Props for film and TV

CIMG2859As a professional scribe and illuminator, I am often asked to make props for film and TV. These have ranged from 19th century petitions of ‘thousands’ of names, Elizabethan maps, writing in ‘invisible ink’ and making it reappear onscreen, any number of documents, poems and letters, and, a few years back, to coincide with a big exhibition in Venice by one of the UK’s most well-known artists, a double spread of a 12th century manuscript written in Greek.

CIMG2811The story was that a freed Roman slave had amassed great wealth such that he was able to buy up great treasures. He wanted a suitable palace to display these and planned to take them on the ‘biggest ship ever made’ – the ‘Unbelievable’ – and then build his palace. Sadly, it was said, on his journey a sea monster caused the ship to wreck and the treasures were lost only to be found again hundreds of years later and brought to the surface in the twenty-first century. I was given a very wide brief and set to creating this double spread, checking the designs as I went along. I researched palaces in mediæval manuscripts, and it was lovely to create my own … in the style of! Of course the palace would have a fountain and fish pond and, as with many pieces I’ve done I enjoyed adding a bit of personal amusement. Each fish, for example, had an extra fin from one to four.

CIMG2809I knew that the spread was going to be aged but selected a piece that had a lot of character to it anyway. There was a fair smattering of brown spots which indicated the hair follicles. In my rough sketch I had planned to have carts with treasures being loaded on to the ship but realised that this would take far too long so in the end settled for wrapped bales on the quay, and a few treasures being shown on the deck of the ship. The freed slave, Amatan, is shown here, again in his fur hat and rich red robes lined with cloth of gold, supervising the loading. At this point I didn’t know what form the treasures would be so I painted in a few objects. To ensure that, mediævally speaking, the ship was in character, as it was meant to be so big, the prow extended well beyond the border.

CIMG2814They did give me a sketch of a mediæval monster from a manuscript as a suggestion but I thought it looked far too benign (a bit like a Tellytubby!) so I asked if I could make mine much more scary, to which they agreed. So here it is with horns – because it was evil – rows of sharp teeth and sharp claws. And because the monster was wrecking the ship by creating a storm, I drew a waterline which wasn’t horizontal to reflect that. (I did try it with a very angled sealine but it just looked weird!)

CIMG2804There are quite a few miniatures of ships in mediæval manuscripts, especially connected with the Jonah and the whale story, and I found a lovely image of a sailor falling overboard, which I copied, painting treasures tossed into the sea by the storm too. Amatan and another sailor are here pointing in horror at the monster, and even the ships’ prow is looking a bit scared! The mast is broken and the sail in tatters.

 

 

CIMG2815I also decided to have the monster coming up the side of the page and towering over the boat to make it seem even more menacing and had his gold tail pointing menacingly towards the crashing ship.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2863I then wrote the supplied Greek text and worked hard to ensure that it fitted the space exactly, rearranging the line spacing and the length of the lines to ensure that it did. I was also able to pretty much justify the lines so that the right- and left-margins looked neat.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2862I knew that they wanted the page aged, and so, once it was all done, took some sandpaper to the painting and roughed it all up a bit. However, when I saw it being used in the accompanying film about the story of the ‘find’, I saw that they had really roughed it up, with the gold leaf blistered and some of the images almost gone completely. The film of the story and the ‘find’ is available on Netflix if you subscribe. And the artist is still causing controversy about the whole project as here.

 

Dumfries House, Ayrshire, Scotland

‘There’s nothing that isn’t positive that comes out of this place.’

IMG_2850Dumfries House near Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. is a unique place in many ways. The house was designed by Robert, John and James Adam, their first independent commission after the death of their father William. The building of the house was completed on budget and on time in 1759. It contains the most wonderful collection of original Chippendale and other furniture and is an amazing place to visit.

IMG_2849The whole estate and furniture was due to be sold when The Prince of Wales stepped in, reputedly arranging for the lorry carrying the precious furniture to be stopped on its way for the contents to be auctioned in London, and saving this unique house with its associated furniture which has an enviable provenance. However, being The Prince of Wales, this project didn’t end simply with saving a house and its contents. I was there to visit the estate and view the wonderful activities involving the whole community and while I was there I noticed that the stone on side of the house has very intriguing diagonal marks – mason’s marks or part of the design?

IMG_2855At the front of the house is a huge fountain and two formal mazes either side. I tried out the maze and as someone with no sense of direction, I was amazed (!) that I actually got to the middle, marked by a stone obelisk.

