09.06.2014

There are very few designers that are completely multi-talented; able to master layout, illustrate a page, capture the right moment in a photograph, build a website, write that telling line, and so on. We therefore work with many different creative individuals who all bring some special talent to a project. And when of those special individuals is no longer with us there is quite literally, something missing.

This month I returned to a project that I do every year. The RGS-IBG award certificates is a routine design task; setting up the artwork for all the award winners, have them over-printed onto some lovely paper stock with a fine gold foil circle. It is the sort of project that is very manageable and a pleasure to do because I then have the chance to meet up with Frederick Marns. He was the calligrapher who would write the recipients' names on the certificates in the most beautiful copperplate script. I say he was the calligrapher because Frederick sadly passed away last year.

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Returning to this project was like going to a toolbox to get just the right tool for the job but finding it missing. My eyes stare at the gap in the toolbox, a voice in my head tells me 'I'm sure I put it there', and my brain is trying to come to terms with the indisputable evidence. Frederick was missing, I was at a loss what to do, and nothing but Frederick would do. That was how important he'd become to Atelier.

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l first came across Frederick over a decade ago. He was patiently trying to teach local children how to use an inked nib at the Type Archive Open Day. I watched the children watching Frederick, then saw them get slowly drawn in, given a pen and paper, and then gently encouraged to try a 'universal line of beauty'. It looks so simple that even a child could do it. Try it yourself and see how difficult it really is.

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He once said of this task "The line of beauty is the best thing for anyone to practice. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or an experienced artist, trying to achieve that line of beauty is the best way to start any drawing session. It's so beautiful and lyrical that it's almost impossible to achieve it — I've been trying for years and I still can't do it! It's trying to do it that counts, like many things."

Frederick-envelope.jpg Frederick was always in pursuit of the line of beauty. Here is an envelope from a letter he sent to me eight years ago. It is so wonderful that I could not contemplate throwing it away.

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Frederick was acknowledged by his fellow calligraphers as Britain's leading exponent of copperplate script. His 17th century handwriting style was both flawless and appropriate for these Royal Mail products celebrating the Royal House of Hanover.

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We were very proud of our Royal Wedding stamps and Frederick created a special post card to mark the occasion. This is his original sketch and you can see the finished result at Royal Wedding Race

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To mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation, the Royal Mail asked Atelier to design a set of stamps, a first day cover and a presentation pack. I commissioned Frederick to create some special lettering for the project and these are his sketches. So meticulous was Frederick that it took him nearly two weeks from the first pencil sketch to the finished lettering. He timidly slid the artwork across the desk, quietly mumbling that he 'hoped it was OK'.

That was Frederick; the talented, self-effacing perfectionist. His memory has pulled me up short this month — reminding me of the value of the creative people we have around us now, how cherished they are, and why we should always say thank you.

Frederick's projects: Kings and Queens, Royal Wedding Race, Her Majesty The Queen

Ian Chilvers

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