Type designer Jason Smith takes an appreciative look at the shapely curves of Eric Gill’s erotic woodcuts
Eric Gill produced so many artworks that are inspirational. Of course, the famous type designs such as Gill Sans, Perpetua and Joanna are perhaps (how shall I say it?) ‘over-popular’. They are still designs of importance to me, because of the craft skills and artistic nature of Gill’s work. The fact that Gill was a prolific artist and engraver underlines this.
‘God Sending’, 1926 (engraving on copper) from Procreant Hymn.
Top: ‘Gethsemane’, 1931, from The Four Gospels.
I discovered this side of Gill when I purchased Eric Gill: The Engravings. As a student in the early 1990s, parting with £29.95 for a book was something of a novelty. I mean, that sort of money would have paid for a couple of good nights out drinking. This book really made me look at the relationship between drawing, being an artist and being a designer.
His engraving work is varied in its subject matter, but my favourite parts are most certainly the erotic woodcuts. These are beautiful, very sexy and sometimes quite funny in a giggling, adolescent sort of way. I mean, some of the novelty shaped erections are hilarious. Twenty-five Nudes (1938) is a real homage to the female body, full of long, shapely single lines with a sensitive variation of thickness. Gill’s work taught me that to design shapely typefaces, one should be able to draw. Design and art are linked by getting our ideas understood, and the skill of crafting our work. All of Gill’s work is quite simply beautifully drawn, and that is an inspiration.
Spread from Eric Gill: The Engravings, edited by Christopher Skelton, The Herbert Press, 1990, showing two engravings of female nudes, dated 1937, published as part of Twenty-five Nudes in 1938.
The half-title to Twenty-five Nudes, 1938.
Jason Smith, type designer, Fontsmith, London
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