On the design of your own personal thumbprint

by Bill McConaughy

It was the autumn of 1962 and my sixth-grade teacher, Miss Walker, had included on our list of required school supplies a few curious items, new to our usual collection of rulers, protractors, and pencils.

“This year you will need three Speedball C2 pen nibs, a penholder and a bottle of Higgins Eternal black ink.’’

What was this? Calligraphy nibs and eternal ink? These things sounded deep and mysterious—not belonging in the same shoebox as Pink Pearl erasers and Elmer’s glue.

...writing is like dancing—
you feel the swing throughout your body…

Gild the giant letters with gold.
Set the tables amidst the streaming rays,
beams of light,
under this refulgent dome,
let’s crack open the vintage bottles
with our beloved friend and teacher . . .
laugh at stubbing our ink ladened Speedball nibs—splattering the misspushed stroke
into the paper and drink appreciative toasts
to Lloyd—firestarter and mentor—
our hearts and his heart are very, very old friends.

Bill McConaughy

Miss Walker, it seems, had taken a Reed summer class with Reed faculty member Lloyd Reynolds and was brimming with a contagious enthusiasm—the gospel of italic lettering was upon her. She was an excellent calligrapher, and worked very hard at methodically teaching history and technique from the little book that Lloyd had written, Italic Calligraphy and Handwriting Exercises.

...You don’t try to make it happen any more than
you have to design your own personal thumbprint...

In the course of designing this issue of Reed, I have been humbled to read about the profound influence Lloyd Reynolds had, and continues to have, on a tremendously creative and distinguished group of Reed College alumni. Nearly everyone wrote that they can still hear Lloyd’s words and lessons echoing in everything they do.

Same, as they say, here.

…keeping the curves rich and full…

How many angels can dance on the edge of a pen? All I know is that there are but few sensations that I remember as vividly as the first broad stroke of reflective blackness pulled onto paper with these new writing tools. How the graceful thin line magically appeared with no extra effort simply by turning the corner on a familiar form—I was hooked. Lloyd had revealed himself…the path direct.

...keeping an appointment with your eye…

I continued to practice lettering and the critical study of letterforms—using the Italian secretary hand for day-to-day note taking, report writing, and mathematic transcription. In 1968, Lloyd offered a summer calligraphy course at Reed to a few high-school students who had distinguished themselves through calligraphic works and national competitions. I had the great fortune and lasting benefit of Lloyd’s historical perspectives and philosophical direction that summer.

I learned that Lloyd Reynolds was the banger of an immensely powerful drum—its sound could awaken the dead.

…not only can everyone be an artist,
everyone should be an artist…

I can hear Lloyd leading off a class with shining, lineal, historical improvisations like ’trane or Miles stretching out over 64 bars. Generating an enthusiastic path to—and clarity about—the history of a single character in the alphabet. Taking a left to impart its relative Zen aspect and then dropkicking how Lewis Mumford or William Blake would relate to this specific point. Explaining along the way the proper stroke sequence and arming us with tools of human communication that we would carry for life.

Lloyd imposed order, but he didn’t mold people to fit his. He was both mentor and firestarter, clear and historically conscientious, but not stifling. Direct with technique and insight, but not aggressive. Measuring his brilliance as needed, lighting the path so others could see their own way.

…practice critically…

I’m just one of many still on that path. End of Article

Bill McConaughy is a principal in the design firm Anderson McConaughy and an internationally-recognized calligrapher. He and his partner, Stephanie Sherwood, have designed award-winning Reed material for the past six years.