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Lettering deconstructed: an occasional series

27/11/2017

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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Christopher Plantin and the drunkards

26/11/2017

Life was tough in the sixteenth century. Consider Christoper Plantin [c1520 – 1589] of Antwerp, though a Frenchman, known for his Biblia Real or Polyglot Bible [published 1572], with some of the types cut by Robert Granjon, another Frenchman.

Christopher Planti

Portrait of Plantin engraved by Jan Wiericx, 1588.

This venture almost cost Plantin his business, such was the financial investment needed.

Yet another strain on his wellbeing was the engravers he used to illustrate not just this but many other works, among whom the three Wiericx brothers were possibly the most troublesome.

According to contemporary reports fine draughtsmen, the brothers also liked their drink and other recreational past times to be had in Dutch taverns of the period. As Clair reports in his biography [Cassell, 1960], Jan and Jerome were ‘incorrigible drunkards’ [p.115].

Plantin himself wrote: ‘There are those in this town who offer them eight florins a day each if they will work for them in their own house, which the said Wiericx do with alacrity, and then, having worked one or two days, they go and spend all their money with disreputable companions in public places of ill fame, often leaving their gear and clothes in pledge, so that anyone who needs their services has to go and ransom them and keep them at work in his house until he has recovered his money’.

Yet Plantin admired the brothers so much [they were quick at their work] that he paid the fines, and paid them well.

Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx

Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx from volume five

‘The great thing about printing is it should be invisible’ – Beatrice Warde

24/06/2017

Beatrice Warde was, by all accounts, a formidable woman. Typographic expert, friend and lover of Stanley Morison, a woman in a man’s world, Beatrice gave it as she saw it.

beatrice warde woodcut EG

Beatrice Warde woodcut by Eric Gill, 1926 [second state]

beatrice wardeBorn in the USA in 1900 [her mum was a literary critic, dad a composer], she moved to Europe to pursue her typographic career after learning her trade from Henry Lewis Bullen.

Now there’s another story. Mr Bullen [1857-1938] was born here in Australia [Ballarat], before emigrating to the States in 1875, ending up creating one of the greatest typographic libraries for the American Type Founders Co. [This is now with Columbia University.]

Back to Beatrice. She posed for Eric Gill [was one of his 25 Nudes, though which of the rather stylised cuts is unclear], caused Stanley to end his marriage, he spent the rest of his life in celibacy [being Catholic] and she became champion of the ‘traditionalist’ form.

John Dreyfus wrote this of Beatrice in the Penrose Annual [1970]: ‘She was a strikingly handsome woman…If she had wished, she could easily have built up her

beatrice warde by eric gill

Beatrice Warde in characteristic portrait by Eric Gill

reputation on charm alone. But her mind was too questing and honest to avoid intellectual problems. She thought out everything for herself and never lacked the courage to do what she thought needful’. There writes a man. [By the by, the 1970 Penrose  has a cover design by David Kindersley.]

If you’d like to listen to Beatrice, speaking in Adelaide, Australia in 1959, go here to the amazing Typeradio [I found it through the equally amazing Eye magazine].

PS – anyone want to write a biography of Beatrice? It’s well overdue.

The difference a sign makes

23/04/2017

Street signage is all about readability, about ensuring the viewer/motorist understands the pictogram. When UK road signs were being redesigned in the 1960s by Calvert and Kinnier there was a clear imperative to ensure there was no ambiguity. However, some 50 plus years later in Australia I encounter these, minus hands and feet:

How much more satisfying is this, with both hands and feet – anatomically perfect!

Road sign with feet

Children about: fully armed and legged.

 

Eric Gill: artist and abuser

15/04/2017

I have written at some length on this blog over the years about the man known as Eric Gill. [See here and here and here for example – there are others too.] I am motivated to add to the already swollen record by an article in The Observer of London by Rachel Cook headlined Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? I recommend you follow this link and read the (very long) essay.

To clear up one point. Cooke writes: ‘Eric Gill, long dead and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century…’.

Who considers this statement to be true? What is the source for this assertion? Gill was and never will be considered ‘one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century’. In my opinion, Gill was a sculptor of repetitive talents; however, Gill was a fine letter-carver and useful typographer.

He was also a paedophile, as I have stated in the past. My conflict is that I was heavily influenced by his work as a stonemason, letter-carver and for a long period of time actually sourced his material and went on a sort of pilgrimage to Pigotts [see here].

I will not be able to visit the new exhibition at Ditchling – for those in the UK who can please do and please comment here on your thoughts/reactions. Many artists, perhaps the majority, do, as one observes at the end of Cooke’s essay, have a  ‘…libidinous drive…’ and this charges their work – think of Lucian Freud for instance. But this is no excuse for the man Gill.

In Gill’s singular case I argue that, no, it is not possible to separate artist from abuser, neither should we. Yes, there needs to be full transparency in the Ditchling exhibition; and yes, young adults, do need to be told of his incestuous relationships and be told his daughters, and others, were victims (please don’t dodge this by using the politically correct ‘those who experienced abuse’) of his abuse.

Your comments welcome.

Geofroy Tory, the Apostrophe and the letter S

09/03/2017

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

Never too late on the street

21/02/2017

Piece of street typography taken from a train parked at Ashfield, Sydney, Australia. I present it as a record only since in a few years, who knows, this building may have been demolished or new ownership may have erased the lettering.

never-too-late

Never too late: street lettering from Australia