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The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop

152 Victoria Road · Cambridge · CB4 3DZ · Telephone 01223 362170

Elements of design

To begin designing we focus on specific design decisions. To develop a feel for what is needed each design element is considered – something disciplined and stern, something frivolous and free, something traditional, something experimental. We equally love being either derivative and traditional, or experimental and innovative.


Though we can make an endless variety of shapes, there is much to be said for the simple and elegant solution. The shape af a wall plaque or a tablet with an inscription may be determined by the format of the text, or perhaps by the constraints of the location.

For headstones there are several basic shapes from which we can elaborate as much as required:

From left to right, Gothic, Straight, Full round, Curved top, Ogee, Capping with an overhang

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From top left: Rebate, Flat rebate, Rule, V-cut, Bead, Ogee,Pencil round, Bevel at the front, Bevel at the back

A straight slab of stone or slate can look rather austere. However, we can mellow the edge with different mouldings. There are many ways of doing this. A few solutions are illustrated to the right.

Mouldings can be rubbed smooth or left with a rhythmic texture ‘from the chisel’. The surface of the stone can also be rubbed fine, but we do not normally polish it to a mirror shine. In fact, many churchyards prohibit it. And quite right too.

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If we are defined by a single activity, this is it: we are lettercutters. We cannot show the full range of our knowledge or experience here, but we can at least outline some of the basic letterforms. Some jobs may require a particular kind of lettering, while others are more open to invention.

There are three main categories of letter.

Within the three main letter categories there is a wide range of variation. Below are some of the historical forms we can work with, though we do not simply copy these letterforms.

From the left: Sans-serif, Embryo-serif, Versal, Lombardic, Blackletter, Copperplate, Rustic capital, Italic

Letters can all be made in different weights: lighter or bolder, according to need and taste. The weight of the letters depends partly on the material in which they are cut, and determine their lasting quality.

The depth of cut is directly related to its width. Since the cutting angle is constant, a thick letter will be deeper than a thin one.

We can of course do anything we like and twist the chisel to cut deeper or shallower. While there is a formal tradition and a discipline in lettercutting, we can build and develop on these foundations. Boundaries need not be limits.

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Many people love flourishes and so do we. They are sometimes useful and always decorative. They can be there to emphasise meaning, to fill a space, to make a strong design form, or for the joy of creation.

Flourishes have their own spring and strength. Calligraphically their weight has a direction, so it is more natural to flourish off italics rather than capitals, but we can manipulate them for our own ends. A flourish should never become a mass of spaghetti.

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Left to right: Latin, Greek, Maltese, St Andrew’s

There is sometimes a need or a desire for symbols to be carved. Traditional symbols have many varieties. Here are a few examples of forms of a cross.

A carving can also be used to symbolise an aspect of a person’s life: a place, career or nickname, a favourite animal or interest.

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Heraldry in full colour always enlivens a monument. When we are asked to incorporate heraldry into a design, we need to have a written description (the blazon) or pictorial representation of the armorial bearings. It helps if we can see an example.

We check all heraldry both with the College of Arms and with our own expert.

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Sunk relief


In the round

A symbol, motto, heraldry or any other design can be cut in three ways: in the round, relief or sunk relief. The effects are quite different.

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