Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am a lettercarver, typographer, sculptor and glass engraver. I work from my studio at Grandey's Place, Hertfordshire – a centre dedicated to the conservation of British heritage crafts – and I am currently in the tenth year of running my own business.
I grew up in King's Lynn, Norfolk and showed an interest in art at a very early age. This was encouraged by both my family and teachers all the way through my education. My grandmother was an amateur painter and calligrapher and, alongside my mother, would help to develop my creativity. My art teachers at school and college were equally supportive and it was whilst studying graphic design at college that I found my passion for typography. I later studied at the world-renowned Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading where my trajectory into the lettering arts was set.
Upon graduating and some training with calligrapher Paul Antonio and renowned lettercarver Richard Kindersley in London, I progressed to my three-year lettercarving apprenticeship with Pip Hall in Cumbria. During this time I developed skills in hand-drawn and carved lettering, and in relief carving in stone. I sought additional training in areas such as lettercarving in wood with Martin Wenham, typeface engineering with Andy Benedek and basic masonry skills with Charlotte Howarth. The first year of my training was funded by the Memorial Arts Charity (now the Lettering Arts Trust) and I raised over £24,000 from various benefactors to complete the final two years. I was successful in raising further funds for two study trips to Italy and, upon completing my apprenticeship in 2012, some setting up costs for my first studio in Manchester. In 2013 I won Craft & Design Magazine's Gold Award in Specialist Media and Craft Maker of the Year 2013.
Over the years I have developed numerous lettering styles and have strengthened my understanding of strong letterforms, correct spacing and good composition. I have become a proficient carver in stone and wood, and I have undergone further training in glass engraving and sculpture. In addition to using traditional tools such as mallet and chisel, I do embrace modern technology. I continue to work in print and I am able to digitise my work for use in other materials including metal.
My work has sold internationally and, to date, has consisted of memorials, signage, ecclesiastical work, art for the home and garden, commemorative gifts, public art, products and artwork for exhibition. My most notable commissions include the memorials to C. S. Lewis and Sir John Gielgud for Westminster Abbey and the memorial to World War 1 nurse Edith Cavell for Norwich Cathedral. I run my own courses and have taught at both primary and university level. I am a Trustee and Board Member of the Manchester Craft & Design Centre, Ambassador of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust and I am on the Fabric Advisory Committee of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
What made you choose this career?
From childhood I displayed an interest and ability in art, writing and generally all things creative. This interest continued throughout school and, though I was also academic, I began focussing my further education on a career in art and design. I wanted to work towards a career I'd really enjoy that would also satiate my creativity.
It was during college that I found my passion for typography. Not only was it creative, but it also required a high level of precision; something I thoroughly enjoy. I went on to study the Design for Graphic Communication course at the University of Reading owing to its worldwide reputation for typography. In the second year we were introduced to Caroline Webb, a lettercarver and visiting lecturer. Under her guidance we did a lettering project that entailed drawing, cutting and correctly spacing letterforms in card. I was in my element and, when it came to my self-directed project in the final year, I decided to visit Caroline at her studio in Wiltshire to learn the basics of lettercarving in stone. Up to that point, many of the projects at university had been geared towards digital applications; designing an app for the iPhone, an advertisement for an outdoor screen, a website. I wanted make physical things. Tactile things. Through my self-directed project I found a career path that combined the more technical aspects from university and the more creative side from college.
Fast-forward to today, I'm doing a job that I love. I get to be creative, to make, to utilise my technical abilities and I'm even able to put the academic side of my brain to use with the running of my business. I enjoy being in control of my own destiny, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not, please explain your journey.
I have been fortunate to benefit from both higher education and an apprenticeship. At school I selected subjects in my GCSEs that would aid me in becoming a graphic designer. Following school I studied a BTEC National Diploma in Graphic Design at the College of West Anglia in my home town of King's Lynn. The tutor and now good friend, Christopher Skinner, taught us the traditional way: rendering designs by hand first and gaining a strong understanding of design theory. The course was very creative and I was able to explore different printmaking methods, drawing, design and photography. It was also where I discovered my passion for typography.
