Eric Gill-Typographer

Today, for you history buffs, I have an article on Eric Gill. He was a designer of type in the early 1900’s. I’m sure some of you have heard of a font called “Gill sans”. Anyway, on with the article.

Eric Gill was born February 22, 1882 in Brighton, England. At an early age he attended art school in Chinchester. When he was seventeen, he started an apprenticeship with an architect by the name of W. H. Caroe. Gill also attended lettering classes taught by Edward Johnston. In 1903 Gill became a self-employed craftsman. He sculpted, carved stone lettering, made signs, and designed and engraved lettering on boxwood.

In 1906 Gill married and moved to Hupkins Crank, which was a house in an artists community in Sussex. While living here he started sculpting. Mother and Child was his first success at sculpting in 1912. In 1914 he became famous for his sculpting projects in Portland Place and Westminster Cathedral. Gill was also a master wood engraver and woodcut printer. He used these talents to design illustrations for books.

Many of Gills religious works can be attributed to his converting to Catholicism and being the head of a religious commune of artists. Gill also had an interest in writing. His topics for writing ranged from art, sex, and religion. Many of his carvings relate to religious themes and erotica.

Gill had no desire to design type until Stanley Morison persuaded him to do so. He had no training in type design, but he was a superb lettering artist. In 1924 Gill moved to Whales and set up a lettering shop.

The first typeface Gill designed was called Perpetua. He did the lettering for the font design but refused to do the type design for machine production. This design process took five years to complete. He has designed other typefaces such as Gill Sans, which was based on a lettering design by Edward Johnston for the London Underground. Gill Cameo, Golden Cockerel Roman, and Hague & Gill are other fonts Eric Gill designed.

In 1928 he moved to Pigotts in Buckinghamshire where he setup a printing press with an apprentice, David Kindersley, who was later successful at sculpting and engraving. Other sculptures Gill is famous for include Prospero & Ariel, and The Creation of Adam.

Some unique features of the Gill Sans typeface include the vertex of the upper case “M” doesn’t touch the baseline, the lower case “a” has a tail, and the upper case “R” has a taper to its tail. It is a very distinctive and legible typeface that received rave reviews when it was introduced in England.

Gill is remembered by people in the typography field for combining his discipline as an engraver with his graceful lines as a master-lettering artist. He designed his own headstone on which he described himself as a stone carver. Gill died November 17, 1940.

For further information on Eric Gill visit the following site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Gill

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