Eric Gill, the Master sculptor of letters — by Nicholas Fabian.
The Master sculptor of letters
Eric Gill, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Eric Gill was born February 22, 1882 in Brighton, England. He attended art school from an early age in Chichester and at seventeen, he began an apprenticeship with W. H. Caroë, who was an architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in Westminster. At Central School for Arts and Crafts, Gill attended lettering classes given by Edward Johnston and was greatly encouraged by W.R. Lethaby, the principal of the School. In a very short time he started to get commissions and from 1903 onward, he became a self-employed craftsman. Eric Gill sculpted, carved stone lettering, made signs, and designed and engraved lettering on boxwood for title pages of books. He became nationally famous for his sculpting works for the BBC on Broadcasting House in Portland Place and the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral.

Eric Gill began to design type for the printing trade only after a great deal of persuasion from Stanley Morison. By his own admission, typography was 'not his country' and he had no practical background or training in type design for printing. But, amongst his many other skills, Eric Gill was a superb lettering artist, and more than anyone else, he understood the difference. The first typeface, later to be named Perpetua, had a difficult five years of becoming a reality. Gill did the lettering for the font but wanted nothing to do with the problems of type design for machine production. Charles Malin, a punch-cutter was brought into the project, with Stanley Morison acting as an intermediary. This arms-length cooperation resulted in years of wrangling and design changes and Perpetua was finally released by Monotype in 1929. Eric Gill was 47 years old. As the years went by, he continued to design new typefaces for both private presses and large corporations but today, he is best known for Gill Sans and Perpetua.

Eric Gill wood engraving
One of Eric Gill's masterful wood engravings in the Four Gospels, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1931.

In 1931 both his Golden Cockerel Roman type and his boxwood engravings were used in the production of the Four Gospels, which became one of the great masterpieces of British printing. During the same year, he published his Essay on Typography using his own Hague & Gill Joanna type.

Eric Gill wood engraving 3
The integration of type and illustration into one coherent visual unit
is one of the great design achievement of Eric Gill.

Eric Gill had many other interests in life, including writing. His subject matter ranged from art, politics, sex, religion, clothes, typography, and the relationships between arts and crafts. He was a joyful and confident craftsman-artist who thrived on the experiences of the creative process. Eric Gill died on November 17, 1940. On his own gravestone he described himself as a stone carver. Most people in the field of typography will remember him for successfully combining his discipline as an engraver with his graceful lines as a master lettering artist. In visual design terms, Eric Gill brought a degree of humanity to the geometric machine age. In his best works, he achieved a very delicate balance between familiarity and uniqueness - and in type design, that is the Holy Grail.

Eric Gill wood engraving 2
Another magnificent wood engraving by Eric Gill in the Four Gospels, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1931.

Some of the typefaces Eric Gill designed are:

Gill Sans series 231 (1928), Perpetua (1929), Solus (1929), Gill Sans series 262 (1930), Golden Cockerel Roman (1930), Hague & Gill Joanna (1930-31), Monotype Joanna (cut 1938), (released 1958), Aries (1932), Gunard, later renamed Jubilee (1934-35), Bunyan (1934), Floriated Initials, series 431 (1936) for Monotype, Pilgrim, a Linotype version of Bunyan (1953).

His other display fonts are Gill Cameo, Gill Cameo Ruled, Gill Shadow Titling, Gill Shadow No. 1, and Gill Sans Shadow Line. In 1937 Eric Gill produced a Hebrew font with serifs for the Jerusalem Type Foundry, which was the first serifed Hebrew font ever.

Sans Ultra Bold
( Note: Gill's Sans Ultra Bold font contains two of the most unusual lower case "i" and "j" characters one expects to see in a professionally designed alphabet. The size of the dots over the two letters are certainly startling.)

P U B L I C N O T I C E !

An Eric Gill
Conference & Exhibitions
will be held in November 2000.

The event is organized by John F. Sherman,
Professor of Design at University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

Note: Several examples of Eric Gill's sculpture from the Gill Collection at the University of Texas will be included in the Notre Dame Show. Items from the Ranson Humanities Center include La Belle Sauvage, two examples of Alphabet in Stone, and Divine Lovers.

For more information contact:

Notre Dame, Indiana 46556 5639

219 631 7175 office

219 631 7602 department office
219 631 6312 department fax

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