 

 

 

IMG_2857And just to prove it, here I am at the centre with the obelisk!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2860It is well-known that The Prince of Wales loves gardens so as you would expect they are wonderful – a mix of colours and textures and not really done justice by this photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2876As I walked through the gardens close to the house, I was intrigued by this huge tree which looked most impressive against the azure blue sky (yes, this photo was taken on the day I was there; the sky really was this blue).

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2877The bark of this tree was fascinating with its whirls and swirls and I wished I had time to sit and draw it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2889However, it’s not just the house and formal gardens that are worth seeing. On the estate there are animals kept specifically to show children where their food comes from. And if Dumfries House is a building fit for a prince, the animal houses are certainly beautiful enough for The Prince’s farm animals! But the walled garden really was something else! There was a whole long border of HRH’s favourite flower – delphiniums. Again this photo really doesn’t do it justice.

IMG_2890But true to walled gardens, there were also beds of fruit and vegetables, again used to teach children about food but the produce also used in the café and catering training on the estate, and for the formal dinners given by The Prince of Wales.

 

 

IMG_2893Students from The Prince’s Drawing School were in residence when I was there, using the house and grounds as inspiration for their work. There are also great plans for a development to allow onsite training in building and living crafts. This will add to the training already being done in the Textile Centre. Training is given in sewing and machining skills, not now taught in the textile industry, and I was most impressed by what was produced. Here Ashleigh Douglas, head of the centre, shows a specially designed tartan.

 

 

IMG_2896And, as it’s Scotland, Graeme has been making kilts, and will be creating one of the above tartan after he has finished this one.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2901 2The facilities are most impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2885However, what actually impressed me most of all was, as in the quote at the very top, the comprehensive positivity of Dumfries House and its activities. Every single person I spoke to, from the local taxi driver, to the waitress in the hotel, to those visiting the grounds and house, every single person said how important the estate was to the locality and how impressed they were with what The Prince had done. And in terms of the staff in the house itself, not one wasn’t welcoming, courteous and so kind. It truly felt like a privilege to be wandering through these beautiful grounds and touring a wonderful historical house. If you ever have the chance to visit yourself – do go, make a detour or even a special visit. You won’t regret it.

Even More Glittering Gilders

Layout 1Another group of keen potential gilders met in May 2019 to learn the craft skills of creating mediæval miniatures over three very full days. Their stunning results, albeit some unfinished, are shown here – just look at how shiny that gold is! The brilliance of this shine is really only possible on traditional gesso, as modern adhesives don’t seem to react quite so well with pure gold leaf.

 

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Everything was set out for each participant at their own work station so they needed to bring nothing with them apart from the willingness to learn!

 

 

 

IMG_2691The first day started with trial gilding then making and laying gesso. Then it was on to laying it for real around the mediæval animal image on prepared vellum pieces. Gesso forms the raised base on which the gold adheres. By lifting it from the surface, the shiny gold reflects the light, looking as if it comes from the illumination itself – hence the name.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2704Once the gesso is dry and calm, then the gold is attached, and on gesso it can be polished until it is really shiny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2695The brilliance of shine, polished with a burnisher, with this group was quite amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2701And on to painting. After a detailed demonstration on paint consistency, mixing paint and using the fine, Kolinsky sable brushes, everyone set to.

 

 

 

IMG_2713The results in terms of the shine of the gold and painting were most impressive.

 

 

 

IMG_2711Here are some comments from the participants:

IMG_2728Patricia, I enjoyed every moment of your course, thanks to your perfect preparation, wonderful teaching and fabulous hospitality. The course was everything I hoped for and more.

 

 

 

I have learned so much, a really great few days. You were clear and concise, very funny and informative. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2706Fabulous. Excellent. Pitched at the perfect level with exactly the right amount of repetition/reinforcement. Perfect course numbers to allow 1:1 assistance. A real privilege to participate. 

 

 

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I was so thrilled when I knew I’d be able to come, and the course has been everything I had hoped for and so much more. Thank you Patricia for your patience, expertise and wisdom.

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I loved that everything was explained in a clear, straightforward and good humoured manner. It was everything I had hoped for and so much more. The attention to detail throughout the course was fabulous, from our name cards to the gesso we could take away.

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Thank you for the wonderful course. I learned so much in such a short space of time! And I really appreciated all the care and attention you put into every aspect of our three days.

