menu

Why Knowledge of Lettering as Art & Craft is Essential to Graphic Design Education


  • By OSNS

    Published on 23 September 2014

Lettering is an Art & Craft. It requires skill in draughtsmanship, penmanship and inkmanship. It requires a sure knowledge of forms and style supported by solid technical experience in art and printing. This is what we spend our life in getting. This is what is sieved through into each piece of work.


Brilliant quote from Arnold Bank. Arnold Bank and Gerrit Noorzidj are just two of a breed of expert that the world is tragically losing. Many of the skills that have taken these experts a whole lifetime to develop are being lost here in Australia because such people have no formal accreditation. This means that their valuable skill is unrecognised by our formal education system. At Old School, one of our aims is to support a revival of such valuable knowledge and skills before it is lost, and currently we are in discussion with one such old time legend to come back and share some of his amazing skills. You will have to stay tuned if you are interested, as these things take time to implement.

Meanwhile, here is an image of Gerrit Noorzidj in action. Damn lucky students I say!

Gerrit Noordzy was born in 1931. He is a dutch typographer, typeface designer, and author of the Old School tradition. Starting his professional career as a bookbinder's apprentice and graphic designer, most of his typo learning evolved through his design of book covers, where lettering and type design was of course paramount. His approach was crafts based as he made copper engravings, wood engravings, inscriptions on glass and drawings. In typically clever dutch style, he had no trouble adapting to new technology, and in the 90's he designed an early type design software program for Canon. 

He was professor of typeface design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague The Netherlands for thirty years, starting in 1960. Then from 1970 to his retirement in 1990, he was the director of the writing and lettering programme at the graphic design department.

According to Wikepedia:

Even though this theoretical model mostly concerns the written word, Noordzij applies it to printed type as well, as he defines typography as ′writing with prefabricated characters′. It is an analysis of the construction of letterforms, describing how most printing typefaces have their roots in handwriting (i.e. broad-nib pen, pointed pen). The method of teaching type design at the Royal Academy is still largely based on Noordzij's theoretical model today, as several of his former students are now the professors at the department.

This example of his teaching  is self explanatory in explaining the effect of different pen nibs in producing different styles of letterform:


 


This  link  of Erik Van Blokland from the same Royal Academy explains letterform construction and application in simple to follow language is excellent, with plenty of examples. Erik has also kindly uploaded this  must see vimeo on typographic sketching. It's always useful to see a craftsman in action..So much information is transmitted just by watching the workmanship.. The vimeo is intended to provide an example of a helpful process and starting point for lettering design.

If you wish to know more about Erik's letterdesign and applications, his company site Letterror has some superlative examples of type design, application, and thinking that are worth inspecting.


In the same league as Noordzy was Arnold Bank, who wrote the "Craft of Lettering". Bank was Art director for Time magazine in 1941-7, and also taught at the Royal College of Art in London. Bank wrote that:


“Lettering is an Art and a Craft, it requires skill in draughtsmanship, penmanship and inkmanship. It requires a sure knowledge of forms and style supported by solid technical experience in art and printing. This is what we spend our life in getting. This is what is sieved through into each piece of work”


Exactly! and this is why it takes time to learn graphic design. How can aquire this knowledge and appreciation in six short months? Even in one year? Maybe you argue that it is not necessary. In turn, I will argue that if you are someone who wishes to follow the instructions of others and be told what font to use, it is maybe not necessary. However, would you not like to have greater autonomy in the work you produce. Knowledge is freedom and power, and you need to have the knowledge!

Here is some of Bank's beautiful typographic experimentation:



So as you can see, the right typographic education must involve the use of the hand to create your own letterforms. This will provide you with the essential underpinning understanding of the forms and expressive qualities or connotations of the thousands of letterforms that your computer churns out. You will become a more mindful designer, and this will enable you to bring individuality and humanity to your design work, so that you can create digital fonts such as this. (image taken from Type & Media Masters course at the Hague)


If you find this line of enquirey interesting, i suggest the following links for further research! 

Further reading?

Arnold Bank

Type and Media Masters Program at the Hague

I Love Typography