Gourlay and William Blake at the Huntington Library
On June 7, 2013, Alexander Gourlay (Professor, Literary Arts and Studies) read a paper, “Blake Writes Backwards: Adventures in Retrography,” at a symposium on William Blake’s manuscripts held at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The presentation, employing digital imaging methodologies developed for students analyzing medieval calligraphy in Gourlay’s paleography classes at RISD, showed that the drypoint lettering technique Blake used to sign intaglio commercial plates early in his career was the basis of the pointed brush script with which he later wrote the texts of his famous relief-printed “illuminated books” of poetry. The paper included video demonstrations of drypoint and brush retrography (writing backwards).
Note on attachments:
The video: Blake’s name being incised backwards, 1.5 mm high, in copper using a sharp pointed tool. Eighteenth-century commercial engravers often signed their names this way, though the drypoint signature was often replaced with a much more elegant script by a professional writing engraver.
The jpg: A microscopic image of a printed drypoint inscription by William Blake showing the direction and division of the tool strokes used to form the letters.