History of Gill Sans
In 1926 Gill was asked to paint a shop sign for a Bristol bookseller, Douglas Cleverdon. It was this lettering that led Morison to suggest that Gill create a sans-serif that was beginning to become popular. The letterform Gill had created for the shop was only a capital alphabet and he embarked on the design aware of the greater difficulties of constructing a even monoline lowercase alphabet, which involved many curves and junctions. Gill’s resulting sans-serifs were firmly modeled on classic roman proportions. Gill was able to introduce refinements, which, with the help of the Monotype drawing office, have established Gill Sans as a much-loved classic among sans-serifs. Gill Sans has a friendly warmth and is classified as a humanist sans-serif. The series was originally produced as a hot-metal letterpress type, so when it was digitalized it is most likely that the original Monotype office drawings were used. Gill Sans now has an extensive range of weights, from light through to ultra bold with italics and Old-style figures. In addition there are only two display weights of condensed, and two decorative fonts: Gill Sans Light Shadowed, and a titling Gill Sans Shadowed.
Humanist sans-serifs is a category used to describe sans serifs that do not appear angular, geometric, or mechanical, whilst being unfussy, forthright, and simple. The term derives from the humanist handwriting of 15th century Italy – the manuscript hand that influenced the earliest roman and italic types.
Gill Sans has a smaller x-height than some 20th- Century sans-serifs. It can be effective with more leading than the standard 20 percent of body size. Sizes below 9-point will benefit from a minimal increase in tracking. Gill Sans consists of a family of weights and forms that happily lack the uniformity of weight increase designed into many sans-serifs. Gill offers an assortment of forms that can be refreshing to experiment with.
Gill Sans was designed for railway use. Similar to Johnston’s sans serif, Gill Sans is more refined and distinctive. Eric Gill replaced Johnston’s diamonds over the ‘i’ and ‘j’ with round dots He also simplified the lowercase ‘l’ in comparison to the hooked ‘l’ in Johnston’s alphabet. Notable differences in the uppercase include the open counters in Gill’s ‘S’ and the humanistic stroke and joinery on the tail of the ‘Q’. Gill Sans has points at the base of the ‘V’ and the ‘W’ in contrast with the flat bases of Johnston’s letters. Monotype manufactured Gill Sans in 1927; ultimately it consisted of 24 related series, available only in one size, with minimal variations. Johnston’s alphabet was used extensively by London Transport for nearly 50 years. After a decade of disuse, it was revived by Colin Banks and John Miles in the 1980s. The Banks & Miles digital version named New Johnston is not widely available as of yet, compared to Gill’s popular face.
The digital version of Gill Sans is used widely in contemporary graphic design.
The humanist sans serifs spanned the chasm between two very different typographic genres: serif and sans-serif typefaces. Sans-serif faces often endured the scorn of critics who regarded them merely as roman letters with their serifs – and consequently their beauty – extracted. Others disagreed, however, and embraced the idea of a typographic form stripped of ornament and decoration. By 1930, the geometric sans serifs had arrived, with Paul Renner’s Futura as their acclaimed leader. Proponents praised Futura and faces like it for the adjusted widths and proportions, monotone characters, and interchangeability of typographic compromise between traditional roman typefaces and the new geometrics. The humanist sans serifs were designed for this purpose; they spanned the gap between serifs and sans serifs while drawing on the best features of each.
While the designers of humanist typefaces looked to the sans serif for inspiration, they created more personal, human-oriented faces that, although inspired but geometrics such as Futura, avoided the mechanical rigidity of those faces. Specifically, humanist faces are characterized by an inclined stroke axis, reminiscent of handwriting, and a modulated stroke width. The humanist types incorporate aspects similar to 15th-century handwritten script and its old-style roman type progeny, and most include chancery-derived italics. The stroke suggests the gesture of a broad-nibbed pen as it forms a letter. The typographic structure, however, of the early humanist sans serifs were initially modeled after geometric sans serifs rather than roman faces. As a result, their structure permits variation of both width and weight, while their graceful strokes afford increased legibility. For this reason, many believe humanist sans serifs to be better suited than geometric sans serifs for lengthy text.
Gill Sans was based on the same sources as Johnston, though Gill distinguished the two faces by saying that his own was designed to be read as a text face whereas Johnston’s was intended purely for signs. Gill had used san serif lettering for signs in his at Capel-y-Ffin and for the lettering on a Bristol Bookshop owned by Douglas Cleverdon, which Gill painted in 1927. It was this bookshop sign, which suggested the idea of a Gill sans serif to Morison.
