One of the major milestones of a traditional lettercarving apprentice is the creation of your first carved alphabet. Besides working as a display of style and influence, it is also the culmination of the myriad skills you learn as an apprentice: drawing, carving, painting, and many others.
The inspiration for my first alphabet was one carved by Eric Gill. This alphabet, carved very early in Gill’s career, consists of four lines of Roman caps. It’s chock-full of the sort of eccentric letters that Gill is known for but also very beautiful in its simplicity. The stone (which is on display in the V&A) was carved in Hopton Wood stone and adorned with a double-bead moulding around the outside - which was very typical of Gill.
However, while this Gill stone served as an inspiration for my own alphabet, and helped establish the form and general aesthetic I wanted to achieve, it was very much a springboard from which my teacher Eric Marland and myself took in its own unique direction.
Eric’s input and direction were immensely helpful and informative, and he helped me reach a set of letterforms that display both of our own sensibilities while still harkening back to Gill’s original alphabet.
The stone I chose was a large piece of Nabresina, which is very close in look to the Hopton Wood Gill favored. Hopton Wood is generally not available anymore, so this was a great substitue. As a result of the size of the stone I chose, Eric suggested I sink the surface down a bit, which would both make the stone lighter but also allow for me to do a Gill-esque double-bead moulding.
This process was extremely challenging because this particular piece of stone was very hard and tough to carve. Plus, there was the fact that I had never attempted any kind of general masonry before!
And while the process of masoning the stone was a bit of an endurance test (almost 90% of the masonry was done with hand tools), I learned a lot while doing it; and it also gave me more cofidence with a chisel, in general.
The stone is finally masoned with a sunken panel and double-bead moulding.
After the stone was masoned, I drew on reference lines for each line of my alphabet. My alphabet was then pounced down, or transferred, on to the stone using carbon paper.
Once the basic layout was on the stone, the many adjustments to spacing and letter form commenced. Changes were larger and more obvious at first, but eventually things moved into a sort of fine-tuning period where minute, subtle alterations were made until every part of the alphabet looked correct.
In a future post I will discuss the carving, painting, and gilding of my alphabet, and hopefully reveal the finished piece!