A Research Centre for Calligraphy

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Pen to Printer 2004

The Edward Johnston Foundation’s Fourth Ditchling Annual International Seminar took place over the weekend of 4/5/6 June 2004. Our international speakers this year were the distinguished type designer Matthew Carter from the USA and the lettercarver Wolfgang Jakob from Germany, son of Sepp Jakob author of the definitive Schrift und Symbol. John Miles of Banks and Miles talked about the partnership’s corporate identity programme for the Royal Mail, Ieuan Rees demonstrated and discussed large-scale calligraphy and Brian Keeble lectured on the vision of WR Lethaby. The seminar ended with Philip Moore’s talk ‘Who’d be a Printer?’




The Fourth Edward Johnston Foundation Ditchling International Seminar


Delegates from as far afield as America, Norway, Ireland and Belgium converged on the historic village of Ditchling for Pen to Printer the fourth annual international seminar over the weekend of 6th to 8th June of this year. An informal talk on the Friday evening by local author and illustrator John Vernon Lord provided a lighthearted start, followed by a fish and chip supper at The Bull Inn, giving us all a chance to renew friendships and welcome new faces.

Over the next two days a series of lectures took place in the comfortable village hall, with an opportunity in the breaks to have a go at lettercarving under the watchful eye of John Neilson. Lectures ranged from Brian Keeble’s philosophical look back to Eric Gill and Edward Johnston’s mentor WR Lethaby to Matthew Carter’s cutting-edge work for the Microsoft Corporation and the problems peculiar to computer screen fonts. A pivotal balance was struck by the all-embracing practice and character of Ieuan Rees, whose large-scale blackboard calligraphy recalled Johnston’s famous demonstrations at Lethaby’s Central School of Arts and Crafts. From Germany, lettercarver Wolfgang Jakob’s slides revealed a passion for stone, and a way of working in stark contrast to the linear draughtsmanship of many British lettercutters or the more directly pen-informed letters cut by Rees. Instead of imposing an incised letter onto a honed surface, Jakob uses all the stone surfaces to emphasise the qualities of the material (interestingly close in thinking to Gill’s direct carving message, yet how different the outcome). Jakob’s work highlighted how, in our British lettercutting tradition, the focus on detail too often blinds us to the whole stone in its surroundings. John Miles talked modestly about his work with Colin Banks for the Royal Mail over thirty years ago. Seeing slides of Miles’s early drawings for the Post Office’s distinctive corporate image, I realised that Gill’s and Johnston’s sans faces would have been conceived in the same way: all three alphabets were initially used for signs and are still in use in some form today. Enduring typefaces undergo subtle alteration as print technologies change. Philip Moore, a printer for forty years, gave us a humorous overview of the printing trade, with a glimpse at the fully automated, de-skilled printing works of the future.

A visit to the late John Skelton’s workshop under the guidance of his daughter Helen Mary provided an interlude, as did the buffet supper at the Old Meeting House, with a wonderful and relaxing guitar recital by Rebecca Baulch. By Sunday afternoon typographers, calligraphers, printers and lettercutters were freely exchanging views, techniques and experiences. This fruitful seminar was a credit to Gerald Fleuss, Patricia Gidney and the other organisers and helpers.

The historical context of the EJF and its seminars is important. Brian Keeble’s talk reminded me of the spiritual vision in Gill and Johnston’s Ditchling. What is our vision now? Looking at Johnston’s headstone in Ditchling churchyard before leaving, I was reminded that he died in the same year as the D-Day landings, which were being commemorated the same weekend. So much has changed in the past sixty years. Will the world and the lettering arts see such rapid change again?


Reproduced by courtesy of Letter Exchange from the September 2004 issue of Forum magazine.


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Congratulations on the best Seminar yet! JVN