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Literature and lettering and signwriting

30/11/2011

Possibly a rich resource, as yet untapped. Prompted by this paragraph in VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, the eponymous ‘hero’ cast as a sign-writer.

‘So Mr Biswas became a sign-writer…He had been used to designing letters with pen and pencil and was afraid that he would not be able to control a brush with paint. But he found that the brush, though flattening out disconcertingly at first could be made to respond to the gentlest pressure; strokes were cleaner, curves truer. “Just turn the brush slowly in your fingers when you come to the curve,” Alec said; and curves had fewer problems after that. After IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER he did more signs with Alec; his hands became surer, his strokes bolder, his feeling for letters finer. He thought R and S the most beautiful of Roman letters; no letter could express so many moods as R, without losing its beauty; and what could compare with the swing and rhythm of S?”

[A House for Mr Biswas, first published 1962. This edition, 1995, Everyman’s Library, p.72-73.]

Sounds as though Naipaul himself had been a sign-writer at one stage, or at least had spent time with one. Appreciate any similar from your readings.

[Illustrations taken from Signwork: A craftsman’s manual by Bill Stewart, 1984, Granada Technical Books, London; Signwritten Art by AJ Lewery, 1989, David & Charles, Newton Abbot.]

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