Lettering for schools and colleges - by Frank Steeley - PDF ebook

Lettering for schools and colleges

This book of Lettering, though primarily intended for use in Schools and Colleges, cannot fail to be of help to Artists, Draughtsmen, Lawyers, Architects, Lithographers, Law Stationers, Sign Writers, Type Founders, Engravers, Metal Workers, Stone Masons, etc. The book contains upwards of forty complete alphabets in various styles, including suitable numerals for each, and three plates of “ type ” alphabets, together with several sheets which are devoted to a method, showing the use of the broad pen for engrossing and illuminating, and the construction of Gothic capitals and Black letter text. 

In the following pages, we have felt it desirable to depart from the usual chronological sequence in order that we may proceed by easy stages from the handwriting of the present day, of which the pupil must be assumed to have acquired a fair mastery until the more ornamental and difficult characters of the Gothic period are reached. Some suggestions are also given as to the placing of letters to form words and sentences, a matter of no little importance, together with hints to those desirous to design new alphabets, or rather to vary the old, for a new alphabet would be unintelligible to all except the designer. 

A number of the alphabets are adapted to different classes of work, such as, first of all, those which can readily be produced with a quill, a steel pen, or a brush; while others are suited for execution in various materials, such as metal, wood, and stone; for engrossing and illuminating, and processes such as stenciling, engraving on metal, piercing in metal, carving in wood and stone, etc. A final plate is added of abbreviations, monograms, and other devices which may also be of service.

It may be mentioned that the designing and compilation of this book was begun sometime before the issue of the new circular and illustrations on Primary Drawing by the Board of Education, in which “ Lettering ” is introduced for the first time. Some additions and modifications have been made in order to bring the book into line with the Board’s recommendations on this hitherto neglected subject, and it is hoped that the suggestions herein contained, may have some value in furthering efforts that are being made by the central authority on educational matters.

It is but recently that “Lettering” has been thought worthy of a place in our school curriculum. Even in Schools of Art, few have taken up the subject seriously, and yet when it is considered how much it enters into everyday life, and how impossible it is to shut our eyes to the vast amount of lettering everywhere displayed, it is surprising to find that its full recognition has been so long delayed. “ Lettering ” should surely be regarded as an Art, whether standing by itself, or forming part of a general design, and such should keep pace with the general progress of the time. 

The ordinary signboard alone will frequently serve to show, as a rule, the utter disregard for beauty; the majority of these will be found to be of the shaded block type, and sometimes with shadows on both sides of the letters, which is entirely opposed to good taste.

 It might be argued that the fundamental idea of a sign or advertisement is “ attraction,” but is it necessary to violate art principles to attain this end? Will not good form and proportion, with due regard to legibility, more effectually serve its purpose, than the ugly, and sometimes illegible letters, with which we are only too familiar, and where it is evident the chief and only aim have been to “ strike the eye ”? 

If lettering is viewed in its true light, viz: that of decoration, as well as to convey an idea, then the forms must keep their place, and not be made to appear as solid blocks standing away from the ground; the acceptance of a flat surface must be insisted upon and treated on a similar principle to that laid down for surface decoration. 

The realistic representation of solid letters should therefore not be attempted. It has just been said that the object of lettering is to express something; the first thought, therefore, must be its legibility; its second should be its decorative effect, but it should be remembered that the former must never be sacrificed for the latter. It is not intended here, nor is it desirable, to give any but the shortest account of the history of this most interesting subject; it will suffice to briefly state a few facts in connection with the matter.

 It was thousands of years before our era that writing was invented, and it has not yet been definitely settled to which nation the honor is due. Greek writing was undoubtedly derived from the Phoenicians and afterward served as a basis for Roman calligraphy. 

The Roman is the source from which all the styles of Mediaeval and our own Modern lettering arose. It is easy to see how well suited the Greek and Roman capitals were to the methods of expression that were then in vogue, which consisted of a metal plate or tablet coated with wax, upon which the letters were scratched or indented with a hard point called a stylus; at the end of this a disc was fixed, to enable the writer to smooth the surface at will. These then were the equivalents to the paper and pen or pencil of the present day.


 Frank  Steeley

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Lettering, Alphabets

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