Saturday, 24 March 2012

Elephant No. 174: Letraset

A couple of years ago, my sister gave me a huge quantity of Letraset®, which I came across again yesterday. I haven't used Letraset in years, so it seemed like an interesting thing to try for today's elephant.

Although the name has become generic, Letraset is actually a brand name for materials produced by the eponymous company in Kent, England. The most famous of the company's products was dry-transfer lettering, which was the gold standard for graphic layouts for more than thirty years.

When first launched in 1961, Letraset took the industry by storm. Instead of having to letter things by hand, graphic artists could simply rub on letters from a sheet of Letraset. Although this was a tedious process if a great deal of lettering was involved, it was still far less tedious than having to hand-draw every letter perfectly.

In addition to lettering, the Letraset company and others began producing "rub-ons" featuring cartoon characters, animals and more. As a result, many children grew up using rub-ons to create scenes in which football players floated in mid-air, fish swam through trees, and monkeys drove cars while standing on their heads.

Dry-transfer lettering was ubiquitous right into the early 1990s, when desktop publishing took the place of most hand-lettering. Today, Letraset is still available from the company that started it all, and still includes sets of letters in a wide range of typefaces, as well as sheets of patterns and textures. In addition to dry-transfer sheets, the Letraset company also makes art supplies such as markers, inks, rubber stamps and fonts, largely aimed at the serious hobbyist and graphic artists.

I had literally hundreds of sheets of Letraset from which to choose today, but I limited myself to these few sheets of black letters. Having too many choices is always a bad idea for me.

The rules for today's activity were simple: I could use only the letters in the word "elephant", but I could use upper or lower case, and I could apply them in any direction I liked. I also didn't have to spell "elephant" anywhere, since I'd already done that in my rubber-stamp typography activity months ago.

I started by sketching an elephant lightly in pencil, on a good-quality sheet of bristol board measuring 28 x 38 cm (11 x 15 inches). I knew I'd get very lost, very quickly, if I didn't have some kind of sketch to guide me.

After that, I simply rubbed on letters as I liked. I used the pointy end of a bamboo skewer for this, as this was both soft enough and hard enough to rub the letters on nicely, while also allowing me a bit of precision.

A few technical tips if you get your hands on some Letraset and want to try this:

1. Make sure your Letraset is relatively fresh. Some of mine was from 1983, and it not only cracked but also didn't stick very well in spots.

2. If you need to remove anything, don't try using an eraser or scraping it. Simply find a place on your Letraset sheet where there are no letters, place it over the mistake and rub hard. It should pull off cleanly. Well, unless it's old, in which case, you may have to try this a few times—or, as I did in a couple of places, give up and rub a new letter over top of it.

3. Try not to lay letters on top of one another unless you plan to be incredibly precise when laying down the new letter. If you inadvertently rub over the top of a letter that's already there, it will pull away, as if you had intended to erase it.

This whole activity was harder than I thought it would be—mostly because it's actually rather complicated to find letters that will fit a specific shape without looking clunky. Not that it's truly difficult; it was just more of a challenge than I expected. That being said, I'm pleased at how well it turned out, particularly through the ear area.

I would definitely try this again, perhaps on something much bigger, so that I could use larger letters—and use up more Letraset. I'd also make sure I could spend a few days on it, so that I could create something with shading rather than mostly outlines.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although he first achieved fame for risking his life to save animals in the Baghdad Zoo during the recent war in Iraq, Lawrence Anthony was also known as "The Elephant Whisperer". Showing an uncanny ability to calm traumatized elephants, Anthony had forged a profound bond with the elephants living in and around the Thula Thula private game preserve in Zululand, South Africa.

Anthony had literally saved the lives of many of Thula Thula's elephants. Asked to take in a rogue herd that would otherwise be destroyed, Anthony had agreed, although common sense told him it was a bad idea. In the years that followed, Anthony worked closely with the elephants, and came to be accepted as part of their family.

Following Anthony's untimely death of a heart attack on March 2, 2012, family and friends witnessed an astonishing sight. In what appeared to be a tribute to Anthony, the two elephant herds of Thula Thula began arriving en masse at Anthony's house on the preserve.

According to Anthony's son Dylan, the elephants had not been at the house in eighteen months, making their arrival unusual at the very least. Even more surprising was the fact that it would have taken the herds at least 12 hours to get there. The first herd arrived on a Sunday; the second herd arrived a day later. After remaining quietly around the house for two days, the elephants turned around and made their way back into the bush.

It is not known why the elephants made the trek. Perhaps they missed seeing Anthony out in the bush, and came looking for him—although this was something they'd never done before. Or perhaps Anthony's family and friends were right in thinking that somehow the elephants knew he was gone, and came to pay their last respects, as they often do with their own kind.

Anthony's work with the elephants of Thula Thula is detailed in the book The Elephant Whisperer, co-authored with Graham Spence.

Elephants arriving at Lawrence Anthony's home on the Thula Thula
private game preserve, South Africa.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation
Elephants Without Borders 
Save the Elephants
International Elephant Foundation
Elephant's World (Thailand) 
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Elephant Nature Park (Thailand) 

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