60-Seconds #305: How hand lettering gave me the inspiration to become a graphic designer

by Fred Showker


Government Surveillance Reform When somebody asks me why I went into graphic design, several reasons and experiences come to mind. I can still remember the first time I saw a quill, dipped in paint, dragging out such beautiful lettering. I ran across a YouTube video that brought back those crystal-clear memories! Let me share the story with you, and ask that you share your story with 60-Seconds readers!

The date was some time in the winter of 1964. I was a reluctant high-school student and budding musician starting out in my first rock-n-roll band. My first keyboard amp had a naugahide cover, and as I had seen with other bands, lettering the covers with the musician's name was the thing to do. As it turns out, my Dad was a good friend with a fellow named Eddie Edwards who did the lettering for the company trucks. Dad said take it to Eddie -- so, one day, my Mom and I loaded the covers into the car for the trip out to visit Eddie.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Eddie Edwards Sign shop, and after introductions, Mr. Edwards confessed that everyone else had left for the day. My mom asked if he could letter up this cover, and we'd be happy to return to pick it up. He suggested "How about I letter it right now?" Of course! I was intensely interested.

He escorted us back into the shop where a wonderland of signs in various stages of completion were awaiting the next day's crew... easels of art, long layout tables covered with patterns, tall wood racks with huge signs, plywood and lots of metal shapes with neon tubing. It was a wonderland of stuff. I was amazed -- this is where all the signs come from!

Mr. Edwards lead us over to a high, slanted easel and asked what color would you like, and what are we lettering today? The color was to be silver, and the word "showker". (On another day he lettered other instruments with the band name.) What happened next, changed my life forever. In a wink, he had the cover up, taped to the and had opened a can of silver stirring it gently while chatting with my mom. He took a chunk of white chalk and scribed out a baseline -- then roughed in a very light script S-h-o-w-k-e-r ... and turned for approval. Looks great mom said. What happened next would stick with me for the rest of my life.

He reached over and picked up the longest paint brush I'd ever seen. The brush was maybe 5-inches long, and easily an inch wide. He dipped it in the paint then began swishing it back and forth on a piece of glass. Again and again he dipped and swished it. He must have noted my intense attention and volunteered "... this is called paletting the quill. It works the paint into every fiber of the quill and loads it up so it flows out easily." I was astounded -- he called it a quill. "Quill?" I inquired. "Yes, " he responded, "This is called a lettering quill. It's my favorite."

With the brush hanging as if it was about to drip blobs of paint -- it's quivering bristles shaking slightly -- he raised it to the cover and slowly began to drag out a smooth fluid movement forming a spectacular capital letter S. It was a miracle. How did he do that? THen with the same fluid motions, he dragged the brushes' bristles as if following some invisible track, through the other letters -- h... o... w... k... e... r... stopping only to "snap" the brush slightly at the end of each letter. Truly amazing. I immediately wanted to do that. I immediately decided I would learn that.

Years went by and it wasn't until 1970 that I got my chance. I took Typography and Lettering at V.C.U. and had lots and lots of practice dragging those quills. I never learned to even come close to Mr. Edwards. But nonetheless his smooth, effortless expertise and superbly crafted typography script gave me the motivation to go forward! Today, I have my own collection of Langnickel quills!

This video brought back those fond memories: (skip the stupid ad if one appears)

I want to thank Ilene Strizver and the latest All Things Typographic newsletter for leading me to discover Mr. Glen Weisgerber's Pinstriping & Lettering Mastery, and the awesome Airbrush Action Magazine!

Please share your stories -- what inspired you into a visual graphic design career?

And, thanks for reading

Fred Showker


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