I recently traded a print for a wax rubbing of a letter (the Q engraved in stone above) by stone carver John Mawby. (I am looking forward to profiling John and his work here soon!) John is one of several stone cutters and sign makers I follow on instagram and am constantly inspired by the craftsmanship, authenticity and sensitivity they demonstrate toward making letters.
In my letterpress work I often 'have-a-go' at carving out letters in wood or lino (I have no training or specialist tools - it is a really clumsy process of trial and error to see what works!) Usually I am cutting the white space to leave the positive of the letter (to emulate a printing sort). I use a battery operated rotary tool (dremmel) to cut and its a million miles away from the traditional craft of carving type with a chisel where a crisp letter is carved out of a flush solid surface.
I recently read this fascinating articleabout Stone carver Nick Benson: called What a stone carver can teach you about digital typography
"…It’s not the computer that’s going to give me the ideal product. It’s my input into the machine that then will yield product. Because it is really just a tool, and it requires understanding of how to use that tool to get what you ideally want and yield great results."
Those of you familiar with the TypeMedia program will be aware that they teach stone carving as a fundamental part of the foundation studies which makes a lot of sense given the form of our Roman and latin letters are so heavily influenced by the tools by which they were constructed (be that a brush or a chisel). Understanding the traditional production process of letters gives us insight into how to design and construct beautiful letterforms be it in pencil, stone, or digital environments.
I hope to improve my type cutting and carving skills this year so that I have a better grasp of mark making and letterform construction using hand tools and am particularly inspired by craftspeople working with these traditional techniques in contemporary creative practice.
3d Signage manufacture Danthonia Designs (based here in NSW, Australia) put together a series of excellent little process videos showing how they use traditional craftsmanship in their work. I was particularly interested in the How to Carve a Letter (a 4 part sequence of videos) that explores traditional tools and techniques as well as a little typographic history; These short videos are great viewing whether your interested in sign-making, printmaking, lettering or type construction.
- The first video demonstrates traditional chisel-carving techniques.
- The second video shows how to carve a letter using the traditional chisel method.
- The third video guides you through the process of carving an uppercase, sans serif 'R', using a V-Tool, chisel and sandpaper.
- In the fourth you see the process of painting a casual brush script ampersand then chisel-carve it.