Signs & Lettering

Digitising Rare Wood Type

I nearly missed this. One of the Matts at Bearded Design (I’m guessing Matt Griffin) emailed to tell me about their Kickstarter project, which is to create new digital type from wood types - rare wood types. Digitisation of old types is one of those things that thrills some people and gets others in a froth, but I think this is a project that deserves some support. If anything it’ll help preserve some wood type designs that might otherwise end up as vile, execrable knick-knacks on Etsy. As they say in films and on TV, you’ve got 24 hours (as of writing, to get involved early before the project is funded on Kickstarter). Featured below is a ‘beta’ face they’ve started digitising, currently called ‘Fatboy Husky’. It’s available to download through the Kickstarter page.


Fatboy, featured on the Kickstarter page. Kerned (roughly) by me. Ahem.



Some images of type and prints from the project Flickr set.

A Sourcebook of Scripts

I’ve been sent a book by Thames & Hudson that I think is worth putting on here. The (slightly contentious) title is Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age*, and shows the collection by the authors, Steven Heller and Louise Fili, of handbills, flyers, posters, photos of signs, type samples, you name it, as long as it’s got script lettering or type on it. I’ve linked to a few big online collections of ephemera before, but never seen one in book form before. The photos are clear and detailed, and while I regret some (all) of the arty cropping, it’s a pretty good resource if you want to research scripts. The collection is broken down by country of origin (rather than by era or style, say) so there are chapters for French, British, German, Italian and American scripts. Thankfully, each chapter has at the end a listing of the origins of each of the pictured pieces, which provides some much needed context; however, I think I’d prefer to have had each image captioned, even if that might have reduced the impact of some of the spreads. A personal preference, I think; your mileage may vary. It’s definitely a book to enjoy browsing through, which is what I’ve been doing, funnily enough.


Interestingly, the book design is by Jessica Hische — I immediately thought of her lettering when I saw the cover, above left.


* Contentious? It’s that ‘Golden Age’ bit. What are we in now? I can endorse the book, if not the title. And no, I’m not being paid for this post.

I Am The Coin

Another serendipitous find, this time via Font Bureau on Twitter. The linked image, of a piece by Micah Lexier and Christian Bok, got me looking for some background on it, and more info on the artist himself, and through that I found this wonderful installation: I Am The Coin, a story from the viewpoint (apparently) of a coin, told in 20,000 coins attached in a grid to a wall, with no spacing or punctuation. The bottom half of the grid has the story in a conventional readable form, while the top half has the mirror image of the text. Wonderful stuff — I’m off to have a look for more of his work.

Below is the image that Font Bureau linked to, followed by a few from the I Am The Coin website. Lexier’s site is mostly ‘under construction’ but there are a few links to further information, and of course there’s always Google.

Update: The original image is by Jacklyn Atlas from this article by Booooooom.


Linked image from Font Bureau’s tweet.


Some ‘making of’ images from the I Am The Coin installation

50 Years of The Royal Shakespeare Company

Creative Review highlighted this new issue of stamps from the Royal Mail by Hat-Trick, celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The stamps feature images of David Tennant as Hamlet, Anthony Sher as Prospero, Chuk Iwuji as Henry VI, Paul Schofield as King Lear, Sara Kestleman as Titania, Ian McKellen and Francesca Annis as Romeo and Juliet accompanied by a line from a play rendered in gorgeous expressive lettering. I know that lettering has been applied to portraits for centuries, but these have a particularly graphic novel feel about them — the expressiveness, the iconic phrases used, the packing of text into white space, these are all ideas best known (to me at least) from the world of comics. Makes a lovely change from your usual setting of Shakespeare for stuff like this in an antique revival type — and is perfect for a company like the RSC. Get them from Royal Mail here.