The Lost Words – Forget-me-not

IMG_2350It is always very sad when we lose words, not just because we can’t remember what to say in a conversation, but when the very words themselves seem to have lost their value. It was noted that a children’s dictionary decided to leave out words which it judged to have ‘lack of use’. These very words conjure up images in our memories – of collecting blackberries from brambles, of threading a piece of string through a conker, of pigs pannaging for acorns in the New Forest, of a lark ascending, of holly and ivy in the Christmas carol, of a sea of bluebells swaying in the wind. All these words have been removed from this dictionary. To mark their loss, the Lettering Arts Trust exhibited a number of beautiful letter-cut artworks at their gallery in Snape Matings in 2019. They also produced a wonderfully designed, exquisitely illustrated catalogue to accompany this.

IMG_2353The ingenuity of the letter cutters, demonstrating also their craftsmanship, is shown in this piece by the great Tom Perkins. With his distinctive letter-forms, the letters R and U nestle under their respective preceding Cs, and the letter O is replaced by a gentle opening crocus but still retaining the letter-form.

 

IMG_2356Hazel is often used for weaving and basketry and here Emi Gordon has woven the strokes of the letters so that they interlace and overlap, with a gently twisted crossbar to the letter A and an elegant flourish at the end. The selection of the paint colour for the letters is particularly appropriate.

 

 

IMG_2355The delicacy of hazel is in sharp contrast to Gillian Forbes’ piece, with the network of pointed leaves sitting like hands cradling the gilded conkers. The style of lettering seems particularly apt and the way in which the leaves have been cut outlines their shape in the top left-hand corner.

 

 

 

IMG_2351Occasionally, the letters themselves aren’t really necessary to convey meaning and shape. Here the word pasture is suggested in a field of pasture. Let your eyes blur a little to work out the shapes – they are there! Phil Surey’s work certainly gives new meaning to ‘pastures new’!

 

IMG_2354And very graphically, here a little boy is fishing for minnows, sitting on a deck which is supported by the very word. Gentle reeds blowing in the wind add movement to the piece and point the way to the boy, his float bobbing colourfully on the water. A very evocative piece by Stuart Buckle.

 

IMG_2357Work out willow here in a piece that mirrors the gentle willow swaying in the breeze. Joe Hickey mourns the loss of the word where the wood is used for weaving and for cricket bats.

The exhibition is on at the Lettering Arts Trust at Snape Matings, Suffolk IP17 1SP from 15th March to 26th May 2019 and is well worth a visit. The catalogue is available from their website.

 

 

 

Quills and Calligraphy

IMG_1961Sixteen eager students were ready to start a day of learning and practising calligraphy as part of the events associated with the fantastic Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms 2018-2019 exhibition at the British Library. We were focusing on the Angled-Pen Uncials as in the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, a very pleasing writing style, and which has only majuscules, or capital letters.

 

IMG_1947Everything was set out before the students arrived with a sloping board, pen and nib, ink, etc and sets of A3 information and exemplar sheets so that no ruling lines was necessary while learning.

 

 

 

IMG_1952The morning was spent learning and practising the letters and then the afternoon focused on quill cutting and preparing and writing on vellum. Cutting quills was a lot tougher than it looked – the barrels of swans’ feather are really strong!

 

 

 

IMG_1954It does take some preparation, but once the steps are clearly explained and reinforced to everyone as they cut the feathers, really good quills resulted.

 

 

 

IMG_1958Then it was on to preparing the vellum, practising writing names using the quill and then, with a deep breath, writing on the vellum itself. I suggested using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache in vermilion as a contrast for the initial letter and this worked really well. The results needed to be admired even halfway through the writing!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1956And the concentration here was intense!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1961But the results were very much worthwhile! Congratulations to all students for such a successful day – and for being such a lovely group to worth with.

Plaxtol Roll of Honour

IMG_1110The vast number of people involved in the First World War is being highlighted during these centenary years. This huge number is perhaps particularly exemplified  in the small Kentish village of Plaxtol. Over 150 men, all former pupils of the local village school, went to the front, as well as four members of staff. I was asked recently to prepare a Roll of Honour on vellum recording the names of these men.

CIMG2464I was given a typed list and the requirement that there would be a decorated border of cob nuts and hops, as these were local to the area, and so set about designing the panel. I experimented with the styles and sizes of text, spacing between the lines, placing of the blocks of text and so on.

