THIS PART OF THE BOOK is about the work of
professional letterers and the variety of their work
shows the many possibilities open to the beginner.
Some letterers concentrate on work for reproduction
and seldom venture into three dimensions. Others do a
bit of everything, while a few specialize in letter cutting
or glass engraving. After all, some of these techniques
take years to perfect.
None of the work has been done specially for this
book. The craftsmen show the kind of jobs that make
up their working lives, plus a few pieces that have
been produced for exhibitions. They have lent their
rough sketches and working drawings too. These are
most valuable for showing how letters have to be
adapted to suit the different materials involved. They
demonstrate the contributors' different approaches to
building up letters and solving problems (note
particularly their treatment of serifs), but they also
give the uninitiated a glimpse of the immense amount
of planning that goes into even the simplest lettering
commission. How much is done in the head and how
much on paper depends on the individual, but it is
clear that spacing and positioning always need to be
carefully worked out. When transferring the design to
the final material, the letters may in some cases be
barely indicated, and the tool allowed to influence the
The previous section dealt with the necessity for a
good grounding in letterforms. This has to be allied to
a thorough knowledge, and respect of your tools and
material, which can only be attained through practice.
Then you must be sensitive to the suitability of letters,
not only to subject-matter, but even to the grain of a
certain piece of wood. It is not a good idea to impose
preconceived ideas; let the shape of a goblet or the
reflections through glass influence your letterform. In
the case of a carved or painted inscription, the height,
angle and perhaps background of its eventual position
will have a bearing on the design of the letters. There
is also the individual's personal concept of the relative
importance of content, letterform and material to be
taken into account. This aspect comes out even more
clearly in the comments and sketches than in the
reproductions of finished work.
There are several attitudes to creative work. Painters
may get most satisfaction from producing from their
imagination something beautiful that expresses their
creativity. A designer, on the other hand, usually gets
most satisfaction from creating something that ills a
need, by designing something functional. Whereas the
painter may find it frustrating to work to a brief, the
same constraints can spur a designer to greater efforts.
A craftsman, as a matter of fact, is often a bit of both.
The time will come when your attitude to briefs
will change considerably. A client will be
commissioning you not just because he needs a certain
piece of lettering, but because he wants an example of
your workmanship. Then there is likely to be much
more freedom of design.
With luck, these clients will be well-informed,
knowing what they want and respecting your
judgment. If not, you should be able to do what you
think right, and persuade the customers that your
interpretation is in their best interests or even their
own idea in the first place.
We are lucky to be paid for doing what we enjoy
most of all. But it takes a lot of work and often
considerable sacrifice to build up any kind of lettering
practice. I have not seen anyone making a fortune out
of it. What is more, looking around, it seems easier to
make money out of bad lettering than good. That is
certainly not what we intend to show you here.
Artists and craftsmen are constantly changing.
What occupies their thoughts and influences their
work one year may have changed by the next. This is
what leads to progress.