Adding the text

One of the most hated rules at the art school I attended was that first-year commercial art students had to hand letter all their assignments. It was thought that by doing this, students would gain a better appreciation for fonts. In actual practice all it seemed to do was make assignments take twice as long as they should have. This was the early 1980s, so granted the available technology (press-on letters!) wasn’t much better.

At the time I was really grateful that I had grown up around hand-lettering. My grandfather was a sign painter, and my father learned from him. I remember watching my father letter mailboxes as a child. One of the tricks he used was to draw out his letters on a sheet of butcher paper. He could adjust his spacing and his lines all he wanted, and when the drawing was done he would use a run a pounce wheel around the outlines. He would then lay his pounced pattern over whatever he was going to letter, and dust it with colored chalk. This would leave a dotted outline of his lettering that he could use as a guideline for painting.

To transfer the text to my background, I would use a variation on this idea. Even the smallest pounce wheel wasn’t going to work for such small letters, so I had to use a pin to manually punch the holes. My pattern (above) was a standard font (“Spiral Initials”) that I had edited in a vector program. Even with the edited version, I knew I was going to adjust the letters somewhat for my design, but I decided not to spend the time doing that on the computer when it was likely I’d be making a lot of adjustments in the clay anyway. If there is one truth to sculpting letters in clay, it’s that the process is not very precise!

All I really needed was a guideline for the general shape and spacing of the letters. Once I had that, I was pretty sure I could wing it with the clay. Here was what I had to work with after the pouncing. (I’ll explain that blue guideline under the text in a future post, since it’s going away for a little while.)

I waffled back and forth for a while, trying to decide if the letters would be cut into the background (making them dark) or raised up from it (making them lighter). Cutting letters in is a fair bit easier, but I thought the design worked better with them light so that meant cutting away the background. Here I’ve started on the “P I R”. I’ve placed the horse on to background for a moment so I can check the depth against the horse. Once the piece is cast in earthenware and colored with art glaze, the depth of any particular area translates into darkness of color. I don’t want to carve so deeply that the background is as dark as the outline around the horse.

In this picture, I am almost finished with the letters. To keep the edges of the letters crisp and the faces uniformly level, I freeze the clay and work while it is still cold. That’s why the piece looks wet. (The water works as a pretty good lubricant for the sculpting tools.) I can only work for a little while before the clay becomes too soft and I have to return it to the freezer.

That’s another good reason for working the background separate from the horse. From this point forward, I’ll be alternating my work between the two. When whichever I am working on thaws, I put it back and retrieve the other from the freezer.

So tomorrow I’ll move on to the horse. Obviously he needs some work – not to mention a throatlatch – before I can be completely sure how he will fit in with the background.

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4 Responses to Adding the text

  1. Sonya Johnson November 16, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    Lesli, this is looking fantastic! The lettering looks wonderful, and I can’t wait to see it with the rest of the noveau design put in.

  2. ~Jenn Danza~ November 17, 2009 at 5:14 am #

    arg….hand lettered assignments…, you just brought back some memories! That freshman year was fairly unpleasant because of hand lettering. The plaque looks fantastic to far! 🙂

  3. mel November 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    Gad, how complex! I too struggled with hand lettering, because I am just not tidy. I admire what you are doing and thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Becky Turner November 21, 2009 at 6:30 pm #

    Im late to reading this but I love it! I haven’t tried doing any letting in clay yet but Id love to try it! Its interesting to see how you go about doing it too.. see Id have probably cut out the clay with the tracing paper printed with the letters on top… and done it similar to how you have done it but id have cut it out and placed it on the background like you did the horse.. I know too much work.. so its nice to see how you went about it.. Love the design… oh and yes.. hand letting.. when I was in school to get my design degree I had to do a kind of multi page report but in a Celtic design and letting… lol so here I was hand letting like the illumintated manuscripts and had 2 pages done when the darn teachers said..oh no.. you have to draw the letters in Illustrator and do it on the computer! ARGGG… I did it.. thank god I found a font ( but with crappy kerning) but then he I still made me hand to draw each letter in the alphabet in illustrator! and then had to do a few of the big illuminated type lettering you see on each page.. with all the designs all over them.. .. I think I still have it..I thank god got an A on that project…lol….. I took calligraphy too so.. yea I know about all that too.. I liked it at first but after doing a few pieces and when I was done finding I spelled a letter wrong by switching letters… ( I have done that alot) and had to start all over again from scratch! ARGGG! I had, had…
    Rebecca Turner

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