CIMG2468I decided on Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand for the text, as it was this style, and Roman Capitals, again championed by Johnston, that MacDonald (Max) Gill used as his lettering design for all the First World War Memorials; Max being a student of Johnston. As always, everything was written out in rough first, and then positioned where it was to go. In the typewritten version the letters ‘RIP’ were written without fullstops, which I copied for two of the columns, and then inserted the fullstops for the other two – we all agreed that the latter looked better. I also used the traditional colour scheme for such panels of red and black.
IMG_1108Then it was deep breath time, the vellum was prepared, ruling up done, and I had to start the writing. I tacked the four columns of names first to get the body of the panel done, writing all the names and then returning with the same size nib and red paint to insert the words ‘Wounded’, or ‘R.I.P’ where appropriate. However, I used a compressed Roman form for ‘Wounded’ so that the columns weren’t too wide.

CIMG2630I left painting the border until last. My original design had the hops and cob nuts entwined but this was not was wanted. The suggestion of having separate blocks of the two plants would have made this part of the panel very disjointed, so I drew a long wavy line along the whole border, with the cob nuts growing up from the ‘valley’ and the hops hanging down from the ‘hills’. The width of border was about an inch (2–3 cm) high. The hops are about 1–2 mm each in size and each have about 5 different colours on them.

CIMG2617The panel was too large for me to stretch the vellum first around a board as I couldn’t then reach the top of it, so I had to do this after it was all done. The need for stretching is obvious from the way in which the skin is bumpy in the picture on the right.

It was a huge job and difficult to cost at the beginning – I spent far more time on it than I charged for, and now it hangs in Plaxtol Village Memorial Hall. It would be nice if more people knew about it and were able to see it.

How Mediæval Manuscripts were Made

fcdcf8be-d41f-4954-b06e-603091f607c1It really was a great joy and privilege to be part of the great Polonsky Project, which was a joint venture between the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale in Paris to digitise manuscripts which from before the year 1100. They were keen to show how those manuscripts were made, and so it was on two very hot days in the summer of 2017 that Dr Alison Ray, filmer Jan and I spent many hours recording those processes. The films are now on the British Library’s and the Bibliotèque nationale’s websites (the latter being dubbed into French) and sections of the films were also used in the fantastic 2017–2018 Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 18.53.31The first film features the pen used for the writing, which, of course, was usually a quill cut from the feather of a large bird. I always use penknives which have curved blades as the curve rolls over the slight curve in the barrel of a feather to cut the nib tip, whereas a straight blade tends to squash the feather. Indeed, penknives today (the clue is in the name!) still always have a curved blade. Here’s the link. There’s more on quill knives and how to cut a quill on my website on this link.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.05.35Ink was usually made from oak galls, although in fact peach, cherry and apricot stones can also be used but give a less dense colour. It’s the tannic acid from the galls reacting to copperas (iron sulphate) that creates a dark liquid, and which needs an adhesive, in this case gum Arabic, to ensure that it adheres to the writing surface. To see the process, click here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.07.32The writing surface was vellum or parchment – calfskin, sheepskin, goatskin or ever deer on occasion. In this clip I explain about the differences between the hair and flesh sides of vellum and also the qualities of other types of skin. More here.

 

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.10.21Having cut pieces of skin to size for writing, the page needed to be set out, and often dividers – similar to sets of compasses, but with a point at the end of each leg – were used as it was easier to mark the exact positions of the guidelines in this way. On occasion, the lines would be set out using a ruler and lead point (or similar) and then the positions marked using the tip of a knife (perhaps a penknife). Here the ‘point’ would actually be a triangle shape and this can be seen in some manuscripts. There’s more on setting out a manuscript page here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.17.54Pigments used in illuminations came from animal, vegetable and mineral sources. Perhaps the most famous is ultramarine, as Cennini Cennino called it ‘perfect, beyond all other colours’. A very similar blue, but much cheaper was citramarine. Woad and indigo are from vegetable sources along with madder. And Tyrian purple and carmine came from animals. There’s more on this link, including dragon’s blood!

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.22.01 1These pigments have no natural adhesive (apart from saffron interestingly!) and so this needs to be added. Traditional either glair, the egg white or the egg yolk was added. This film clip explains the process, including the equivalent of a hole in one! It can be tricky removing the egg yolk from the egg sac, but when this was being filmed, it worked with the very first egg! Here it is with the knife being withdrawn and the yolk falling out at the bottom. See the whole thing and more here.

