I had a lot of fun doing all of the research for my second apprentice alphabet (which is a lowercase alphabet inspired by the Baskerville typeface), but it wasn’t long before I was chomping at the bit to get started on the drawing!
I had two direct references when I began drawing: the replica Baskerville slate we had in the workshop and a collage of images I took of the original Baskerville punches at the Cambridge University Library. These, along with the many discussions I had with Eric through the process, helped to inform not only the general proportions and forms of my letters but also the many small details that help to define a cohesive alphabet, such as how serifs are handled and the subtle differences informs between the b’s & d’s and p’s & q’s.
The primary aim was to create our version of an alphabet that could have existed between the time John Baskerville worked as a letter-cutter and type designer, which would draw on elements from both disciplines to make a sort of hybrid lettering/type set of letter forms. Eric thought this was especially apt as this essentially represents the two sides my design mind as a graphic designer turned letter-cutter. And I could not agree more.
Drawing these letters was incredibly fun and very absorbing. Because I was using a typeface as a foundation for these letters, it was necessary to break or subvert many typical lettering conventions, such as having flat serifs and little to no entasis in the uprights of letters.
One the most exciting parts about starting to draw this alphabet was the realization of how much my drawing skills have improved over the course of my apprenticeship. Before I started with Eric, I probably would have used an existing digital Baskerville typeface and altered the letters directly on my computer, or maybe printed them out and traced over them. The idea of drawing a whole alphabet from scratch freehand would have seemed like a daunting task, but that’s exactly what I did! This fact alone is a small but important victory for me.
Once I had my letters roughed out, and the general proportions set, we began to really scrutinize our reference materials and pull out the details we thought worked best.
Parallel to this, I began to prepare the piece of slate I was going to carve my alphabet on. Preparing the surface and carving the border before drawing my alphabet allowed me to know just how much area on the stone I would have to work with.
Unlike my previous apprentice alphabet, which was done on a vary large piece of limestone and required extensive masoning (especially for a beginner like myself!) this alphabet was to be a smaller and more subtle affair. A simple v-cut border frames the very straightforward layout of my alphabet and lends a formality to it, I think.
Though there was a lot of revising and refining in the drawing of the alphabet, I felt the whole thing came together rather smoothly and organically. The research and concept of the alphabet really was baked in from the start, so the next challenge was translate what I had on a paper to the stone.
Normally, I would be tempted to scan my hand-drawn letters into my computer and tweak the spacing digitally before printing it out and pouncing it down on the stone. But as I really wanted to embrace an old-school aesthetic and process with this project (as well as maximize my learning potential), I chose to pounce the letters down from my original drawing and figure out all of the spacing by eye, one letter at a time. I wore through several pencil erasers and reserves of patience trying to get the spacing right, but I really was surprised how much easier it was to eye things up as a result of all of the letters I’ve drawn over the past year. It also really helped me LOOK at the spacing and flow of the letters on the stone in a very exact way.
I also chose to redraw everything using a traditional leaded pencil once I had pounced the drawing down. I usually use a 0.3 mechanical pencil, which tends to hold a consistent point much easier, so I did fight with the leaded pencil a bit. It required near-constant sharpening, and I couldn’t quite get the same detail and thinness of line I enjoy with a mechanical pencil, but it also lent a slightly warmer look to the finished drawing.
In a future post, I will outline the process of carving and shaping my alphabet stone, as well as the painting and gilding of it.