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L is for Lettering


  • By OSNS

    Published on 31 January 2012

Lettering is alive and kicking at Old School, and we have been busy this week using it to inject some flavour into the workspace, to help us remember why we are here in this totally local and personal space, instead of in some institution


While Typography uses standardised letterforms, lettering is different. Lettering is an older art and consists of unique forms made with a variety of tools. Today the applications and potential of lettering and type are very broad, when designers create handmade letterforms and experimental Alphabets. 

Our Lettering at Old School was created by an a true old school expert for whom I have the utmost respect, called Lionel O'Toole. It was brilliant watching Lionel work, (especially seeing the way he made an s) and I feel that I learned so much just watching and helping out, walking away with an even deeper respect for the opponent. 

Pictured here are the tools of the trade that you need. You can still buy similar brushes to these old sign writing brushes at the paint shop on Gertrude Street. These pictured are over 30 years old, and Lionel had not used them for 15. You will also need string to mark a straight line like the one pictured, and a musk stick, to rest your arm on and protect the cleanliness of the wall. And finally you will need string. 


You then use the string, dipped in chalk or charcoal dust to mark a straight line (including X height, topline, and mid line).

The process is very mathematical. You need to count your number of letters out, and spaces, and measure with your ruler the exact space for the letters. Then draw them in charcoal. Of course Lionel has gone through an old fashioned apprenticeship in painting and signwriting long ago, plus he has years of experience. This is evident when you can see his skill coming to play. There are techniques to know that you can only learn by watching trust me. 

Then its time to paint over the charcoal lettering, using a special technique that you need to see in action. Really straight lines though using a long bristled brush as u can see. The brush was a number 12. Just look at the concentration!

And here is the mission accomplished. This style of lettering was commonly known among the signwriting trade in Australia, as "bastard block" Note the A's, and shapes of the R's.

And here is the mission accomplished. This style of lettering was commonly known among the signwriting trade in Australia, as "bastard block" Note the A's, and shapes of the R's.

This is Lionel purveying his completed script which took much longer to complete than the bastard block because it was more creative and less formulaic to do. I like the lower case e's. We have since removed the hearts as I did not really think they were appropriate for a graphic design school.



Finally, here are the two signs, completed!