Lettercult: A Year In Custom Lettering 2010

Lettercult has posted an incredible collection of custom lettering projects by hundreds of lettering artists, all completed in 2010. There are so many projects that they’ve split the post across two days, and there are 33 (quite long) pages in each post. I’ve not had a chance to go through all of them yet, but the variety and the quality is remarkable — so much to look at! I’ve posted a few favourites below, one by David Croy, another by Jordan Jelev of The Fontmaker, and I’d be surprised if you’ve not seen her work already (but very worthwhile admiring again), a piece by Dana Tanamachi.


By David Croy


By Jordan Jelev of The Fontmaker


By Dana Tanamachi

Letter March

Brooklyn-based designer Aymie Spitzer is carving a linocut letter every day throughout March, and blogging about the process (and the results) on a project site. It’s a nice idea (I like these A Thing A Day/Week/Month things anyway), with aims best put by Aymie herself:

This project is purely an experiment of learning how to carve letter forms. It’s about developing my hand skills, technique through repetition, focus, and dedication. Most importantly, this is about having loads of fun because using my hands to create is what I live for.

What’s more, she’s basing her letters on Champion Gothic by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, because of its beautiful ampersand. Nice.

Lettering Process: Frank Ortmann

Continuing the process theme of my last post, Jan Middendorp posted a link to this (mostly) non-digital handwriting and lettering process by Frank Ortmann of Freies Grafik Design. I’ve done a few screenshots from the video to give you an idea of it, but nothing beats watching an expert directly. I particularly enjoyed the practice work — this time spent ‘loosening up’ is (I think) a key part of any creative process, digital or not. Go and watch the whole thing, it’s good.



The Process vs. The End Result

I’m endlessly fascinated by seeing how people work. Everyone who perseveres and creates something will find their own way of doing it, but seeing how other people work is extraordinarily helpful for getting started, overcoming creative block or frustration at the amount of grunt work something takes, or just for gaining the confidence to just get the job done. Sharing techniques doesn’t mean you lose your ‘edge’ or some kind of competitive advantage — if your success relies on something like that it’ll be a short-lived kind of thing anyway, as no matter how good the technique someone, somewhere, will find a better way of doing it. What you actually create is unique to you. If someone wanted to rip you off they wouldn’t copy your technique, they’d use something far easier to master, like a photocopier.

So yes, sermon over. I was thinking of this while reading this post by Alan Ariail on his site The Art of Hand Lettering. In it he describes the results of a discussion with Yves Leterme during one of his workshops, namely the idea that, “The end result is what matters not so much the process”, and goes on to show some of his own processes. I was surprised to see how he goes from sketches to digital monoline ‘skeletons’ of letters, building them up to a calligraphic result. I’ve done a fair bit of stuff like that and always had a niggling doubt, the idea that of course, real letterers wouldn’t do this. Well it turns out that they do. Marvellous!

I would make one personal comment on the whole result/process thing though. I do think that process matters — not in any professional or even moral sense (I use the term loosely) — but in a personal, artistic one. The process is what you spend your time doing so it matters in that it should be enjoyable, satisfying and inspiring. It’s a shame that with many of the digital tools available there’s a distinct lack of joy in using them. But if you do find something that’s good, let the developer know you like it, and just as importantly, tell everyone else. But that’s my original point again.

Posters of Film Noir

Andy Clarke (aka @malarkey) tweeted a couple of links to Where The Danger Lives, a site on crime films, which has reviews and in-depth info on classic crime and noir films, studios, and recently, a countdown of the best posters used to advertise the films. Each poster has been restored and cleaned up so you can see it clearly (with links to a decent size larger version to look at) and an illuminating analysis of the design and how it fits the film. It’s all pretty impressive stuff so far (I’ve only read a few of the posts as of writing this), so go and take a look.


Three of the posters that caught my eye.

Big Yellow Book

This caught my eye on the Lovely Ligatures Flickr group — it’s a piece of client work by the talented bunch at Like Minded Studio. So much of their work is just the kind of thing that has me looking closer, perhaps with a touch of chagrin that it wasn’t me that did it, there’s so much incredibly detailed work going on there. Go and take a look at their site to see more of their work.