This week up in London, while helicopters buzzed overhead to guard the christening of George, I went to a couple of letter arts and calligraphy shows to get inspiration. One was at St Bride Library, showing the work of the South London Lettering Association, and the other was at Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road, displaying the work of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society.
Both shows were of really high quality with a wide diversity of lettering interpretations and techniques used. Items ranged from classic poems to mushroom prints, from contemporary re-workings of the Lindisfarne Gospel to decorated pebbles.
Despite the fact that most of the letter art and calligraphy work takes a huge amount of skill and rehearsal to make, my take away was ideas for kids (even very grown up ones!) to engage in letter arts. With Christmas and a whole host of other festivals of many denominations now is a great time to consider making some decorative letterforms. So here they are:
Clean and dry some pebbles. This will work best on smooth ones. Using acrylic paint and a fine brush decorate each pebble with a letter. Metallic felt pens will also work well. You can gather enough pebbles to make your own or someone else’s name and give these as a gift. Present them nicely in a dish as in the photo. Or you can adapt this to create the name of the festival, or if the pebbles are big enough, you can write small phrases on each one, such as lines from Christmas carols or festival greetings. Or if you have enough pebbles you can create a game where your family can re-arrange them each morning to make a new word!
You will find this activity works better if you first of all do some fact-finding about type styles and practice on paper first. You could find a suitable typeface on your computer and print out your letters or phrases and then copy these to get the letter shapes right.
For these hanging letters you can compile them to make your name, the name of someone else as a gift, or a seasonal greeting. In the show of the South London Lettering Association there were both clay-based hanging letters and paper-based ones. Make a hanging string or pennant of several letters. Each section will have one letter and you can suspend them together with coloured twine or ribbon. Remember to make holes in your clay before it dries.
The clay pennants can have letters scratched into them while still wet and malleable, or you can try to embed beads or other items into the grooves, but you might need to do this when the clay has dried out using glue to help them stick in place. Coloured paints and metallic ones too will give a festive look to the letters.
Paper pennants can be made from coloured card or thick paper or even fabric glued to card. Then cut out your letter forms from more coloured or metallic card or fabric. You can get a trendy “designer” look by cutting letterforms from magazine or newspaper print or wallpaper samples.
Again, this will work best if you have searched for letter shapes that you like or that seem appropriate and have rehearsed a little by drawing them out first. You can make a stencil out of card to help you form your letters when you scratch in clay.
Exploring the shape and uses of letters is a great way to get interested in graphic design because typography is one of the basic elements of the discipline. If you would like to take this activity further The Graphic Design Project has several typographic projects that may interest you, starting with looking at type all around, moving to making a seasons greetings typographic card and laying out the words of favourite poem or lyric. Click links to go direct to the project descriptions.
More images from the SLLA show at St Brides below.