I progressed to the University of Reading where I studied the BA Design for Graphic Communication course which is revered for its teaching of typography. This course was less creative than college, but far more technical. It was here I discovered lettercarving as a career path and I sought initial training with Caroline Webb, a visiting lecturer. Upon graduating, I travelled up and down the country to meet other carvers for advice and training. I eventually landed some calligraphy lessons with Paul Antonio and three weeks work experience with Richard Kindersley in London. Following this, an apprenticeship became available with Pip Hall in Cumbria, where I would spend the next three years. I was the recipient of numerous grants and awards. Benefactors included the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, the Memorial Arts Charity, the Worshipful Company of Masons, NADFAS, the Bishop of Norwich and a number of smaller charities.
I have participated in numerous short courses and one-to-one training including Lettercarving in Wood with Martin Wenham and Glass Engraving with Tracey Sheppard at West Dean College. In 2018 I completed a Postgraduate course in Epigraphy at the British School at Rome.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
This has definitely had a positive impact on my career as I've had the best of both worlds. The graphic design course at college was unique. Though we used computer software, it was only used as a tool to create the final piece. We were encouraged to do all the problem solving and design work by hand. Important design theory and history was taught, and projects were selected to improve our thought processes. Our artistic practice was developed through weekly drawing sessions, photography, film and printmaking.
University was much more technical, though I would find ways to make each project creative. The course is unique in that it consists of three strands: practical, theory and history. The practical element helped to develop my design approach and technical ability, right down to the smallest details in the setting of type. The theory element improved my cognitive thinking, introducing me to topics such as colour and typeface theories, and there was a very thorough grounding in design history.
My apprenticeship was very practical and was tailored to suit my needs. My mentor, Pip Hall, was also an Alumni of the same department at university and was able to fill in any gaps in my training. For example, we made a study trip to Rome which was no longer running when I did my degree. I learnt how to design and carve inscriptions in stone, practised brush lettering and calligraphy, and I gained additional training in lettercarving in wood, typeface engineering and masonry. Carving in stone was learnt on the job and I was fortunate to have worked on several large public art projects. I was encouraged to work on my own pieces and to develop my own letterforms. When I completed my apprenticeship, I was ready to set up my own studio.
Who inspires you?
It's not necessarily just a case of who inspires me, but also what inspires me. Of course, there are artists who I am influenced by including sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Michelangelo. I have visited the British Museum on numerous occasions to take inspiration from the Assyrian relief sculptures and the Egyptian art. Indeed, I have always been fascinated by ancient cultures, civilisation, mythology, religion and ancient art. Da Vinci is a great inspiration owing to his skill, drawings, understanding of the human form and even his inventions.
In terms of lettering I am inspired by a number of contemporary artists, usually those who have a freedom to their work: Stephen Raw, David Jones, Ralph Beyer, Tom Perkins, Gaynor Goffe, Pip Hall and John Neilson to name but a few. Inscriptions from antiquity can lead to new ideas and I frequent museums, galleries and historic sites. I have a particular fondness for Celtic art and influential graphic designers include Wim Crouwel (who I got to meet), Saul Bass and Alan Fletcher.
Fashion is a great interest of mine and the work of designers such as Alexander McQueen are really works of art in their own right. My pastimes include literature, film and theatre, especially genres such as fantasy, horror and sci-fi. A particularly favourite director and artist of mine is Tim Burton.
Nature and natural forms can lead to some of the best ideas. I am interested in form, structure and texture, and nature has this in abundance. I really enjoy the outdoors, and you never know what you might find. A beautifully gnarled tree, an interesting cloud shape, the complex pattern of a flower. I have numerous ideas for sculptural works, many of which have evolved from what I've observed when outside.
