Rediscovering Lloyd Reynolds

A long-lost calligraphy manual of Lloyd Reynolds is finally published.

By Charles Lehman MAT ’67 | December 1, 2012

After he began teaching at Reed in 1929, Lloyd J. Reynolds privately studied paleography “with pen in hand” and continued to do so for many years thereafter, laying solid historic groundwork for his own calligraphy and teaching of his specialty, italic handwriting. Then in 1954, the scholar-teacher Reynolds revealed himself as a master scribe, publishing his first handwriting manual, Edged Pen Alphabets, a small scholarly booklet including a hand-lettered portfolio of historic and modern letterforms.

In response to the increasing instructional needs of his students, Reynolds then hand lettered a comprehensive set of instructional exercises for italic handwriting and calligraphy for students “of all ages,” Italic Lettering & Handwriting Exercise Book. 

According to Richard Abel ’48, then manager of the Reed College bookstore, the exercise manual was produced by Reynolds one page at a time on a mimeograph machine in the faculty room for his students at Reed and the Portland Art Museum. When the pages were made available in the student bookstore, Abel saw sales increasing and even becoming a wholesale item for other bookstores. He and Reynolds then published the exercise manual, the internationally famous “pup-tent,” in 1956 through Lawton-Kennedy in San Francisco.

While drafting a third handwriting manual dealing not only with details of producing italic letter forms but also substantially with the psychology of the scribe at work, Reynolds anticipated its publication in an article, “Free Rhythm and Speed,” published in the Bulletin of the Society for Italic Handwriting (No. 21, Winter 1959–60). In attempting to explain a new exercise to students, which would help provide a rapid transition from set italic to free italic, Reynolds used six folksy expressions, such as “You are trying too hard,” “Get the feel of it,” and “Let go,” to help them adjust their work. Reynolds reported in the article, “I find that it is requiring a booklength exposition to present my method of producing these six attitudes which are necessary to any apprentice to a craft. I am almost through with the first draft, and the book should be off the press by the summer of 1960.”

In spite of the enormous amount of work spent on what is easily his most significant writing, Reynolds chose not to publish his third manual, Italic Lettering, Handwriting & Calligraphy, apparently due to the lukewarm reception given it in private reviews by three scribes/scholars he respected. 

The manuscript consists of 102 numbered typescript pages with occasional copy changes pasted into place, numerous handwritten illustrations pasted in place, and many others pasted separately on 13 white boards. It was left upstairs in Reynolds’ desk at the art studio office and discovered after his death in 1978.

In the introduction to his new work, Reynolds explains that his writing is a “text book or craft manual to be used in training teachers and subsequently as a reference and source book by those same teachers in college or high school classes.” Drafted as a companion for use with the highly successful exercise manual, the new book has two major parts. Part one systematically leads the student with thorough commentary and diagrams through the process of learning to write a basic Set italic with an edged pen. Part two leads the learner through various exercises to develop a kind of “thinking and feeling within his hand,” to write with rhythm that will “gain power, grace and expressive potentialities,” and to develop “a feeling for form.” 

Part two begins with a quote from the British scribe Alfred Fairbank, “The line and shape of Italic is an expression of movement,” and then presents Reynolds’ profound teaching about italic handwriting and calligraphy as vital rhythmic movement. As in part one, Reynolds’ running commentary addresses his readers, the teachers, as though he is present preparing them gently but thoroughly to work with their students.

The manuscript was finally published by Alcuin Press in 2011. We here present some excerpts. 

On Free Hand

In making the transition from set hand to free hand it is of the utmost importance that the student have the proper understanding of what is involved. If he concentrates upon speed, he will waste time and effort. Two other considerations are much more effective: (1) the student must persist at all times in writing Italic, and (2) he must concentrate on making the elliptical shoulders to h,m, and n. If he writes only Italic, the pressure of circumstances will force him to write as fast as the limit which is safe for h,m, and n.

At the beginning of the transition the teacher’s main concern is with three psychological impediments: (1) the student’s fear of losing the letter-form when he accelerates, (2) his growing lack of self-confidence and his discouragement, and (3) the spasm, or cramping of the fingers and hand, which is intensified during this period.

The student who can write Italic rather well with his eyes closed (except for connections in two-stroke letters, unevenness of line, etc.) has demonstrated something far more important than he realizes. He has advanced considerably in the craft by showing that he is beginning to ‘get the feel of it.’ This is of basic importance… It is a kind of knowledge which his body and especially his hand is acquiring

Peripheral vision

The purpose of training one’s awareness of peripheral vision, at this time, is to develop kinetic imagery, so that the hand may be freed from the strict supervision of the mind and of central vision. The next exercises are designed to accustom one to a reliance on kinetic imagery…

One’s natural writing size will be revealed by blind writing. Lay most stress, however, on the student’s watching the sensation in his own hand. This will improve his feeling for the tools and materials and his feeling for the movement which creates good form.

