I was recently commissioned to make a small stone with the initials “V.I.” carved into it. It was to be presented as a gift to journalist Virginia Ironside on behalf of the Lettering Arts Trust (the amazing organization that sponsors my apprenticeship).
The brief I received was very open; I was given free reign in terms of size, design, and stone. My teacher Eric thought basing the letter forms on Roman rustics might be nice, especially as the look of the letters would suit the piece of stone we had in mind. It was also timely as we had a long discussion about rustics and where they fit into the Roman lettering tradition just a few days before.
From what I gather, Roman rustics were generally considered a less formal letter form in ancient Rome, so they were usually employed for public notices and signage. Unlike the more formal Roman capital, rustics were usually only painted and less frequently carved, though I have seen a few examples of carved rustics in books.
For this project, Eric challenged me to draw freehand directly on the stone. I generally draw on paper then transfer it to a stone, so this was an interesting learning experience for me.
I started with very loose sketches at first, trying to find the correct forms, changing and refining as I went along. What I ended up with were sort of rustic-inspired letters, fairly similar to a letter style Eric likes to use, which he calls a “Rusticated Roman”.
The stone tile I carved the letters on had a wonderful old-world patina to it, so the Roman letter style seemed especially apt.
Another nice detail was the use of Roman hedera leaves instead of periods - or full-stops, as they’re called here in the UK). (There’s also a similar leaf symbol in the Lettering Arts Trust logo, so it worked on two levels!)
The Romans would often separate words by small devices half-way up the line instead of periods or commas on the bottom of the line.
The last choice was the color of the letters. We chose a classic Roman red to accent the theme of the piece and to make the letters (and especially the little hedera leaves!) more legible against the busy texture of the stone.
In the end, I was happy with the result; and more importantly, Ms. Ironside seemed to like it too.