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Eric Gill

Life and work and love and the bringing up of a family and clothes and social virtues and food and houses and games and songs and books should all be in the soup together

The nude teenager crouching in the bath tub, in a pose both homely and potentially erotic; Hair Combing, the girl standing, body plumply outlined against the long cascade of hair; The Plait, which catches the moment when the daughter is almost a woman but not quite. The Petra drawings were reworked as wood engravings and have been for many years among the most admired of all Gill's works.
Eric Gill, heritage of England. So many towns and villages are the possessors of one of the carved and lettered war memorials made after the first world war. Gill’s workshop was expeditious and prolific.

Almost everyone in England has an Eric Gill
in reach.

Coming unexpectedly across a work by Gill – a carved font in a rarely opened church, a gravestone in a rural cemetery, moss creeping in between the precision cut Gill letters – is an odd and hauntingly intense experience. These relatively humble works remind us of the extraordinary sureness of his touch. In their offhand way, they celebrate the man who was, by his own account, a stranger in a strange land.
Revealing pervercy
When in 1980 I came upon the evidence, up to then suppressed, in Gill's private diaries in the University of California at Los Angeles, I cannot say I was totally surprised. The flesh-and-spirit tensions in his work are palpable: this was what had in the first place attracted me to Gill as the subject for critical biography. In his portraits of his children, I was already conscious of a sort of overbalance of tendresse.
The discovery of Gill’s precise and candid records in his diaries of his various sexual adventures and experiments was the sort of coup any biographer would long for and yet in some way dread. I knew that it could alter fundamentally perceptions of Gill, both as man of God and as artist. Impossible to view without a frisson, those delicate, delicious portraits of the teenage Petra. Having read Gill’s own account of his experimental sexual connections with his dog in a later craft community at Pigotts near High Wycombe, his woodcut The Hound of St Dominic develops some distinctly disconcerting features. The knowing affects the viewing. How can it not? But Gill is too good an artist, too ferocious and intrepid a controversialist, to be protected and glossed over. We need to see him whole.

Fiona Mcharty, Author of the reveiling biography on Eric Gill in 1982
Raising a debate
19 May 2009 – 10:26am

Assuming that the expert typophiles here have already discussed this matter, I apologise in advance for what I have, no doubt will upset more than one of the visitors to this forum.

I was recently asked to rework an outside designers input for promotional material prior to the receipt of final titles when I noticed that a bold Gill had been used – and pathetically stretched – in their ”signed off” logo design. This work was for a family show across Scotland and as a borderline autistic typeface geek I rapidly recalled the somewhat shocking revelations of Gills life throughout the early to mid 90’s where his extreme sexual misbehaviour was detailed. Not only was he prone to extra marital affairs (hardly unique) but also child abuse (his 2 daughters), incest (his sister) and most worryingly of all, the family dog.

I chose to avoid using Gill thereafter. Am i alone in this decision?

Jonathan S.

I would be sensitive to the use of Gill typefaces in something like a brochure for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, simply because if someone were to draw attention to Gill's abuse of his daughters it would cloud the purpose of the brochure and may cause distress to the clients. This isnt a matter of principle, but of sensitivity.

You are not alone. Aside from Gill I avoid all italic types as their inventor, Griffo, was a convicted murderer. I also avoid the work of contemporary type designers who support pot-smoking. Outside the world of type I never use the month name – July – due to the various crimes of Julius Cesar, or the word – Thursday – due to its association with the Norsk god of war.

I boycott museums because Picasso was a womanizer and Caravaggio a rapist, the Opera because Wagner was an anti-semite, modernism because it sprang from the minds of committed communists, religious cultists, vegetarians, and weirdos, and anything to do with Milton Glaser because he did a poster for that filthy hippie Bob Dylan.

Excuse me but that is unreasonable. Eric Gill did good type design work, and his type design work must be judged by it’s own merits. Does it makes any difference on Eric Gill past behavior boicoting his work?

