Architects and engineers are trained to print by hand neatly. Just like architectural drawings, hand lettering should be clear and legible. Even with digital notation and labeling, the practice of learning to print concisely is still a measure of making an impressionable mark on paper. It develops good manual control of vertical and horizontal lines, lines that cross the same amount each time, and emphasis or thickening of lines at the ends. Now that design has become increasingly digital, the practice of hand lettering has become less common. Learning this skill will help you to stand out! It also reminds us that practice and focus bring results!
Activity 1 – Roman Lettering
In ancient buildings in the Roman Empire, buildings were labeled with the name of the architect and the year. This is recorded as the Roman Alphabet and the Roman numerical system. It may surprise you that the Romans did not have a symbol for zero. Write out the Roman alphabet and then write the current year in Roman numerals.
Activity 2 – Architectural Lettering
Architects and engineers learn how to print neatly and distinctly. It is a discipline learned early on as the documents they prepare to have many notes, measurements, and instructions on size, dimensions, finishes, and performance of building materials. While today architects write digitally on their drawings, the professions still develop artful ways of printing by hand. Compare an engineer’s alphabet with architects. Notice the similarities and differences. Take a turn at practicing careful printing and print one set of letters. Using a 90 degree small triangle will help you keep your verticals vertical!
Activity 3 – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lettering
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most influential designers in modern architecture. His efforts in design extended beyond his buildings themselves, as evidenced in the presentation of his drawings as well. Wright created a recognizable hand lettering style, later made into the typeface *Eaglefeather. Take a look his architectural drawings How does Wright shape his letters? How are they spaced and organized? Try imitating his style. How consistent can you become? With pencil and paper, pen Wright’s alphabet.
Activity 4 – Le Corbusier's Lettering
Stencils or a cardstock, plastic or metal sheet with silhouette cutouts of letters have for centuries offered a tool for efficiently labeling objects. Modern architect icon, Le Corbusier, is known for using designed stencils in his drawing labels for an aesthetic purpose. Stenciled letters are expressive and look industrial, a fitting lettering style for the architect who called the house “a machine for living.” Try to get your hands on a stencil or look at stencil fonts on a computer. What makes the shapes interesting? What other ways can letter style create a mood? Copy Le Corbusier’s Alphabet and then write a statement about modern architect with your architectural lettering.
Activity 5 – Design Letters and Numbers
After seeing how other architects use hand lettering, it’s your turn to try. Clear and consistent letters are the most important part of architectural lettering. Use a straightedge to create guidelines on paper where you want your writing to go or write on lined paper. You can also use a triangle to make sure that your lines stay as vertical and as horizontal as possible. With these helpful tools, start practicing! Start by writing out the alphabet, in upper case then lower case. How do your numbers look? After practicing with just the alphabet, try lettering phrases and sentences. Take your time! Hand lettering takes time and effort, but with practice, you will develop a unique lettering style.
- In Roman Lettering, Which letter stands for 5 and which for 10?
- To achieve consistent hand lettering, use a straightedge to create guidelines.
- Which tool can best help you achieve vertical letters?
- The typeface “Eaglefeather” was inspired by the lettering of