in my mind between the process of lettering, and sculpture, particularly in relation to the work of Wes Wilson, the psychedelic poster artist. He, like a sculptor worked from the outside in, from the counters, and counter forms.
I've just read the article on House Industries in Grafic magazine (august 2004) and apparently they intend to 'rewrite design history to include overlooked practitioners', which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. A lot of design gets overlooked for reasons of fashion, and 'someone elses' taste. I would love to speak to those guys, but i'm sure they keep very busy; any ideas on how best to approach them?

Thanks again Mr Daly, Mr Papazian, and Mr Berkson. Hope to speak again soon.

William Berkson's picture

Rowland, when you get the error message, just ignore it. Copy your text to make sure you don't lose it. Then click 'back' your browser a few times and refresh. Your message will probably be there.

You can now (for 60min?) click on the pencil at the top right of the repeated posts and replace the repetitions with (repeat) or (oops) or whatever you want. You will also have to delete the 'font=don't look like crap' message that will pop onto the front of your text when you change it. These are both bugs in the typophile software that Joseph & Jared are figuring out how to fix. Meanwhile...

hrant's picture

BTW, if you could manage to mine Michael Harvey's brain about this it would be very insightful, since he's very accomplished in many of the subdisciplines of "visible language".


roland_scriver's picture

Michael Harvey is based not far from where I am based (Reading is not far from London), I will try to contact him. I know his fonts, but is there anything in particular that he has written that might give me a more informed background?

Sorry about the repetitions of the last post. Didn't show until I gave up trying to post, and logged back in, by then my 60 minutes was up. Still now I know!

John Hudson's picture

Take a look at Michael's Creative lettering today. This doesn't much discuss the influence of one lettering method on another, but provides ample eveidence of the influence in Michael's own work, and also of his intelligent adaptation to different media.

hrant's picture

He's also written some insightful articles in Baseline magazine.


crossgrove's picture

A 2001 exhibit in San Francisco was organized around this very topic: Zapfest focused on Hermann and Gudrun Zapf, but also displayed alphabets and type designs by other lettering people (including Michael Harvey). The catalog for the exhibit is still available. It's called Calligraphic Type Design in the Digital Age, by John Prestianni. This book could point you in several directions. I agree that the House Industries boys are also very actively exploring the boundaries between lettering, calligraphy and type, escpecially now with the PLINC resources at their fingertips. Jim Parkinson, who has done lots of custom lettering as well as typefaces, might also be a good person to talk with. There are surely others.

Hrant has a good point; people with very different skills can end up designing typefaces: handwriting, calligraphy, pen lettering, brush lettering, signpainting, and punchcutting all provide different ways of producing type forms. These differences might be interesting for your students to explore.


pablohoney77's picture

One way (that i can see) that lettering is affecting type development today is the growing popularity of script faces. For a good study on the matter, read Nick Shinn's article, Scriptomania.

Syndicate content Syndicate content