I have been working on an exciting project this month. I have been commissioned to carve four inscriptions on an obelisk near Bicester. The obelisk measures a huge 25 metres from plinth to apex. It is made from Massangis French limestone. The inscriptions are on all four sides of the base, two in Arabic and the other two being their English translations. One of the Arabic sides is calligraphy produced by Saadi Al Timimi, and the other Arabic inscription is a typeface. The Roman lettering is based on the Roman Trajan inscription, but tweeked here and there, especially regarding the weight of the serifs. I have been helped by Gary Breeze, Stuart Buckle and Martin Cook. I’m back on site this week to give the lettering a final going over and to think about mixing colours for painting the text. Although the inscriptions are deeply carved, they will need colouring to be legible from a distance of 30metres, which is where they will generally be seen from.
I’ll show more pictures once the work is finished. The four pictures below show sections of the lettering on all four sides of the base, prior to the inscriptions being painted.
following a comment on my last post, which featured a plaque from Holt Church, I am posting some useful links for those who are wondering why a lot of 17-18th century inscriptions and earlier manuscripts have the different forms of the s – known as the long s “ſ” and short s “s”.
Following on from my last blog regarding letter spacing, design and layout on old memorials, I thought it worth adding this image of another stone in Eyam, there seems to be no regard for where the words fall whatsoever, with both surnames and first names being split. Surely this means the “designer” worked directly with the chisel, forming the letters as he went. I can’t imagine showing a design for this stone to one of my clients and getting the go-ahead. This is perhaps a shame, as I’d really enjoy the opportunity to make a memorial in this way, the sense of freedom would be refreshing, if a little unnerving!
If you look closely you’ll see that the spacing in general is really poor, for example the HE space right at the beginning of the inscription is very wide and yet the word spacing is relatively very tight for example: here/lies the/body who/died. But despite all this, or maybe because of all this, I like it.
The re’sno way I couldg et a way with it thou gh.
On our recent trip to Derbyshire, we visited the village of Eyam which was very close to where we were staying. Eyam is known as “the plague village”.
In 1665 the village tailor received a parcel from London and it contained some bundles of material and with it plague infected fleas. He was dead within a week. The disease spread rapidly. Some people wished to flee but the rector, the Rev. William Mompesson introduced precautions to slow the spread of the illness, including the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services from the church of St Lawrence to outdoors at Cucklett Delph to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. The best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. The plague raged in the village for 14 months, taking at least 260 lives.
We visited the small yet packed Eyam museum, which was very informative, and well laid out and brought the tragedy that fell upon this village to life very well. Then we visited the parish church with its rich array of lettering and stone carving. There are some pictures below, including a plague grave from 1665, some wonderfully bold stone carvings taken from tombs and also some images of the Saxon Cross in the churchyard, of which Pevsner says : “notable for the survival of the head, coarse vine scrolls and interlace on the shaft, of which unfortunately the top two feet or so are missing. The date is probably early 9th Century”.
Note for lettering nerds: on the plague memorial pictured above, which reads:
ABELL THE SONNE
OF THOMAS & ALICE
ROWLAND WAS BU
RIED JAN THE 15TH
it is well worth a look at the rich abundance of “ligatures” (the joining of letters) the THE and NN and AL and WA and more TH’s. I think it’s a lovely stone. It seems nicely spaced overall and yet the fact that the word BU – RIED is split onto two lines makes one wonder if it was just carved directly with no preliminary design, despite the strong overall balance of the inscription.
I recently spent a few days away with the family in Derbyshire, near Cressbrook Dale. As well as the amazing landscape I took great pleasure in studying the limestone there. If you look closely the rocks, paths and even the footpath stones set into the walls are full of fossils. One day we took a walk on the White Peak through Sheldon. I knew there would be fossils as I’d seen and bought some small pieces from Lowes Marble Works in Middleton, near Wirskworth some years back. See below.
The limestone there is a carboniferous limestone. There is also sandstone and millstone grit in Derbyshire. On this walk I spotted these slate memorialswhich were obviously to a very important family with the surname Sheldon. The letter-carving is impressive. There seems to have been some very high quality slate carving through the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire/Newark area in the 18th and 19th centuries, I’ve seen numerous examples.
The first image here shows the lettering produced by the workshop of Sepp Jacob in Germany. The work he produced was very sculptural and direct and a wonderful blend of good strong lettering and an understanding of materials. This piece reminds me of the German font Neuland which was designed by Rudolf Koch.
Neuland is based on the handwriting of Rudolf Koch (as are all of his typefaces). Its simplicity and unusual shapes derive from the difficult and demanding art of punchcutting. In fact, it may be the only typeface designed by actually cutting the punches; Koch made no preliminary drawings, it is almost as though the punches themselves were sculpted, and these were then used in casting the type itself. Neuland was designed in 1923 and it became enormously popular as an advertising typeface. It is a sans serif, all-capital design with angular features, obliqued strokes and a slight concavity to some of the vertical strokes. Used with restraint, it can lend power and persuasion to display work, as it did when forming the basis for titles appearing in the film Jurassic Park.
Optima is another wonderful example of German lettering design. It was designed by Hermann Zapf, Contemporary German calligrapher, teacher, book designer and one of the 20th century’s most significant type designers. In the mid 1930’s Zapf studied the writing manuals of Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnston and taught himself. Zapf has designed some of the 20th century’s most important fonts, including Palatino and Optima, and some of my other favourites such as Michaelangelo, Sistina, and the wonderfully calligraphic Zapfino.