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:
Their design not only had ink reservoirs below and above the shaft of the pen point to allow less frequent filling, the shaped points in graded sizes brought a new level of precision and predictability to the craft.
George began producing his how-to pamphlets in 1915 for the company as well, and they were so popular that new editions emerged every few years, and new printings happened more than once a year. They’re still being produced, the most recent edition is the 23rd. George continued to work on them until his death in 1959, the 18th edition being the last he was involved with.
I’ve used Speedball points almost exclusively for dip-pen lettering since I began doing it as a child, though much of my comics lettering was created with technical drawing pens instead, and of course I now do nearly everything on my computer, but often using fonts created from my hand-lettering, some with Speedball points. I thought I’d print a few pages at a time in this series of blog posts, with my comments.
The style of the 1941 edition leans heavily toward Art Deco, which should be no surprise, it was still the dominant style at the time. The title style here is shown later in the book, it’s one of George’s most memorable designs. Notice how, in the all-caps text he’s making each line the same width by changing the widths of the letters and the spaces between them. Typesetting can easily do the latter, but not the former. A computer design program can approximate the horizontal expansion of letters, but not without distorting the line weights. Note that this edition is copyrighted by Ross F. George himself, I’m assuming the Hunt company has taken that over, but I could be wrong.
These methods of holding a lettering pen and brush work very well if you’re right-handed. I’m not, so my pen holding technique looked a little different. I compensated by working right to left whenever possible. It’s often possible in comics where you have areas of lettering spotted around a page. There were countless times when I put my hand in wet ink anyway. I never tried lettering with a wedge-tipped brush as shown here. Most comics lettering is too small for brush work. For real sign painting, it’s a must. The advice, “Sit erect and do not lean on the pen” is spot on.
Two halves of a spread. These block letters are okay, but I see elements I would handle differently. Too many to go into here.
On page 4, George finally gives us his sales pitch for lettering itself, his Speedball tools, and this book. It’s well-written and a good read. At the time, “sho-card” lettering was everywhere: supermarkets used it for price cards, theaters for movie listings in lobby windows, stores for product in their windows. Magazine and newspaper ads were full of it. Hand-lettering in artful but clear and readable style was a craft that became a good career for many artists, hence the popularity of this book. Of the advice, one thing I found most interesting was George’s formula for a solution to thin poster paint to make it flow well through a pen, used a few drops at a time. The formula: water, nine ounces; alcohol, one ounce; gum mucilage, one ounce; and a few drops of glycerine. Clearly the man was as clever a chemist as he was an artist!
Here George begins actual basic instruction, breaking down different styles of lettering into sample strokes. The title is playfully bouncy, as if to say, “have fun.” This would be a great place to start learning how to handle the different pen types. In comics, I rarely had any use for the A or D styles, but once in a while I’d give them a try.
More next time.
Other parts of this series can be found in the LETTERING/FONTS category of my blog, along with more articles on that subject.