And I wonder, what is the purpose of calling to mind Gill’s sins? What do you do with these sins once you have acknowledged them? You still have to judge the work on its own merits. You don’t look at the Perpetua lowercase a and think “Ah yes, there is the a of a sexual predator if ever I saw one” You have, as I suggested above, a duty to your client to be sensitive to the appropriateness of using Gill’s typefaces for particular projects, just as you would have to be sensitive to the playing of Wagner’s wedding march at a Jewish wedding. There are contexts within which some things are inappropriate because of their associations. But there are also many contexts in which the same associations are irrelevant.

It raises the question of the relationship between a man’s – life or ideas – and his work.

I remember John Hudson writing on typophile that Gill said he liked to shape his “droopy” D’s that way because they reminded him of the shape of a girl’s bottom. But I regard that as pretty normal eccentricity. His figural stuff can be creepy.

You can do and say anything you want about the convicted. I agree that baby-bat-raping type designers should be avoided.

I try to avoid anything by American designers because of the crimes by George W. Bush.

I have to admit I completely understand Jonathan not wanting to use Gill’s typefaces after finding out that he took “mans best friend” a bit too literally. The singer of one of France’s best-known rock groups, Noir Désir, drunkenly beat his girlfriend to death a few years ago and I haven’t really wanted to listen to their music since.

More on this

22. 02. 1882 – 17. 11. 1940

Sculptor, Graphic artist, Type designer. Studied at the Chichester Technical and Art School.

1899 – 1903: works in an architect’s office. Takes lessons in lettering with Edward Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.

1905 – 09: produces initials and book covers for Insel publishers in Leipzig.

1906: designs inititals for Ashedene Press.

1907: moves to Ditchling, Sussex. Here he produces stone sculptures, including for the BBC building in London.

1914: produces sculptures for the stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral in London.

1925 – 31: works for the Golden Cockerell Press where he makes initials, illustrations and an exclusive text type.

1928 – moves to Pigotts near High Wycombe. Works for London Underground’s administrative headquarters. With his son in law he founds his own handpress which prints luxury bibliophile editions.

1930: illustrations for the last number of "The Fleuron" magazine.

1936: made a Royal Designer for Industry.

1937: designs a postage stamp which is in use for 15 years.

1938: produces stone tablets for the League of Nations building in Geneva.
Gill Sans is a british sans serif typeface made in 1927 by the artist and ingraver Eric Gill. It was made as an order by Stanley Morison for Monotype. It very fast became one of the most used fonts of England. The Gill Sans alphabet is classical in proportion. It is classified as a humanist sans serif, making it very legible and readable in text and display work. This makes it better suited than most sans serif typefaces to setting bodies of text. Despite it’s roots in the Renaissance, Gill Sans is a modern typeface - the radical geometric shapes are typical of the Art Deco movement, which was developing at the time of it’s creation.
Gill Sans achieved national prominence almost immediately when it was chosen in 1929 to become the standard typeface for the LNER railway system, soon appearing on every detail of the company’s identity, from locomotive nameplates and station signage to restaurant car menus, printed timetables and advertising posters. When British Railways was created by nationalisation in 1948, Gill Sans was used in much of its printed output, including timetables. Specially drawn variations were developed by the British Transport Commission for signs, but these characters are not authentic Gill. The corporate rebranding of BR as British Rail in 1965 introduced Rail Alphabet for signage, and Helvetica or Univers for printed matter. Although Gill Sans in a broard sense often is associated with the design of the british transport, it has also been used in other iconic designs such as the Penguin Books. The aftermath shows that Gill Sans became Monotype’s fifth best selling typeface of the twentieth century.

Unlike other popular sans serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana, the Gill Sans typeface uses a double storey lowercase g. This has a distinctive eyeglass shape, which is easily recognisable.