How Fast is Too Fast?

The musician or athlete just does what he has to do without special thought or eye-control. He experiences a ‘mass of undifferentiated sensations that make one aware of the body and its condition’, an experience called ‘coenesthesis’ by the psychologist. This general awareness, with the writer thinking only of the words, is the integrated state which is our goal.

Let it be stressed: the purpose is to build better kinetic images; speed must be looked upon as incidental. The student is to develop his maximum safe-writing speed, not just speed.

When the student hears the word he is to visualize it as a form. He should make the joins as a continuous gesture.


Before he can go ahead he needs further discipline. First he must learn to write at a regular, even pace, in a rhythm with a regular beat…if he is to write with ease any passage of poetry or prose that requires a little sustained effort.

In writing a long prose quotation, the work is less tiring and proceeds more rapidly if the pen moves in a sustained regular beat. The pen movement is, in effect, continuous, flowing rather than metronymic.

Chancery & Free Calligraphy

No one should try Chancery Cursive capitals who still has difficulty with the proportions of the set capitals… Not only must the proportions be inoffensive, but the curves full, the straights really straight and the horizontals firm. Swash (flourished) capitals demand split-second timing by the writer. Balanced constructions are absolutely imperative.

Once the student has thoroughly learned all these safe constructions— learned them so well that he has them ‘in his fist’, and can produce them rapidly and spontaneously without prior deliberation, he is prepared to make his first attempts at free calligraphy. The quintessence of free calligraphy is its swift, spontaneous rhythmical movement, which builds a single vigorous form out of a word or phrase.

Free rhythm

Take a few minutes to speak of movement as gestures… Crystals, fir trees, volcanic peas, stream courses, reeds – each has a form, a direction of movement, a particular kind of thrust into space, which is the visible and distinguishable manifestation of an impulse.… As in earlier dictation exercises, the student learned to experience joined sequences of letters as continuous, unified rhythmical impulses, he now can try seeing the word and phrase as a total, unified gesture. Watch the impulse coming to the hand—the impulse that is both the meaning of the word or phrase and at the same time its unified graphic shape.

Letters as expressive forms

Any page of printing has a gesture, a stance. The stance of each letter is in harmony with the stance of the page. Most of us never see it consciously, but students of the letter-arts must learn to look closely and to be aware of what they are seeing. A letter form is always more than an abstract symbol for a sound, it is also an expressive gesture.


A skilled typographer also knows how to arrange the type he has chosen in an appropriate total design (layout) so that this gesture will have its maximum effect. Type face and layout, integrated, are a total form, a complex harmonious gesture that has meaning in itself.

The student of the letter arts must pursue the question of how the form (gesture) of a particular type face relates historically to the culture which produced it.

As craftsmen, we must learn to look kinetically and to see intuitively. Just as important, we must make the study of cultural history one of our favorite preoccupations.

Italic as expressive form

What can be said of the gesture of Italic? First, I shall risk an incomplete and overly simplified summary of the positive characteristics of the Renaissance humanists: a love of classicism, of order, proportion, symmetry, and harmony and interest in humanity and faith in its potentialities, a devotion to ideals of scholarship, a respect for calligraphy, a feeling for tools and materials and an insistence on proper technique in using them, and an intense interest in the problem of how to lead the good life . . . But what of our modernized form of Chancery Cursive, the Italic: does it express in its gestures any qualities of human dignity and grace? Unquestionably it does have dignity, proportion, harmony, human warmth, and a beauty surpassing that of any other cursive handwriting style. I believe that it is something of this feeling about Italic that draws people to it today.

Rhythm and meaning

If one is acutely aware of word meanings, of their denotations and connotations, and is responsive to nuances of rhythmical movement, he is often able to interpret a particular word or phrase by the rhythmical movement of his pen, provided he has the technical training and the experience. As the inflections, tone, pitch, speed, volume, emphasis, etc., of a living voice make a word a vital expression, so may rhythmical movement of the pen provide an equivalent when the word is committed to a writing surface.…

If written skillfully in free rhythm, words look like what they say. It is far more important, however, that they move in the manner signified by the words.

A letter is a letter, not a picture of anything. It is not a picture of rhythmic movement; it is rhythmic movement.

Tags: Reed History