Screenshot 2018-12-17 at 19.26.13And having got everything ready, it was then only the setting out the illumination, laying the gesso, applying gold and then painting bringing everything to life and with wonderful colour. Watch the process here.

It is hoped that these short films will add to the knowledge and understanding of these historical craft processes and ensure that more people understand and appreciate the skills that went in to creating the wonderful manuscripts now in great collections such as those at the British Library and the Bibliotèque nationale.

A Celebration of British Craftsmanship

IMG_1740 2The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) was set up by the Royal Warrant Holders Association nearly thirty years ago. QEST awards funding for its scholarships and apprenticeships in a whole variety of crafts. This range is shown in this splendid new book on British Craftsmanship. It is a huge book – almost coffee table size in itself – and contains a series of stunning photographs taken by Julian Calder, who has managed to capture each maker, with text by Karen Bennett.

 

 

IMG_1756Each of a selection of scholars and apprentices is featured on an opening spread. Mia Sable shown here is a saddler and leather designer. Having a varied career, including time at Canary Wharf, Mia started to learn saddlery at Capel Manor, by chance at three days’ notice! With saddlery skills tucked under her belt, Mia diversified into watch straps and bespoke watch straps now form her main business.She says ‘It is satisfying to make things that could last for a generation’.

 

 

IMG_1757Nick Gill was a musician when he bought a second-hand press to produce the sleeves for CDs. He had two weeks’ experience with Phil Able at Hand & Eye Letterpress, and gained more experience when he returned to help on a large job. More equipment, more type, more tuition all increased Nick’s proficiency, experience and skill. He travelled to the US in the meantime to further his knowledge. Now working in Yorkshire, Nick also casts and sells metal type as well as printing. And he is still a musician.

 

 

IMG_1755Perhaps it was inevitable that Amy Goodwin is now a signwriter and fairground artist as she spent most summers in her youth travelling as part of a steam fairground. She trained with one of the best and, traditionally, uses no guidelines, tape, or computers – it’s all done by hand. Amy is now mid-way through a practice-based PhD focusing on five women in fairgrounds.

 

 

 

This glorious book is lavishly illustrated, beautifully photographed, with detailed text on many of the QEST scholars and apprentices, showing the variety of backgrounds and experiences and the paths these wonderful craftspeople have taken. It is an ideal book for anyone interested in heritage crafts as well as for those tricky-to-buy-for people. You can buy it here.

 

How do you Want to be Remembered?

IMG_1739 3Thirty years ago Harriet Frazer MBE set up Memorials by Artists – now the Lettering Arts Trust, of which I am a proud patron. Harriet had had problems finding just the right headstone for her step-daughter who had died young. Not wanting the usual impersonal polished granite, with machine-made letters, Harriet found it difficult to locate someone who could produce what she wanted. To help others who might be having similar problems, Harriet decided to set up the charity, putting those wanting a memorial in touch with the best craftsperson who could fulfil that.

 

 

IMG_1744But first, she needed to have some sort of identification – a branding or logo. Here are various lettering artists’ interpretations of the first name for the charity. On the top right, and what was chosen, is a wood engraving by Michael Renton, and below that the outline design by Tom Perkins. Nicholas Sloan’s design, bottom left, was lozenge-shaped, and Madeleine Dinkel’s design has exuberant flourishes and incorporates the dove of peace.

 

IMG_1745The potential individuality of each design, as opposed to a standard headstone, is shown here in this stone for Cynthia Felgate who was the co-originator of BBC’s Playschool and was one of the leading authorities on children’s television. Richard Kinderley’s design delightfully has two children playing hide-and-seek around the stone.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1750The charity doesn’t just focus on individual memorials as is shown by the Bali Bomb Memorial at the foot of the Clive Steps in Horseguards Road in London. Gary Breeze and Martin Cook both worked on this inspired design which consists of a large stone globe carved with 202 doves, each one different, representing the individuality of each person killed in the incident.

 

 

IMG_1751Names were carved into a curved wall, with stone seats.

 

 

IMG_1753And to show what a difference lettering style, shapes and decoration can make, Nicholas Sloan carved three different memorials for his mother. Each one reflects a different aspect of her character, a formal design cut into slate, then one which is more casual with an uneven edge, and lastly one which shows the interest in gardening and bee keeping.

The 30th Anniversary is being marked by an exhibition that finished this Sunday, and also by a book which can be bought here.

