Michael Harvey’s Teaching Notebooks 1983–1995, part 3

Michael made a teaching trip to Canada in 1988, visiting calligraphy groups in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa: the Toronto Calligraphy Guild, La Société des Calligraphes de Montréal and the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa. He taught several different workshops instead of repeating one as he had on his 1984 West Coast trip.

TORONTO 1988  : The Art of Drawing Letters and Lettering for Publicity

Toronto 1988

Item 3—“Demonstration of freehand drawing technique”—is illustrated on the right-hand page where Michael is building up a letter in stages: 1. sketch—not outline—the skeletal letter to obtain the proper thick/thin relationship of strokes; 2. sketch in the serifs; 3. fill in and refine the letter.

Toronto 1988#1

Toronto 1988#2

MONTREAL 1988 : Drawing Away from Calligraphy
Michael was constantly trying to convince calligraphers that other ways to make letters besides relying on broad-edged tools.

Montreal 1988

Compare this chart of the evolution of the letter E (top, left-hand page) with the one from his Exeter 1986 notes. The E group in the middle has a sketched outline letter along with one built up from the inside. The stencil A at the bottom comes from a piece that Michael designed in 1986 for a 1987 group exhibition of calligraphy and illustration that I organized at the Donnell Library Center (New York Public Library branch) on East 53rd Street.

The A and the Z were designed by assembling pieces of torn paper while the lowercase alphabet was drawn using Michael’s built-up method. Both are stencil letters, a subject that fascinated Michael throughout his life.

A to Z torn paper lores

Montreal 1988#2

Step 5 on the left-hand page includes a reference to the same “cut-paper” technique as in the A-Z alphabet.

Montreal 1988#3

The reference on the left-hand page to the design of “Saint John’s Chorus” may explain two undated and unlabeled notebook spreads that Michael provided.

St John's Chorus#1

St John's Chorus#2

This last page is one of the rare instances where Michael roughed out one of his ideas in pencil before sketching it in with a fiber tip pen.

Montreal 1988#4

“FORM { General facts about letters: / 1) Line; 2) Form; 3) Convention / 4) Geometry; 5) Space.”

“WORDS { General facts about lettering: / 1) Spacing; 2) Legibility; 3) Pattern; / 4) Rhythm; 5) Expression.”

Michael is making a distinction between the design of letters and design with letters. Although he taught students many techniques for making letters—drawing, stencilling, cutting, carving, etc,—his workshops were always focused on the use of letters whether to form a monogram or as part of a book jacket. Making letters for their own sake was not his aim.

OTTAWA 1988 : Exploring Letterforms

Ottawa 1988#1

Despite the change of workshop title, the content is often the same. Having students draw the letters E T V O B is a constantly recurring idea of Michael’s. These letters represent the basic formal groups within the alphabet: letters with horizontal and vertical strokes (E T), letters with diagonal with diagonal strokes (V), letters with curves (O), and letters with curves and straight strokes (B). I am not entirely sure why Michael wanted students to draw both E and T: possibly because of their differing negative spaces.

Ottawa 1988#2

WASHINGTON, DC 1988 : Letterforum : Fine Lettering and Designing Monograms & Logotypes and Calligraphy into Lettering
For the 8th annual calligraphy conference, held in 1988 in Washington, DC, Michael taught three workshops. The notebook pages for both are unusual in that they include pasted-in material such as the description and supply list for each workshop. In the description Michael asks, “What make a piece of lettering worthy of the description ‘fine’? Is it the finish, the perfection of the letterforms, the spacing, the handling of details such as serifs, its expressive power?” His answer is that a “fine” piece of lettering must “thrill” the maker and the onlooker.

Michael was never interested in highly polished lettering. He enjoyed lettering that had rough edges and imperfections as long as it had life to it. We shared an interest in photographing vernacular lettering in the various cities we met in over the years, from his hometown of Bridport to the sites of ATypI conferences.

Letterforms Washington 1988

The students in the Fine Lettering workshop are listed on the left-hand page. The right-hand page has an outline of the contents of the workshop:

1) Form / Line
Conformity · Line Quality
2) Serifs / Flourishes
Consistency of Treatment · Naturalness
3) Junctions
Articulation · Strength · Refinement
4) Pattern / Texture
Open/Dense · Bold/Light · Static/Lively
5) Spacing / Margins
Balance · Rhythm · Position
6) Material / Technique / Finish
Suitability · Perfection
7) Legibility / Context
Size · Distance · Situation
8) Language / Communication
Articulation of Words · Priorities
9) History / Culture
Style · Pastiche · Cliché
10) Expression
Emotion · Communication
11) Purpose
What? Who? Why? Does it work?

This is Michael’s most complete articulation of the many elements that come into play in a piece of lettering. His life of eleven points covers form, function, content and context. The following two notebook spreads contain mnemonic illustrations for each of the points. Michael’s answers to his questions in No. 11 are: “Client · Need · Self-Expression · Choice of Text · Cost · Time · Freedom · Form · Follows · Function”.

Letterforum Washington 1988#2

Letterforum Washington 1988#3

Michael described the workshop on Monograms & Logotypes as an opportunity for calligraphers to both widen their graphic skills and to extend their lettering skills beyond writing with the broad-edged pen. It was an opportunity to see “how a professional designer works with letterforms, using space and color to conjure up original and effective designs.”

Letterforum Washington 1988#5

Among the students listed on the left-hand page are Calvert Guthrie, a lettering artist at Hallmark Cards, and Alan Blackman, the designer of Galahad (Adobe, 1995). The pasted-on “Gaade” refers to Gaade Uitgevers, a Dutch publisher for whom Michael designed book jackets. The MH monogram on the right-hand page is copied from one he used on his stationary in the 1980s.

Letterforum Washington 1988#6


The third workshop Calligraphy into Lettering

Letterforum Washington 1988#7


In the first exercise Michael tells the students to “Write the word [Paperchase]… with two pencils taped together.” This was a method pioneered by Edward Johnston for budding calligraphers to understand how the broad-edged pen used movement through space to create its distinctive thick/thin letters.

Letterforum Washington 1988#8


Letterforum Washington 1988#9


Letterforum Washington 1988#10

Michael’s interest in stencil letters, including those made from torn paper, are here in the 6th and 7th exercises.