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NGS article – IOAFS free zone: The right Angle on Cursive script


Cursive or Corsivo (speedy in Latin) writing is undeniably the most enchanting of all type genres, in the right hands.

The great calligraphic hands of past and present always seem to have a last say on this fluid yet highly controlled execution.

When it comes to the brushed form the grand old debate ensues: one trace or two?


At this point it’s important to sketch up some context showing where I am coming from on script and off.

I remember in 82 starting up with Allied Breweries, being handed a type book which had all the faces used by the brewery and there centre stage was a custom script aptly named Pub Script.

It was a cross between Commercial, Edwardian and Palace script. Chunky but still with a nice flow with a few tweeks.

Off I went and faithfully reproduced it across hundreds of panels in gold leaf with red shade.


Pub script era

iphone 4s total cashe images 2977

The Allied Brewery Pub Script – very similar to the original 80s verso



The other subcontractors did the same with the exception of Ambridge Signs who just kept to their own beautiful script.

The problem I had with that was they also wrote, as I did, for Watney’s and used the same signature script… and for Whitbred and for Courage too.

Even in those early days I had a ‘brand-head’ on and saw the need to write several different styles of script for each identity. I was 22 years old, working for myself, and had no senior to contend with my ideas, and so I brought together the two worlds of graphic design (via those damn Letraset manuals), and the brush.  I had to be my own critic and not let too much slip through. We’re all human and we all do let a few things go, but generally my standards were really something to be proud of. I pass those on to my students each and every.

Because I had just graduated from Fine Art and had a passion and talent for drawing I utilised my greatest strength and used purely hand drawing, building multi character tracing swatches and a system to run out layouts for my panels and maintain the brand ID. My tutors at Camberwell were pretty tough on life drawing and it gave me a huge advantage understanding shapes at first snap.

It seemed logical and safe to combine draftsmanship into my practice as a keystone and central theme. I didn’t have the encouragement of a senior to push me to just sketch up and use a stick of chalk. So I formulated my own system.

And it worked.

A lot of people came to associate what I did with quality.



Recently, a few hawks in the game have taken a swipe at how some may work their scripts citing in my case that I am not using the traditional stick of chalk and onestroke technique. Not true of course – in fact it couldn’t be further from the truth. I zip set out so accurately on the fascia to the point where I might as well have drawn it up in the studio.

The reason I don’t like a slash out onestroke cursive in the hands of many, is simply because it’s a bit shit compared to something set out on a pattern and it invariably goes out of space.

Using a layout or pattern is not a cop-out. It is another layer of good, worthy craftsmanship. It’s attention to detail.  Any signwriter that says it is wrong, is a complete numpty. It’s easy to chalk up and write cursive – I do it all the time. It’s just the extra design layer that happens in the studio creates real quality because it discovers things that get flown past by the brush on site. The pencil explores what the brush later awes.

Below the script has a refinement drawn in the studio on paper. Set up on site it was sketch traced to land that sparkle and snap. The brush landed and refined the shapes by eye.  There is no better way in my book. The drawing sheet allows for another layer of refinement and beauty…

NGS Craft scripts


Above: chalked up from 1:10 sketch and painted.



Here are my check-points regarding casual or classical cursive script:

  • I don’t like it going out of space – it’s avoidable and I hate seeing flourished last letters filling the spacing error gap.
  • It’s not typographically accurate enough for me – yep it’s hand painted … but not always with the best shapes and detailing.
  • It makes signs look cheap, tacky and in my game knocked out when done too slappy just leaves it open to criticism.
  • I don’t often knock signs out even when I work from chalk and stroke. I like to hone the structure.


Every letter I chalk up has to have the same structural integrity as set out on my first drawing board, otherwise I risk getting into bad habits and start passing it off as IOAFS. In my team it’s never IOAFS.



Above: NGS Script sketched up clean and consistent.


By Design

So there we have it! Out in the open!! Pub or so called ‘freehand’ signwriters (my teacher used to say ‘fuckin’ ‘orrible that!’ if it wasn’t spot on) make everything look like fucking pubs or Ice Cream wagons at worst. And that from a design perspective is a problem.

Most of those guys who are critical of 2 track cursive, often lay a heavy stack of criticism at the door of modern graphic designers saying it’s not signage… in many instances they are correct with regard to layout and logo design because it is a particular thing designing signage.  But broadly speaking these youngsters can wipe the floor with the old guard when it comes to graphic knowledge and versatility. And quite often honesty too.


Original tooling

So let’s look at cursive and understand the how and why.  Firstly let’s look at what the nib does.

Nib anatomyNib tipping shapesOblique nibs


With the calligraphers pen drawn down through the main stem, the two ‘Tines’ separate forming a wide line and when pressure is lessened they close  drawing the lightest weight of the ‘entry’ line.

Tine spread 3

They form two tracks which are filled with ink.

It is not one track as with a casual script with onestroke or signwriter’s chisel brush.

Tine spread 2

The nib goes from 1 to 2 Tines spread, no matter the size of the script.



For smaller script undoubtedly the onestroke technique is the one. Down pressure, rising to the tip for connectors.

Pete Hardwicke’s cursive below shows that perfect form.

Pete Hardwicke script

For larger runs it has to be based on 2 tracks because no brush can accommodate such transitions to thick and thin on such a scale, unless opting for a 30s cafe script rather than classic cursive.

Ted Ambridge Script

Above is either, Ted Ambridge’s or Paul Gurney’s stylised and crafted pub cursive.


Wayne Tanswell’s medium sized single brush ‘one stroke’ type of script.

Below:  Martin Hopkin’s Cursive

Martin's script

Nick Garrett script

Nick Garrett’s modern Pub Script above, and classic below.


Above Nick on a 1930s italic.

Classic Cursive



What really matters in classic cursive is the hand of the artists. There are the key guiding laws of:

  • Parallel same angle consistency.
  • Ovals: repeated and consistent with subtle tightening variation for D P G and B lower case.
  • Snappy or graceful connectors.

Beyond that it’s game on.


Big respect to all those mentioned in this article.


Nick Garrett


Coming up next how to paint Italian Cursivo and cafe slang script