What's the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
The most difficult thing to deal with is when things go wrong. As a craftsman, one has to juggle everything at once: clients, making the items, correspondence, buying, bookkeeping and taxes, cash flow, the works. Occasionally things won't go to plan – a stone may not arrive on time, external suppliers may be late, the carving itself may take a little longer than anticipated and personal tragedies will inevitably occur. To this end I have learnt to keep organised, maintain communication with clients – even when difficult – and to work in a contingency plan for each project.
What do you want to change about your industry?
I would like to see fair payment for craftspeople and artists. There is an existing culture of offering extremely low amounts of money for the amount of work involved when it comes to public art commissions, and a belief that our prices can be bartered down. There needs to be a cultural shift here on both the part of commissioner and craftsperson. Those commissioning need to understand that, though handmade items can be pricey, this is due to the number of hours that go into making high quality items and in enabling the craftsperson to make a fair living. Craftspeople equally need to charge correctly in order to earn a good living wage. One not only needs to cover the hours worked, but also all the overheads involved in a project. To undercharge only makes other craftspeople who are charging correctly appear expensive, and builds on the belief that craft can be cheap. By nature high end craftsmanship is not cheap. Makers spend years developing their skills and it is only fair that, as with any other sector, those skills are recognised and remunerated fairly.
Though not so much a change as it is progression, I'd like to push the boundaries of modern technologies. I do wish to maintain the art of lettercarving and I will take on my own apprentices in future to keep the craft very much alive for future generations. Additionally, technology is ever evolving and offers new outlets for the lettering arts and crafts in general. It's a very exciting time to be creative and discover new possibilities.
Finally – and this goes for the craft sector in general – I would like to see more representation of different groups of people. Craft should be for everyone.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
If interested in a career in the lettering arts it's important to absorb as much as you can. There are thousands of books out there but, as a good starting point, I'd recommend both 'The Art of Letter Carving in Stone' by Tom Perkins and 'Carving Letters in Stone & Wood' by Michael Harvey. These give information on tools, materials, drawing, the design process, carving techniques, and even a little background into past and current carvers.
Look at inscriptions and letterforms, and immerse yourself in all manner of art. Find what inspires you. What appeals to you and why? Is it the shape of a specific letterform? The carving technique? The overall design and composition? Visit galleries, museums and cemeteries, and look at larger architectural lettering.
Apprenticeships don't come round very often, and mentors will usually take on someone who has already proven to have a genuine interest in the craft. I would strongly recommend attending some lettercarving courses as there is nothing quite like learning from a professional maker. There are a number of short courses that run throughout the year, including those I run myself. I would suggest purchasing a dummy (mallet) and some chisels so that you may practise in your own time. Offcuts of stone can be obtained from the local mason (not granite). It is essential to practise the drawing and correct spacing of lettering. Calligraphy and brush lettering will help to understand the construction of letterforms. Look at the work of other artists, but don't copy. Find your own voice.
Make connections with other lettercarvers. Before I got my apprenticeship I was travelling around the country meeting various carvers at their studios. This wasn't with the expectation of getting a full-blown apprenticeship, but to get advice, possible training and to see the work of different artists. It is a very good idea to make yourself known at the Lettering Arts Trust. This is a charity based in Suffolk whose primary objective is to sustain the lettering arts. They have rolling lettering exhibitions, have a directory of trusted makers and, most importantly, are one of the only organisations through which an aspiring maker can get fully funded training, either through an apprenticeship or their journeyman scheme.
Funding sources are available for those who are serious about training in a craft. The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust is the major charity dedicated to supporting excellence in British craft and offers up to £18,000 for training and education. The London livery companies offer funding schemes and there are many other charities who may be willing to support an aspiring maker. Every national charity is listed in the Directory of Grant Making Trusts, which can be found in most local libraries.
Lastly, enjoy the journey and don't give up! It will take time and patience to become a good lettercarver, but it will be worth it in the end.