Michael Harvey’s Teaching Notes 1983–1995, part 8B
READING 1995–1999 : Letterforms
This continuation of Michael’s notes for his Reading Letterforms course focuses on the segment devoted to drawn letters. The ﬁrst of these pages is dated 1996 which suggests that this is the spring half of the class that began in the fall of 1995. Two are dated 1998 and 1999 respectively.
“Drawing is all about line, in lettering outline. Shapes are deﬁned by drawn outlines. Solid forms are ﬁlled in with ink applied by brush. The pencil or technical pen moves wherever the hand directs it. There’s no resistance, unlike in engraving. The draughtsman uses drawing aids: compasses, set square & tee square, french curves, ruler etc, mechanical drawing aids that encourage precision. Letters drawn with these aids are planned letters. Guidelines, horizontal and vertical, precede the letter’s construction. Curves will be made with the help of compass and french curves, straight sides with ruler, set square & tee-square. Sanserifs [sic] are usually drawn in this way: they are natural products of the drawing board.”
Through his early training at Drawing & Tracing, an architectural drafting ﬁrm, Michael was wholly familiar with this kind of mechanical drawing. And although he taught its methods, it was not what he preferred to do. As will be seen further on, he contrasted it with freehand drawing which eschewed most of these tools in favor of just the hand, a marking tool (pencil, ﬁber-tip pen, etc.) and paper.
“Drawing with the aid of instruments, mechanical drawing, does not affect the shapes of letters. Precision, consistency are the hallmarks of mechanical drawing, whose danger may be a deadening of the letters’ appearance, of it instruments are relied upon too much, a degradation of the form. Mechanical drawing reproduces existing form: it doesn’t change or re-make form.“
“In freehand drawing, if the hand’s flexibility is utilised [sic], the shape of the letter can be subtley [sic] changed, giving the form a drawn character. Because individual hands differ, as do individual perceptions of form, letters made by drawing freehand may acquire an individuality….”
This 1998 addition to the notes is focused on the Romain du Roi, the typeface that broke entirely free from the influence of the broad-edged pen and the graver. I am not sure where Michael intended to slot it within the course. Despite its heading, in the folder it was placed with notes about type design. Perhaps he saw it as a transitional topic that bridged the drawing segment of the course and the type design segment.
I am not sure why Michael made these notes since there is nothing conceptually new here. Perhaps there was a change in the frequency and length of time of the class sessions. Despite the heading, the notes are about type design as much as about drawn letters. At the bottom there is a note that Robin Nicholas, the type designer at Monotype, was going to be a guest speaker.