 

 

 

 

 

Roman Capitals

ada9a09acea936d776a6f55c82778c43_LLettering at the base of Trajan’s Column at one end of Trajan’s Forum in Rome is regarded by many as one of the best example of Roman Capitals. These majestical letters, with beautiful proportions, are one of the purest guides for any who want to study the proportions of Roman Capitals. On a recent trip to Rome, I was determined to take the best photograph I could of this block of lettering. For many years this Forum was closed for restoration (it is the other side of the road to the main Forum), but I had read that Trajan’s Forum was now open and so I could stand in front of the column and get a good shot.

 

Lettering at the base of Trajan's ColumnGood fortune was clearly not smiling on me, as when we were there it was closed yet again, with no date for re-opening, and this was the best photograph of the lettering I was able to get – not what I had planned at all, and only from a side angle. The letters are not narrow as they look here, but grand and rounded. Notice also the way in which a later roof for a porch of an access door has been cut into the last line of the lettering. Interestingly, which you may just be able to make out here, the height of the letters on the top line is greater than the next, and so on until the bottom line. This is because the letters were designed to be viewed from the ground, and by having larger letters at the top, they would look all the same.

Triumphal Arch of SeptimiusThere are examples of stunning Roman Capitals all over Rome (including all the modern street names). This is the triumphal Arch of Septimius, just across the road from Trajan’s Forum in the main Forum. It is best viewed, as here, by not going into the Forum itself, but climbing up the path behind the Vittorio Emmanuel monument. The letters were originally bronze and you can make out in close-up the small round darker areas which indicate the attaching pins.

Lettering on one of the tombs in the Via Appia, RomeUndaunted by inaccessibility to Trajan’s Column, I knew that there were really good examples of Roman lettering attached to the tombs along the Via Appia, some way out of the city centre and a long walk, but certainly worth a visit. This is just one example. The letters are beautifully cut in marble, and generally their proportions are good – although the letter N is rather too wide in most examples. However, spacing is not always as good as the letter-forms, lines 9 and 11 being examples of letters pushed too tightly together. David Kindersley, the great letter-cutter, used to say that a bad space is worse than a bad letter. See my Calligraphy Clips on spacing.

Pantheon, RomeThe Pantheon, the temple to all gods, has some majestical Roman lettering along the top of it. From this you can see how wonderfully clear the letter-forms are. We were standing quite a long way away yet it is clear that Agrippa was involved and it was made (FECIT)!

 

 

Rome street signEven road signs around building sites look good in Rome when Roman Capitals are used, but if we’re also looking at spacing, slightly blur your eyes. The ROM is fine, but perhaps the letter ‘A’ is slightly too far to the right. It is the ‘PIT’, though, in the middle of ‘Capitale’ which really stands out. The letters ‘I’ and ‘T’ need to be further to the right, and join up more with ‘ALE’. But this is being really picky when such a good use is made of this wonderful lettering style.

 

Diagram of Roman CapitalsSo what are the proportions for Roman Capitals shown in all these examples? Allowing for the fact that letters need to breath, and don’t always conform, generally speaking the letters in Roman Capitals are regarded as being based on a circle that can be encased within a square, as shown here. Obviously the letter O is that circle, and Q too with its tail (notice it poking out to the right). The letters C, D, and G are also formed from parts of that circle. You can trace them with your finger over the red lines.

 

Asymmetrical letters, then, are narrower, and the width of half of a square, as shown on the left of the diagram. These are B, E, F, J, K, L, P, R and S.

The odds are the letters I and W. Obviously the letter I is a vertical line. The Romans, very sensibly, had nothing to do with the letter W and it is an awkward letter. Nowadays it is regarded as two very slightly narrower Vs.

HCA Awards logoTo see how Roman Capitals can be made to sing, look at this wonderful example of lettering from Tom Perkins for the Heritage Crafts Awards. THIS is how Roman Capitals should look when they are made into a distinctive personal style.

But lettering should not have a rigid a straight jacket, but room to allow it to breath, so the letter R has a tail that sensibly extends beyond that half a square and the top bowl is larger than that of the letter P, the top and bottom bowls of the letters S and B are not equal in size, and so on. Studying the proportions of Roman Capitals is a good first step, but keeping rigidly to them is not the best second step!

Books you might find useful:

Patricia Lovett, The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry

Patricia Lovett, The Historical Source Book for Scribes

Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley, The Annotated Capital

Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley, Letters Slate Cut

Tom Perkins, The Art of Letter Carving in Stone

Edward M Catich, The Origin of the Serif

L C Evetts, Roman Lettering