This week I completed the tweaks to the Trajan alphabet and transferred onto the slate. All that remains is to sharpen chisels and carve it, [...or bottle it and have a practice go instead]
On Monday I looked at the spacing with fresh eyes along with Chris whose eyes notice everything. There were a couple of letters that needed re-drawing as well as an & - a symbol which obviously didn’t exist in Trajan's time and did not make an appearance on his column, so one needed to be created. I had had a go at a couple of variations at the end of last week but neither of them fitted very well with the alphabet. The Trajan letters are very formal and my ampersand attempts looked a little too calligraphic and lively in comparison.
Chris suggested a different style of & which looks more like the word 'et' which is where, of course, the ampersand originated.
As with everything, in order to achieve a look which is in keeping with the rest of the alphabet Chris suggested using an existing shape from the letters - taking the B as the start point, reversing that and adjusting the weights to mimic the brush/pen and then extending that. This yielded an & which looks much more part of the family.
Over the course of Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning the 40 mil Trajan capitals were so carefully spaced and laid out and gently tweaked were then rather unceremoniously chopped into strips and then line by line transferred onto the slate using carbon paper.
The next job is to carve the alphabet.
Prior to starting the alphabet proper, I wanted to try a couple of letters in an off-cut of the slate in order to just get the measure of the stone and to see whether I felt I was up to the task. that turned out to be a good decision because they were not what I had hoped. The slate is very soft and 'muddy'. It cuts so easily and is a little fragile on the top layer. The letters are also relatively small/fine at an x-height of 40 mm and the 5mm chisel slices through so easily.
Chris advised me to sharpen my chisel a little bit more than usual at a more acute angle to my usual, and this meant that the chisels felt slightly different to normal. So i continued practising on the off-cut - The carving was to start on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning saw me beginning to move from caps to minuscule with Chris once again take me back to basics and showing me the structure and form of the formal minuscule which is really completely unrelated to the capital coming centuries afterwards.
A morning of drawing lowercase minuscules preceded lunch and then an afternoon of some more tests letters. Once again I avoided starting the real thing - perhaps a good thing as each of them exhibited problems would you can see in the photograph below.
One of the things I love about letter cutting is that letters are easily made and easily read, and many schoolboys will have scratched their name into a desk or wall [unwittingly notifying the headmaster of the culprit] Indeed one boy at my school carefully carved his name in an out of the way stone below names carved by his father and grandfather. I love that technique and understanding of lettering 'rules' are not necessary to carve something that can be understood. I also love that there is a lifetimes worth of learning and hours of care that can be applied to make those letters ever more beautiful. Whilst I am sure that my alphabet will not be revered for its beauty, I was keen for my first alphabet to be the very best i can produce.
Yet another long weekend this weekend, so i took the off-cut stone home for more practice before finally starting next week [...?]
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