Week one - Back to the drawing board

Week one, done. Just a three day week, but plenty to chew on. So much to learn. Back to the not-so-basic basics with Trajan Romans and a lot of drawing.

What a week!

I am spending just three days a week in the workshop with Chris and Tom. This works well for them in that they have two days per week where they do not have a 45 year old schoolboy asking constant questions and drawing on their time, and for me as I can also continue working at my current day job as a web developer. Three days may sound a decent amount, but the time flies by all too quickly and i found myself back in the office on Thursday, my first 'week' behind me.

Although in the past I have done some house signs, a couple of pet memorials and some other lettering, there is still so much to learn. SO MUCH!

In starting as a hobby I have almost completely skipped all the time-consuming, but necessary theory of lettering. In my practice thus-far, I have used my computer to generate and lay out the inscriptions I have done. This is fine, of course, but it has removed all the consideration from the design-phase of all the work I have done. I have found on many occasions that if I want to incorporate a ligature, or a flourish, or make some 'interesting' tweak to the lettering, I cannot do it completely successfully, and it has always looked like a bit of an add-on. I have known for some time that this is largely because I just don't understand the lettering properly. Having not drawn it, and not having had the experience of drawing too much, it is so hard to actually see what is happening in the letter construction.

It also does not help that most computer typefaces are made for screen or print and thus have characteristics for that process, and many are designed for a particular purpose, or set of purposes and don't necessarily stand up to use in other ways without some care and knowledge which i do not have.

So, for week one, Chris had me back at the start of things, drawing skeleton forms of Trajan capitals. Understanding and observing the 'rules' that govern the construction of the letters and make them look like a family.

Days one and two were pretty similar - talking about letters, drawing letters [sloooowwwlly], talking more about letters, looking at letters... you get the idea.

Workshop is chilly, particularly in the mornings, and sitting lettering is not necessarily the best way to keep warm, so the drawing is interrupted now and again by a cup of tea, a delivery of stone, or adding a log to the log burner.

The afternoons also see me do a little carving. Chris gets me to trying carving a letter or two from only the mono-line drawn on the stone. I am used to carefully, and somewhat fearfully, approaching the line from the inside, working outwards. adding the 'flesh' onto the skeleton letter forms was an exercise i had not tried before, but happily it was not a total disaster.

Day three...

There are aspects of letter carving which do not involve carving letters. I am obviously keen to to get involved in all these areas. My first opportunity came on day three with the fixing of a headstone. This can be a one man job, is frequently made easier as a two-man-job, but today would be a three-man-job, with me there to watch and learn and get involved wherever I was able.

With Tom's car carefully packed with the headstone, and all the various tools and extra's needed for a fix we travelled out to Selmeston, a lovely little village just north of the Downs. We met the client at the churchyard on a cloudy-but-soon-to-be-beautiful morning. The stone we were fixing was the second for the client and was of a very similar type [beautiful green slate, similar letter design, same size] to the one next to it which had been in for a year or so and was with the same client and was of the same basic design Greenslade, half round top, and was with the same members of the same family.

A previous stone had some slightly to the right and so what started as a simple fix became slightly more complicated bye The excavation and levelling of the first stone and then the instalment of the second. Installing a similar stone adjacent to another for the same client and of the same basic design causes additional difficulties in that there is a need for the stones to be at the same or similar heights and so the two look like a pair.

Back in the workshop Chris went over my pencil drawing half alphabet and it’s here where it becomes ever more clear that the little things at the big things. Moving the entasis just to the other side of the line that I’ve drawn makes the letter go from clunky to beautiful. Sharpening serifs and changing the curve that leads into it does the same in fact when Chris, very kindly, said that my B was all wrong. His re-drawing of it barely departed from the lines I have drawn but, and it’s a big but, it made all the difference. Once he had done it, it looked amazing with previously to my eyes it looked a bit wrong.


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