Gill Sans is also essentially the only sans serif typeface without modular use of strokes. The “O” is a perfect circle, and the oblique and vertical strokes as well as upstrokes and downstrokes have a consistent thickness. Only “a”, “e” and “g” have thinner strokes at the openings of the small eyes. These exceptions to an otherwise consistent stroke thickness are one of the trademark characteristics of the Gill Sans typeface.

a a
The letter a was originally developed with straight tail, followed by diagonal tail – which can be seen on early specimen sheets –, then the hooked tail. The diagonal tail eventually came in Extra Bold and Bold Extra Condensed, a modified straight tail was later found in Ultra Bold.
Following the humanist model the lowercase italic a becomes single story

l I
The original Gill Sans lacked distinctions between numeral “1”, uppercase “I”, and lowercase “l”, so alternate version of Gill Sans was made that included an alternate “1” that could be used for numerical setting, such as shop window prices and timetables. In the Adobe version, such alternate figure is not included, even in the OpenType version of the font.

The font is a superfamily and comes in 24 different weights. It can be discussed if the extreem weights in many cases are actually harming the font, and Gill was also labeling his diagrams with terms such as “sans overbold”, “hardly recognisable” and “fatuous”, to drive home his point about the distortion of letterforms in the heaviest weights. Yet this is exactly what happened to Gill Sans – rather than refuse commissions for Extra Bold and Ultra Bold – well beyond the weight of what was considered normal –, he continued to draw up and deliver designs that he knew to be aesthetically unjustifiable.

Ben Archer Eric Gill got it wrong; a re-evaluation of Gill Sans

Examples in stroke termanations

Comparison of lowercase l, i and number 1 in Gill Sans and Johnston.

Notes from Eric Gill on the weight Monotype Ultra Bold Gill Sans.
Many people have claimed that the shapes of Gill Sans is mainly a copy from the font of Edward Johnston the mentor of Eric Gill, and it can even be argued that the majority of character shapes in Gill Sans are actually worse than in the typeface he originally “stole” them from.

Gill Sans has been and are still in use by many people. A lot of writers have celebrated the individual qualities of Gill Sans “Q”, “R”, “a”, “g”; and “t”, as designs in their own right, but one can still argue that the typeface achieved its succes because of the mighty marketing of the Monotype Corporation and the self-serving iconoclasm of its author. Thus, rather than Johnston’s lettering, it was Gill Sans that became the English national style of the mid-century. Compared with the typeface of Johnston, Gill narrowed the proportions of the “M”, his version of “L”, “N” and “T” are all much wider than in Johnston’s alphabet.This also makes extra white space around the letterforms – therefore “N” and “T” dominate the appearance of Gill Sans with their broad diagonal and open white space, requiring extra care with kerning and letterspacing.

As mentioned above one can claim that the majority of character shapes in Gill Sans are actually worse than in Johnston’s design made fifteen years earlier.
Oddly enough, the success of Johnston’s face might have been Gill’s best advertisement. It’s distinctive and works so well in everyday use that inevitably people would want to use it themselves. Those who wanted to buy something similar to Johnston had no alternative but Gill.

Last but not at least, many of the versions made by Gill Sans later on, was actually not made by the designer himself, but by drawers working at Monotype, drawers who in some cases improved the typeface, but never got the credit that they diserved for it.

Ben Archer Eric Gill got it wrong; a re-evaluation of Gill Sans

Design by Edward Johnston
The typeface continues its popularity, often being held to bring an artistic or cultural sensibility to an organisation’s corporate style. Monotype themselves use it in their corporate style, and the typeface has also been used by many public service organisations. These include Railtrack – and now Network Rail –, which used Gill Sans for printed matter, furthermore the Church of England, which adopted Gill Sans as the typeface for the definitive Common Worship family of service books published from 2000, and the British Government, which formally adopted Gill Sans as its standard typeface for use in all communications and logos in 2003. The BBC adopted the typeface as its corporate typeface in 1997. Until 2006, the corporation used the font in all its media output; however, in unveiling of new identities for BBC signalled a shift away from its universal use, the BBC logo still uses the typeface though. In most parts of the world the typeface became part of the public domain in 2011. Gill Sans is the official corporative typeface of the Spanish Government, Gobierno de España.