Drawing heavily on Johnston’s work, Gill first experimented with his ‘improvements’ in 1926 when he hand-painted lettering for a bookshop sign in his hometown, Bristol. Gill also sketched a guide for the bookshop owner, Douglas Cleverdon, who later published the work in A Book of Alphabets for Douglas Cleverdon. The alphabet, which at the time only contained uppercase letters, was noticed by Stanley Morison for its commercial potential. A Monotype advisor, Morison commissioned Gill to develop a complete font family to compete with the sans-serif designs released by German foundries fueled by the overwhelming success of Futura. The font was released commercially by Monotype in 1928 as Gill Sans. While his personal life was later discovered to be rather controversial, Eric Gill (born 1882 as Arthur Eric Rowton Gill, died 1940) was an important British sculptor, artist, and typeface designer who also gave us Perpetua and Joanna (named after one of his daughters), among others. Gill Sans rose to popularity in 1929 when it became the standard typeface for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), appearing on everything from locomotive nameplates to time tables. The typeface was used in 1935 by designer Edward Young on the now iconic Penguin Books jacket design, putting Gill Sans on bookshelves around the world. Many other notable companies (particularly in England) adopted Gill Sans as a corporate typeface by the mid-1900s, including the BBC, British Railways, and ultimately Monotype themselves—making the typeface Monotype's fifth best seller of the twentieth century.
Originally released as metal type, over 36 derivatives emerged between 1929 and 1932—many of which were created by the Monotype drawing office (with input by Gill). The typeface is renowned for its inconsistencies between weights, as they were not mechanically produced from a single design (opposed to others like Helvetica). The Gill Sans family ranges from Light to the exaggerated Ultra Bold—“because every advertisement has to try and shout down its neighbors,” Gill explains in Essay on Typography. Gill’s lettering is based on classic roman proportions, which give the sans-serif a less mechanical feel than its geometric contemporaries. The typeface was initially recommended for advertising and headline use, but as the public got used to reading sans-serif, Gill Sans turned out to work just as well for body text. Today over two dozen Gill Sans designs are available digitally, with mainstream reach thanks to its inclusion on Mac OS X and Microsoft Office. It can be seen everywhere, used (or overused) on everything from corporate logos to movie posters—one industry that has actually embraced the unusual Ultra Bold. Meanwhile, the legendary Johnston Sans typeface became available commercially for the first time in 1997 as P22’s London Underground, licensed by the London Transport Museum. A variant called ITC Johnston was also released 1999.
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Biography of Eric Gill
Eric Gill, letter carver, engraver, and sculptor, was born in Brighton, England in 1882. He was the second son of a Congregationalist minister. On leaving school he was apprenticed to the architect of the Ecclesiastical Commission of London. Here he developed an interest in carving lettering and attended evening classes run by the brilliant calligrapher, Edward Johnston. On leaving the architect’s office in 1903, Gill set up his own as a craftsman in a workshop in Hammersmith, West London. There he took commissions of lettering and wood engraving for (among others) W.H. Smith and the publishers Insel, based in Leipzig, Germany. Needing more space for his family and workshop, Gill moved to the Sussex Village of Ditchling in 1906. Here he was able to extend his skills to include carving sculpture. The artistic community of Ditchling developed with the arrival of Edward Johnston and Douglas Pegler, who brought a small handpress workshop, which became known as the St. Dominic Press. The first typeface that Gill designed for Morison, without either of them having much idea how to proceed, was called Perpetua. The letterforms are uniquely Gill’s, reflecting his experience of lettercutting in stone. Pertetua is a classically proportioned roman with smoothly bracketed, sharply tapering serifs. During the months of correction and modifications made to test versions, a version containing a uniquely sloped roman was included instead of a conventional italic. Perpetua was not released until 1928.
Eric Gill, a leading Catholic, socialist, and social critic of his time – as well as letter-cutter, sculptor, wood-engraver, and type designer – was one of the most prominent and controversial figures of his day. His writings concerned social reform: the integration of craftsmanship and industry, art and religion and flesh and spirit, but nothing in his own like was straight-forward. His condemnation of industrial manufacture would be undermined by his typefaces for which he is chiefly remembered. He studied at Chichester School of Art before being apprenticed to the ecclesiastical architect W.D. Caroe in London. Gill’s work varied at this time: inscriptions, tombstones, head-pieces, and initial letters for private presses including Emery Walker’s Doves Press and Harry Kessler’s Cranach Press in Weimar. The calligraphic influence of Johnston, while still present in Gill’s lettering, was beginning to be secondary to ideas of his won, drawn from the practical nature of his work and the physical restrictions of his tools.
The Gills left Hammersmith in 1907 and set up the first of their three craft-based, self sufficient religious communities. They were converted to Catholicism in 1913, Ethel changing her name to Mary. Shortly afterwards he began work on the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, fourteen low-relief sculptures with lettering combined, perhaps the very best of his sculptures.
Eric Gill’s An Essay on Typography was written in 1930. Gill was many things: among them, a sculptor, an engraver, an illustrator, and a superb portrait draughtsman in pencil. A dominating activity all his life, however, was lettering, whether drawn or carved in wood or stone. In type design, he gave the world two of the most famous types of the century, Perpetua and Gill Sans. He also designed eleven other type faces: Felicity, Solus, Golden Cockerel, Joanna, Aries, Jubilee, Bunyan, Floriated initials, Perpetua Greek, a Hebrew and an Arabic.
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