Michael Harvey’s Teaching Notebooks 1983–1995, part 6

Michael began teaching in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading in the “early ‘nineties’” he says in Adventures with Letters. The finding aid for the Michael Harvey Papers at the University of Reading indicates that he began his Letterforms course in 1993. He retired from teaching in 2002. The teaching notesbooks for the Reading class only cover the years 1993–1995. Some of these pages are reproduced in Adventures with Letters (see pp. 176–179).

READING 1993 : Letterforms
The course was initially called Lettering Design.

Reading 1993#1

Comparing Imperial Roman capitals to Medieval Versals was a new tack for Michael. The former were written with a brush while the latter were drawn with a broad-edged pen. The strokes on the right-hand page, most likely copied from Father Catich’s The Origin of the Serif, are intended for the demonstration of the method of making the Imperial Roman capitals.

Reading 1993#2

Reading 1993#3

Reading 1993#4

It is interesting that Michael sketched, built up and outlined calligraphic letters rather than using a chisel-edge fiber tipped pen or a fountain pen. The resulting forms deviate substantially at times from the historical models (e.g. Rustic). Another oddity is that Michael has left out both Bâtarde and Fraktur forms of blackletter but included Schwabacher, which is strictly typographic.

This first Reading course was organized in five blocks of three days each, two in the fall of 1993 and three in the spring of 1994. The first block was focused on calligraphy; the second on engraving, both of metal punches and of lettering into copper plates.

Reading 1993#5

Reading 1993#6

“Demonstrate the changes in serif design that the refinement of type produced, and show the development of modern face styles [neoclassical typefaces] with the proportional changes in some letters, e.g. E, B. The hairline needs a large serif to give visual weight.”

Reading 1993#7

READING 1994 : Letterforms
The third block was devoted to carving letters in stone.

Reading 1993#8

Reading 1993#9

Reading 1993#10

Reading 1993#11Michael’s teaching of carved letters was not restricted to the classical v-cut Roman capital but extended to more modern forms of letters as well as flat and curved sections and even letters in relief. That can be seen at the bottom of the right-hand page. Below is an example of Michael’s contemporary lettering carved in relief.


The subject of the fourth block was stencil lettering, one of Michael’s favorite topics and one that I doubt was being taught at any other design school.

Reading 1994#1The fifth block was not about a particular tool or technique. Instead it was about the optical adjustments that all letters require, regardless of how they are made; the effect of changes in size on letters; and methods of creating new letters by varying proportions of weight and width.

Reading 1994#2

Reading 1994#3

Reading 1994#4