Week 3 - All roads lead to Romans

This week some minor, but essential, corrections to letters and spacing is all that stands between between me an a finished Trajan alphabet. I did some stone preparation by hand and machine. It is all coming on nicely...

Week three with Chris was a short one, sadly, as the Monday was a bank holiday. I did try to continue with my alphabet correcting the letters that didn’t look quite right and working on some of the letters that I hadn’t yet drawn. But unfortunately building and chicken had another Easter family things got in the way.

So on Tuesday I completed the drawing of the Roman alphabet. It is not quite true Trajan as the area on the M have flat tops - slightly more modern but still formal - and although it started off at 50 mm letters the whole thing was scaled down to 40mm as my design would have needed rejigging to fit on the piece of reclaimed Welsh slate from an old snooker table if the x-height had remained at 50mm.

On Wednesday I did a bit more fine-tuning in the morning and began to look at a final paste up - chopping my carefully drawn alphabet up and sticking it back together with small adjustments -  in order to correct the spacing more quickly than re-drawing over the top. We also pulled out a piece of slate and cut it with a large wet saw. Finally polishing back the sides and face first using a machine then by hand. 

I’ve always liked the process of sanding the stone and shaping it by hand, it really does give you a feeling of connection to the material. As you sand it back, you are exposing, seeing and touching stone that has never been seen, lying under the ground unseen and untouched for millennia. When it’s cut from the ground someone will see it and touch it for the first time. Once in the workshop being cut and smoothed down, every pass of the chisel, every swipe of the abrasive uncovers new markings and pattern and dust. Doing this by hand is a slow process but so much more satisfying than by machine. (Having said that, the machine was very nice indeed, removing the bulk of the stone much faster)

Once the slate piece was cut and smoothed, I carefully turned it so that I could look at it's side, and when it was back on it's back I saw that there were two little chips, right on the edge. Chris tells me that sometimes the layers of slate can delaminate all too easily therefore forming chips. With snooker table slate it’s a particular problem as the slate has had large fixings drilled into the side which are packed with lead and then a large screw/bolt goes into exerting pressure on the layers of slate like an ancient raw plug. The slate is obviously also stored on the table horizontally with all the weight born by these fixings with people leaning on the top, and so the edges of the slate often are just beginning to show signs of delaminating. Wetting my piece of slate showed this to be the case as the water was attracted to the tiny cracks in the side and as it dried out these lines on the side remained wet.

So faced with a choice of rubbing the slate back in order to remove these very small chips of yet or just carrying on and getting the alphabet done, we chose to just carry on. Once the carving is finished we will decide what to do. If I make any mistakes in the carving then we can polish the whole slate back a bit to remove the mistake and the chips will go at the same time. If I don’t make a mistake, then we can increase the size of the arris at the edge and these tiny chips will disappear.

At the weekend I spent more time spacing the letters. Once again cutting my design into strips, then cutting the strips  into separate letters, moving them around so that the spacing looked right and typing them into place. The spacing is relatively simple for an alphabet rather than for a body of text which would require letter-spacing and word-spacing and consideration throughout for the design and where those spaces fell.

For the alphabet however I started on the basis of half of the x-height between each letter, that is to say the visual edge of the letter. Once that was done I scanned the whole thing into the computer, a more familiar environment to me, because I was being so distracted by the little bits of yellow tape hired used to hold all the pieces together and I re-spaced it tweaking slightly before printing out.

On Monday there will be a review by Chris who may spot letters that need any final attention and any other spacing problems and then hopefully, by the end of the day, the alphabet will be transferred onto the site.

The time spend it I’m spending at the workshop is absolutely flying by I have found the thing, I think that I want to do, thanks to the Lettering Arts Trust this has been possible.


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