I need to make it clear up front that I am a child of the 80s. And when I was a child in the 80s, I had a copy of The Lettering Book. Do you remember that thing? It was magnificent. Full of different lettering styles that you could practice and copy. I remember in about Grade 3 making the most of my talent as I worked away at my Country Club project, where we were to outline facts and things about a different country each week filling a double page spread in an exercise book. Oh my, how my headings would sing!
In early high school I became obsessed with calligraphy. I had a lovely calligraphy pen set and each week during one term in grade 8, my chosen “sport” was Calligraphy Classes. While most of my mates would be off on a bus to play netball against a neighbouring school – I would head to the art room and practice my calligraphy with a few other lettering nerds. In grade 9 and 10 I took Technical Drawing as an elective, and I remember my perfectionist streak shining through in those early weeks where our teacher made us fill pages with the alphabet in majascules.
In 2019, as part of the Annual VisConf conference held here in Melbourne, I spent two glorious days with the amazing Heather Martinez from the US. Heather is queen of lettering, and her work is sublime. We filled walls of paper with our letters, we looked at shape and form, it was revelatory. At the start of the first day she asked us what our favourite letter was. Mine is S. Not so much as a font when I type it here, but nailing a beautiful S in the middle of a graphic recording can sometimes take my breath away if I let it. The sweep of the initial curved spine, that change of direction again and again… ahhhh.
I also love how lettering can make you FEEL. In a graphic recording using different lettering styles can make some ideas sing, while others fade into the background. Keeping the rapid capture of ideas clean and neat can make things accessible, while making important facts leap from the page with weight and colour can really make a story come to life.
and it turns out I’ve been training for this sport since 1983.