Famous Typographers of Famous Fonts: Eric Gill

It’s now time for the final chapter in iFactory’s series on famous typographers.

We started with the sans serif styles of the Swiss masters Adrian Frutiger and Max Miedinger, and looked at the classical influence of John Baskerville’s transitional fonts.

And now, for our fourth and final instalment, we’ll be looking at the often controversial life of EricGill, who is remembered for his work, as well as a few things some would rather forget…

Sculpting controversy

Eric Gill was born in England in 1882 and worked as a sculptor, typeface designer, printmaker and stone cutter.

He is often associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was a political and cultural wave that sought to elevate traditional craftsmanship using simple, medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration.

Gill found much success as a sculptor but also attracted controversy for his strident political views.

When he was commissioned to produce a first world war memorial in the city of Leeds, he produced a frieze based on the story of Jesus driving money changers from the temple, showing local merchants as the money-changers whom he said were a major cause of the war.

Gill’s classic typography

Turning his hand to designing typefaces, Gill produced a classically inspired font called Perpetua, based on monumental Roman designs.

He then drew inspiration from the sans-serif designed for the London Underground to create Gill Sans, which is widely used even now on book covers, road signs and street signs – it’s even the corporate typeface of the Spanish government and the BBC.

Typefaces and inscriptions

In 1925 Gill designed the Perpetua typeface, with the uppercase based upon monumental Roman inscriptions. He designed the Gill Sans typeface in 1927–30, based on the sans-serif lettering originally designed for the London Underground. (Gill had collaborated with Edward Johnston in the early design of the Underground typeface, but dropped out of the project before it was completed.) In the period 1930–31 Gill designed the typeface Joanna which he used to hand-set his book, An Essay on Typography.

Eric Gill’s types include:

A life of destruction and deviancy

A hugely influential typographer in pubic, in private Gill was a bit more coarsely drawn.

He married and had three daughters and an adoptive son, but his private diaries have revealed extramarital affairs, incest with his two eldest teen daughters and some of his sisters, as well as sexual acts with his dog.

However controversial, Gill’s legacy remains as a designer of elegant type and forthright sculpture that has stood the test of time.

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