Michael Harvey’s Teaching Notebooks 1983–1995, part 4

BELGIUM 1989 : Written & Drawn Italic

Belgium 1989#2

This workshop was a new topic for Michael in a new venue: Belgium. “22+ students. Most English-speaking. Expecting to learn something particular from me,” he wrote, “ so it must be drawing and design. My English background could be a help or a hindrance. We’ll see!” Since Michael was not a calligrapher, italic was not a typical subject for him.

Belgium 1989#4

That Michael had some difficulty with this workshop is evident in these notes: “How to select categories? Contemporary drawn letters only? Show ‘normal’ letters and the flattened, compressed, extended, fluid variations? Too much like ‘Creative Lettering’ & ‘Lettering Design.’” Clearly he wanted to make this workshop different from others that he had done previously.

EXETER 1989 : Lettering at Exeter

Lettering in Exeter 1989#1

“Drawing letters requires a good sense of form. The line made by a pointed pen lacks weight. It has two sides which determine both the letter’s form and its background.”

At the bottom Michael is slowly building up a B from the outside in, focusing on the negative space in and around the letter.

SAN FRANCISCO 1989 : Experiment : Letterforms Unlimited / Discover Yourself Drawing
This week-long workshop, part of the 9th annual calligraphy conference entitled Experiment, was conducted jointly by Michael and Heather Mallett, a Canadian illustrator. (The cube is a logo combining their palindromic initials.) It was a class that allowed Michael to explore his experimental side, to break free from the legacy of Eric Gill.

Letterforms Unlimited#1

Letterforms Unlimited#2

These are nonsense words. They are simply exercises in combining letters based on their shapes.

Letterforms Unlimited#3

NUS are letters based on the work of Alfred Roller, a member of the Vienna Secession.

Letterforms Unlimited#4

Letterforms Unlimited#6

Letterforms Unlimited#7

“Explore the possibilities of altering letter proportions and relationships by drawing a single character, then adding first one side then the other two other letters, making changes to improve the fit between the characters. Repeat with two more letters to make an abstract five letter logotype.”

Letterforms Unlimited#8

“ARCHITECTURE A formal challenge / 1) Geometric letters fitting into fixed shapes—rectangles, semi-circles, etc.… / 2) Explore the illusion of depth and planes at angles by shading.…”

Letterforms Unlimited#9

Letterforms Unlimited#10

On this page, Michael’s string of lowercase es is a big change from those in previous workshop notes. Instead of exemplifying the differences among calligraphic, drawn and typographic letters, they show the malleable possibilities inherent in drawn letterforms: flowing, stretched, smooth, angular, compressed, round, spiky, extended, elegant, soft, squarish.

The pasted-on BAS at the bottom is from a piece Michael designed in tribute to Count Basie. The letters, which he based on ones found in A History of Lettering by Nicolete Gray, were the inspiration for his Studz typeface (Adobe, 1993).

Letterforms Unlimited#11

“MUSIC & WORDS Expressive investigations… / 1) Take the name of a particular musician or piece of music and devise a letterform and word-pattern that gives it visual expression. Exploit the qualities of drawn line and texture….”

The note at the bottom about a book signing refers to Michael’s trio of lettering books he wrote for Bodley Head between 1985 and 1988: Creative Lettering, Drawing and Design; Carving Letters in Stone and Wood; and Calligraphy in the Graphic Arts.

Letterforms Unlimited#12

Letterforms Unlimited#13

Letterforms Unlimited#14

At the bottom of this page is a quotation from Lord Alfred Douglas (1870–1945): “To fight with forms, to wrestle and to rage / Till at the last upon the conquered page / The shadows of created beauty fall.” Douglas was referring to the words that make up poetry, but Michael is reinterpreting his text to refer to letters.

Letterforms Unlimited#15

This page is one of Michael’s fullest expressions of his philosophy of lettering:

Lettering is full of possibilities; decorative, expressive etc. only limited by the varying requirements of legibility in which familiarity is a strong factor.
• The predominance of the typographic letter since the 16th century, and the general use of a fairly narrow range of letterforms together with the fact that what interests one culture does not interest a later one, means that over the period in which the alphabet has served civilization many forms, once favoured have been forgotten.
• Each individual artist working at lettering brings a unique talent and way of handling and seeing line and form. This is true even when that artist is content to work in a very conventional way.
• A culture of letters exists, as does a culture of music or, say, architecture, within which are many subcultures. A culture has a past. The past can be an inspiration as well as a burden. The individual artist  who works within, or with, material from a culture must decide how to deal with it. Initially the past may seem oppressive, but with growing confidence in his developing mastery it can become an inspiration.
• So on the one hand there is the artist, brand-new, wanting to make his individual mark which says, ‘I am here!’ and on the other the existing culture of forms, forgotten forms and practices. It is when this artist gets to grips with this culture that new possibilities open up, and the culture is re-vitalised [sic], extended.

Michael was a pluralist when it came to lettering, not an idealist. He—and I—both reveled in the many forms of letters that have been created by artists and craftsmen over the millennia of Western civilization. We both found inspiration in the works and words of Nicolete Gray. I believe this text was preparation for a talk Michael gave at Experiment.

Letterforms Unlimited#17

Letterforms Unlimited#18

Letterforms Unlimited#19

The letterforms on the three pages immediately above, sketched from Petzendorfer, are all derived from alphabets and designs associated with the Vienna Secession movement from the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. It was one of the moments in Western civilization when experimentation with letterforms was at its most fertile.

Lewis F. Day (1845–1910) was an English decorative artist and prolific author of books about design, decoration and lettering. His Alphabets Old & New (1898) was a very influential book. It was still being reprinted into the 1970s.

EXETER 1990 : Calligraphy, Lettering & Graphic Design

Exeter 1990#1

Exeter 1990#2Michael was an avid jazz fan. Among the musicians he liked a lot was Stan Getz. Stan Getz Gold was a 1978 album.