Tag Archives: training

Signing Off


Entrance to Osborne Signs, where the workshop took place.

Outside the realms of the established typographic community are a handful of signwriters who ply their trade creating bespoke lettering in the physical environment. These are craftspeople who do not need to over-theorise their work, but just create beautiful hand painted signs that are fit for purpose.

Handmade lettering has been experiencing somewhat of a revival recently and a good number of us from Dalton Maag were keen to get our hands dirty. Departing at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning from Waterloo Station, we were bound for a signwriting workshop hosted by traditional signwriter and all-round top chap, Wayne Osborne, at his workshop in Midhurst, South Downs.

Armed with a standard sized brush, palette and steadying stick, our day began with basic stroke drawing exercises. We started with verticals, then progressed to horizontals, diagonals and finally, rounds. Controlling the brush and flow of paint takes time to learn, the objective being to construct letterforms in as few precise strokes as possible with a good even fill of colour. Mistakes whilst using the brush are not easily rectified, so the right balance of brush control and paint consistency are paramount.


Hanna and Eleni learning the ropes

In practice, a signwriter has to be in absolute control of their chosen medium of mark making. Oil based paint or gold leaf is unforgiving and one awry movement could potentially ruin a commission. Difficult, large-scale surfaces add an extra level of complexity as work is often executed on rough render, brickwork and buildings of historical or personal importance. No such thing as command-z in this industry!

Following a very British lunch of ham salad sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes (or Bakewell tart for the more adventurous) we were into the afternoon’s activity of creating our own hand painted signs.


Sketches of the soon to be painted signs

Selecting a plastic board from a random collection of sizes we proceeded to trace around the board and draft out our compositions in pencil on paper. Chalking the reverse side of the paper, the design is then transferred to the board by retracing the outline on the design side of the paper with the board underneath. Painting can then begin in earnest using the impression of the chalk lines as a guide.

Varying grades of sable brush sizes are used depending on the intricacy of the design, but the essential principles of patience, mark economy and hand-eye coordination remain. The results of our toils, in both groups who attended, were of a competent standard for a first attempt with some rather ambitious colour work taking place, alongside some beautifully delicate profanities (nice one, Bruno!).

It was certainly refreshing to escape the digital environment for a day and make more of a human connection with letterforms. My attitude towards the craftsmen and women who make a living out of signwriting is now certainly one of reverence.

Stuart Brown


Stuart hard at work


Riccardo performing a balancing act


Kalapi flying the Dalton Maag flag with some non-Latin script sign painting


The team with their finished signs.

An Introduction to Type Design at Dalton Maag

Dalton Maag has recently begun a training programme for its new recruits, and this is the first of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.


Ron giving Damien some advice

Presiding over the training is one of the longest serving members of Dalton Maag, Ron Carpenter. We asked him about how exactly you take a new recruit and turn them into a type designer.

“We start with calligraphy, which underpins much of what we do as type designers. They spend a couple of weeks on this – not necessarily to produce perfect examples, but to gain a better understanding of the relationship between type and some of its origins.

“What we perceive as ‘normal’ is based on our exposure to type forms over many years, so our relationship with type through reading will vary from person to person. It makes sense to go back to calligraphy and type history to have a better understanding of why the letters of the alphabet are like they are. It helps to demystify the design process. The modulation, stresses and oblique angles found in many typefaces can be traced back to calligraphic principles.


Cosimo working on his calligraphy

Rafael's calligraphy work

Rafael’s calligraphy work

“The second phase consists of painting letters. 24pt samples from each of the major type classifications are provided and these have to be reproduced to an x-height of around 75mm (about 3 inches) using brushes and black and white gouache. This is quite an intensive process requiring a minute attention to detail, and is designed to enhance visual sensitivity – training the eye to see what is there, at a relatively small size, and making the necessary decisions to recreate the same thing at a much larger, working size. In much the same way our designers here work in FontLab, but this process is a more direct way, without the constraints of Bezier outline manipulation. It’s about making calculations on proportion, weight, position; shape etc. based on visual judgement rather than measuring – a skill that goes to the heart of type design. The principle features and characteristics of different type styles can also be examined during this phase.

“Our designers have to assess a design according to the minute detail, often at small point sizes, so it’s important to know how to manipulate the actual size when working at a larger drawing size.

dirty brushes

Dirty brushes


An example of painting characters

“Depending on previous experience, they then spend time familiarising themselves with the design aspects of FontLab and begin to discuss creating a concept for a new design of their own choosing. This is preferably something that could be a useful addition to our Type Library here at Dalton Maag. It’s quite a big step, but gives them an opportunity to express themselves, whilst gaining knowledge in the more formal aspects of type design and the use of FontLab.

“They need to justify the new concept and consider its viability; does the concept work? Does it make sense? Does it fulfil a role? How would you market and sell this typeface?

“We try to steer them away from the personal or quirky display styles and towards something which is more commercially viable. So I’m looking for something that fulfils a particular role, whether it’s functional for a particular print or screen environment or something with a fresh personality that may not have been tried before. The new concept is expanded to include caps, lowercase, figures and basic punctuation followed by the planning and execution of a range of weights or, for a Text font, a matching italic.

mary on screen

Mary working hard on her project

matts screen

Matt’s project in progress

“They then spend some time with our Font Reliability department so they gain some insights into Quality Assurance and the technical aspects of type design so we can minimise those issues which lead to difficulties when a font is engineered. They also spend time hinting so that they appreciate some of the practical issues concerning the screen rendering of their new design concept.

“Throughout the training process, each recruit keeps a log of what they’re doing from day to day so we can monitor progress to see if the program needs to be expanded or amended. It has to be said that, even with this initial training completed, there is still much to learn, but at this stage the trainees can move into a production team to continue the process.”