Week 2 - what did the Romans ever do for us?

Week two has been spent going 'back to basics', learning the alphabet - specifically the 'rules' which govern the proportions and design of the Trajan Roman Alphabet. Sounds simple, but the difference between a letter and a beautiful letter can be be very small.

This week has largely been spent drawing the alphabet, specifically Trajan Capitals. The Trajan inscription can be found above the entrance to Trajan's Column in Rome, and is arguably the best example of carved Roman lettering. The letter-forms' elegant shape and spacing give them a beauty which has meant that the inscription has served as the model Roman alphabet for centuries. 

I have been drawing them painstakingly at 50 mm high, with Chris pointing out where my lines are either completely wrong, or just lack the tension that makes the difference between a letter and a beautiful letter. Sometime this difference can mean merely adjusting the pencil line slightly, by less that the thickness of the drawn pencil line. sometime i have been pretty pleased with my efforts, but then Chris comes along and, while seeming to draw over the top of my line, adjusts it so it suddenly springs to life.


After drawing out a 50mm alphabet, the next task is creating a half scale drawing at 25mm x-height, with a little more thought given to layout. Unsurprisingly the redrawn letters at 25 mm take just as long and contain all the same mistakes and oversights. Chris patiently points them all out once again, and I make the various corrections.

At the rate I am currently drawing, it would take me so long to draw and lay out an inscription that i and my family may well starve to death, but Chris tells me i am improving with each pass, so there is hope.

Chris explained some basic principles of layout based in the text block and proportion and so we were able to calculate a size for the piece of slate required. This was sense-checked using the longest line - LMNO - to check the margins. Once we had a size, Chris wandered into the yard to check for a piece of Slate, returning with the news that there was a piece of reclaimed snooker table slate that fitted the bill.

Now a long weekend. It used to be that I longed for a long weekend, but now i feel that bank holidays are stealing my time from the workshop. Its good to feel excited once again about the work week. I will endeavour to find time to get the first pass at the full size letters with correct spacing done over the Friday, Sat, Sun, Mon so that there will then be just minor corrections (hopefully) for me to do before i get started on ruining a perfectly good piece of slate.



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