I’m reading “On looking” by Alexandra Horowitz, a book recommended by pommiepal just before she left the blogosphere for a rich and fulfilling life in the non-cyberspace world. The author walks city streets, accompanied by a variety of experts: her 2-year-old son, a geologist, a scientist of movement through space, an animal expert, an author, a blind woman, a doctor who diagnoses passers using Sherlock Holmes methodology, her dog, and a man who knows fonts.

It is the last of these who inspires this post. Paul Shaw sees the world through the lens of lettering: I’m  familiar with the way the landscape can deconstruct around one obsession, in my case, for a while, line. As he and Horowitz  walk the streets his attention is constantly grabbed by lettering we’d mostly pass by: he not only notices, but he analyses and critiques – spacing, shape, materials. He also anthropomorphises letters and Horowitz is caught up in this game: she combs lettering chat rooms and scrutinises passers-by for inspiration, identifying letters that are squinty-eyed, short-necked, jaunty, complacent, high waisted, tipsy. Sometimes Shaw specialises: he collects “no parking”signs or ghost signs, those traces of signs left from the past. 

I can’t say, as Paul Shaw does, anything technical about what I see but I can collect examples of lettering that catches my eye: because it is attractive, or because of its message, or both. The lettering I encounter serves many purposes: it labels / names, provokes thought, mystifies, amuses, gives aesthetic pleasure, gives orders, and of course advertises.

I’m interested in the letters but also in the surfaces I find letters on. I find them on pavements, on walls, stuck to trees, in underground stations, on the back of trucks, in front of cafés, on the glass of windows, on stone monuments, in signs hanging above shops, even on an old battery. Sometimes I’m interested in the inventive placement of lettering and the drawings that go with it. 

Here is my collection so far. I suspect there’ll be more.

It began underground waiting for the airport train – not this train, although it was pulled into the same station. The plain walls suddenly morphed into a feast of lettering and colour. For once,  I have an advantage because I don’t know the language: I can look at pure shape and design.

On the pavement, horizontal, there are stencils and chalk, and markers in stone and bronze.

Elsewhere the letting is vertical, on gateposts, pylons, an old battery, a stanchion, rusting metal. I’m a fan of the decorative too: otherwise ordinary graffiti takes on beauty in my eye because of paint dribbles.

From the tram I see this cafe window, and make a special trip back on a morning of icy wind to capture handwriting on glass. After all the mass production, this was pure delight and the quotes made me smile.

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Then, as always in Warsaw, there is more formal lettering of deep sadness:  memorials to people murdered in the horrors of World War 2.  In this case, a group of children , 5-10 years old were shot.



About morselsandscraps

A retired Australian who spends a lot of time in Warsaw, and blogs as a way of life.
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12 Responses to Lettering

  1. Sue says:

    Great post, Meg! From time to time I notice letters, fonts… By the way, did you ever get to the Neon museum? Great letters there…..


  2. restlessjo says:

    The ‘behind bars’ gallery is wonderfully striking, Meg. 🙂


  3. Rosemary Barnard says:

    I am reminded of the man who used to chalk Eternity in distinctive copperplate lettering on footpaths all over Sydney. There was even an inscription at leafy Turramurra. Eternity eventually showed up on the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge one New Year’s Eve, lit up in fireworks.


  4. Love this post, Meg. I had to put aside her book for a while because of some other projects, but this has just reminded me to pick it up again! Isn’t it interesting what you start noticing when you intentionally look for things you’d normally ignore? Thanks for reminding me again to look beyond the obvious!


    • Once I get a theme going I can’t leave it alone. My first Warsaw blog is littered with doors and windows and architectural detail and seats. Currently I’m in pursuit of lost gloves.

      Her book is easy to leave and return to – and to reread bits of, even on Kindle

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Elissaveta says:

    Hi Meg! So happy to see you’re still in Warsaw although I do miss your beautiful, exotic (to me) tales of faraway Australia. Those pictures of lettering are very intriguing, it’s pushing me to keep an eye out. I must say Warsaw looks beautiful, that street art is mesmerising!!


  6. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Ahh what a great thing to collect Meg, the possibilities are endless and come to think of it I have many examples myself. You should start a challenge! Lovely to see you 🙂


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