Michael Harvey: Type designer inspired by Gill


Few designers of letters have the power and individuality to give the alphabet their own special mark, but Michael Harvey did. His work is all round us, seen large in the great engraved inscription on the stairs of the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, or on a smaller scale on many book jackets. He believed that the shape of letters should match the purpose to which they were put, and what he carved or drew added his own conviction to the message that they conveyed.

His work on stone adorns cathedrals and other public buildings, and also Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta garden, where he gave concrete form to the words of conceptual art.

Born in Surrey, he grew up near Leatherhead, where his father was secretary of the Society of British Printing Ink Manufacturers. Michael showed an early interest in printing and model-making, and on leaving Ewell Castle School in 1947 became an engineering draughtsman. To his sound technique was added inspiration after chancing on Eric Gill's autobiography in the public library.

Encouraged by his wife Pat, niece of the owner of Drawing & Tracing, where they both worked, she as a tracer, he spent two summers at Ditchling where Joseph Cribb, Gill's apprentice, taught him how to cut letters. Reynolds Stone, already famous as a wood-engraver and artist of engraved lettering, was looking for an assistant to help with large commissions, such as gravestones. Stone lived at Litton Cheney in Dorset, so the Harveys moved to Bridport, which was to become their permanent home. The couple, who married in 1956, had three daughters.

Every day Harvey would bicycle to Litton Cheney, beard and hair streaming in the wind, and spend the day in an outhouse cutting letters for Stone, enlivening the task with modern jazz played on a small radio, to the bewilderment of his employer. Harvey gained the experience that made him a master of the classic Roman letter, but he was also encouraged to explore and form his own style. This came into its own in the designs for book jackets for which he found an increasing demand, becoming an independent freelance designer from 1961.

Over the next 20 years he produced some 1500 designs for Heinemann, Cambridge University Press, Methuen, the Bodley Head and others. His training as an engraver gave him a penchant for shaded 3D letterforms, which became a distinctive element of his work on paper. He also moved on to type design, beginning with Zephyr, commissioned by R. Hunter Middleton for the Ludlow Typograph Company in 1966, his only design for hot-metal casting.

With the move to digital fonts, he produced many new designs, among them Ellington (1983-90), and Andreas (1988) and the versatile Strayhorn (1990) for Adobe, whose senior designer he became. He was co-founder of the independent Fine Fonts in 2000.

Harvey enjoyed teaching his craft, first at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design (1961 to 1980), then as visiting lecturer at the University of Reading (1993 to 2001). On the Royal Mint advisory committee, and governor of Bournemouth Arts Institute, he was appointed MBE in 2001.

He wrote and published eight books on letter design, calligraphy and carving, as well a tribute to his old master, Reynolds Stone. In 2007 he launched 47 Editions, to reproduce the many photographs that he had taken. His volume Adventures with Letters was a record of his life and work, published last year. He wrote, illustrated and designed it himself – his own memorial.

Nicolas Barker

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam