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Monday, March 26, 2012

Les the Limner

I get kidded for having done so many different things in my life, but I did amble around a bit and there are a reasonable number of witnesses. One of the most fun careers I ever had was when I had my sign painting business, Vital Signs in Rainbow at the old gas station. 1983 to 1985, if my memory serves me correctly.

I always had a thing for lettering and letters and type and paint for that matter and being a sign painter itched most of those scratches.  A world of grey squirrel Langnickel brushes, Ronin and One Shot.

I apprenticed with old Les Gampp. Lived behind Hunter's Attic with that fellow that died his hair black that we called the indian. Les owned Alhambra Signs for over fifty years. Les liked to hit the speed bag every once in a while after our lessons, he boxed a lot in his youth and once walked across Japan. I learned about the sign craft and pugilism. Pacifist, vegetarian, amazing guy. Close friend of the great local painter Ralph Love. Les could really oil paint too, I had one of his paintings of Chile once.

Les taught me the old fashioned way, I got his mall stick when he died. We snapped a big bow for chalk lines, used and upstroke on the one stroke lettering, favored laquer for spirits. I practiced my lettering diligently for close to three years. Just started to get into gold leaf when he passed.

Les was over 90 when I met him. Was really one of the great characters in my life. I got out of the business when I saw the Gerber machines coming in, when vinyl started to take over the world.

Les slept over and caught a flu and died. Always kicked myself for not shutting that window.


I was driving up to Temecula yesterday with the wife when I looked over at the grassy knoll of Temecula Creek Inn and Golf Course. On the grass was a monument of some kind that spelled out TCI. But the C and the I were too close together compared to the distance between the T and the C. They measured out distance from the edges rather than evaluate negative space.

One of the most important keys to good graphics and lettering is layout. They don't teach it anymore and the monkeys running the machines rarely have it. There are basic rules involved. Vertical letters require more space from their neighbors than round letters. C's and O's reach over the top of the grid lines. Many of the people who letter trucks don't quite get this and you can spot the goofs a mile away. That is what happens when you take the humans out of the equation. Things can get stupid.


Today is the anniversary of Ken Norton's defeat of Muhammed Ali, in San Diego back in 1973. It was Ali's second defeat. They called Norton the Black Hercules and The Fighting Marine.


Anonymous said...

Open type fonts used with Adobe InDesign can often be programmed to understand the rules of lettering, but you actually have to have some idea what the rules are in order to use them correctly.

North County Film Club said...

You reminded me of my very brief lessons in lettering at Chouinard. But also of all my years of working with typography. Bad spacing still makes my skin crawl.