Category Archives: How To



Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Co.

Previous parts of this series can be found in the “Lettering/Fonts” category on the right sidebar of this blog.

As I’ve said previously, author/artist Ross F. George is wildly inconsistent with his style names, and this one is a doozy. It imitates the carved-in-stone letters on Trajan’s Column in Rome from about 100 AD, and is as classically Roman as you can get, but George calls it “Gothic with a touch of Roman.” Name aside, it’s a fine example of the style and how to shade it for pen and ink, although by putting the blacks toward the bottom (as he has on the bottom half) it seems to make the letters seem raised rather than cut in. Perhaps that’s the idea. I also love the playful glow centered on his artist symbol.


By Gothic, George means sans-serif. These are open block letters with drop shadows that have the same kind of shading and edge lines often seen in comics at least since Joe Shuster’s original SUPERMAN logos on the first few issues of that title, and of course Ira Schnapp’s version, which is very similar to the word VIRGIN above. It was a common style at the time, I believe, but it would be interesting to know if Schnapp and George looked at each other’s work.


There’s a lot going on in this style: art deco, stylized white bricks, white circles, white spatter shading. It’s still pretty easy to read despite all those distractions, even the smallest letters. One of George’s best creations, but not something he could have used often, I think.


An example of slab serif block letters, the kind often used on team shirts. Not very gracefully done in some areas to my eyes.


Now this one is pure fun and full of life and movement, a delight. It reminds me of of comic strips and cartoons where things are likely to explode at any moment. I like the way the exploding bits are both black and white, extending them into the letters.


Another one I love, it’s all about texture and horizontal movement akin to speed lines, but part of the letters. A great example of how texture can add interest to the simplest forms. Love the extra thick letters, too.


I don’t care much for this style, though I do like the style of the titles at top and bottom. The latter IS an example of speed lines. The main alphabet lacks grace, and the shadows don’t help any.


Here’s the rest of the alphabet and some variations. Still don’t like it. They can’t all be winners, I guess.

To be continued.



Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Co.

“Sho Card” lettering is a term rarely heard these days, and the actual thing is rarely seen. It was once the common technique for making signs on paper of all kinds, and clearly Ross F. George was a master of it. By “gothic” he means sans-serif, and these letters are beautifully made. He’s used a dry brush to show the strokes very clearly, as well as his usual white arrows. I never tried this, it was already becoming a lost art when I got into comics in the 1970s, replaced by photographic type and photocopying mostly. He mentions his tool is a “sho-card brush.” I never saw one specifically named that.


The lower case is equally  attractive, I love the old-style G. Numbers and currency symbols are included, one of the form’s most common uses was for prices in stores. Love the angled square atop the I and J too. You see that small insect-like glyph between the P and Q? That’s George’s signature symbol. The fact that it’s so small gives us a rough idea of how large the original lettering must have been throughout the book, probably at least twice the printed size, if not more.


Here’s the sho-card version of the ancient Roman letters from Trajan’s column of antiquity. George calls the style “spurred gothic,” a term I’ve never heard, and I suspect one he made up. The small pointed serifs on the stroke ends originally made carved letters more readable. They’re an attractive feature of many type styles to this day.


On the left, we see an alphabet made with straight lines and circles mostly. George indicates the circles are pencilled with a compass, and the letters are outlined in ink with a small pen point, then filled in, or you can make them with a very large B point. The style on the right he calls “line gothic,” I would call it an inline style for the inner lines running through it. Those add interest and give the thick strokes some extra style.


Another inline style George calls simply “modern.” In 1941 it was, though we recognize it now as Art Deco. A little hard to read in places, not a style you could use a lot of, I think.


The style on the left carries the inline idea into new territory, and this alphabet is one of my favorites in the book. What life and movement it has, what personality! Very organic, yet all those sharp corners make it strong and emphatic too. The one on the right doesn’t appeal to me much, it’s going even further with inlines, sacrificing readability for design.


This is the first style we’ve seen with a date, 1938. There were many editions of this book, and I don’t know how often George replaced older designs with new ones. A very condensed sans-serif font, meaning narrow letters, a good way to get a lot of them in a small area. By “cut-in,” George means the letter forms are open, white, implied by the black areas around them. The same effect could be achieved by making a negative photostat of black letters, but in this case he’s done it the hard way, except for the bottom line, with the gray areas added to show where the letters might open at the tops and bottoms.


For contrast, here’s a very wide style with tiny serifs, just enough to give the corners a crisp look. Very handsome. In a few places, George shows his construction method of outlining the edges and filling with black. I often did my large letters the same way in comics, though I generally left the inner areas open for a color to be added.

To be continued. Earlier parts of this series can be found under the “Lettering/Fonts” category on the right side of this page.




Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Co.

Continuing my examination of this 1941 edition of the very popular guide to hand lettering. This page shows suggested alphabets for architects and draftstmen. I haven’t seen any architectural plans from the period, so I can’t say if this came into use. Plans from the 1960s I’ve seen used a simpler and more angular lettering style. Continue reading



Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Company.

The division of lettering (and type) into groups or classes is a tricky business, and one with lots of confusion, as there are many conflicting systems and names. I find George’s three basic groups unhelpful. What he calls Gothic are all letterforms with strokes of equal width. To me, Gothic suggests the kind of letterforms he calls Text, which I would classify as Blackletter. He claims Roman as the name for all styles with thick and thin line weights, but his category right below that has them too. Yes, traditional Roman styles like Trajan have thick and thin weights and serifs, but so do many other styles. What he calls Text, as I said, is what I call Blackletter, coming from the medieval manuscripts of Germany and other European countries. I do like his examples of how different serifs change the appearance of letters. In type, the most common basic division between letter forms is Serif and Sans-Serif. Beyond that, you can tease out subcategories like Slab Serif, and styles like Art Deco, but it’s all rather subjective and unscientific, and many styles cross boundaries. Continue reading



Images © Hunt Manufacturing Company.

My friend Dave Hunt recently gave me this edition of the perennial lettering how-to booklet, the “Speedball Text Book,” 14th edition of 1941, by Ross F. George. George was a talented sign painter, inventor and type designer, a student of William Hugh Gordon. In 1913 George and Gordon were asked to design a new system of lettering pens for the Hunt Pen Company, and they produced their innovative Speedball designs in four main styles, as seen here: Continue reading