What Number Brush Did You Use?

In the pre-computer days, comps were painted or drawn, or sometimes collaged, in rough form. Art school emphasized hand skills, lettering with brush and gouache. The following painted “sketches”—from a collection of over 50 found in LA by my colleague and friend Jim Heimann of Taschen Books—are either student work for a packaging exercise, or they were created in the bullpen of some package-design agency. We don’t know who did them or when, though they were produced by one person and appear to be from late 1940s or ’50s. None of the products, as far as we can tell, went to market. One thing is, however, certain: The artist learned his or her lessons well. Some of the comps are more finished than others, but all reveal a mastery of lettering using a brush.


For more Steven Heller, check out Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

13 thoughts on “What Number Brush Did You Use?

  1. Justin

    In school, even though we had Macs to set type, we still learned to hand-letter with brush and ink. I think it gives you the necessary appreciation for the craft of typography and leads you to more thoughtful decisions when it comes to speccing type.

  2. Anne Kerns

    Prismacolor pencils, Pantone markers, ruling pens filled with gauche, brushes with gauche, Letraset rubdowns, claycoat paper, Xerox, Color Xerox, INTs, and finally in my senior year, the computer. 
    Great post!

  3. Suzanne

    Prismacolor pencils and Pantone markers were my go-to for comps in the early 80’s. I remember taking a course at College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland when computers just started to appear. I think it was the Apple e series, with pixels about .25 inches it seemed. Creating a circle using coordinates looked like cross-stitch.

  4. Mary Anne Erickson

    Really nice!!! I’m a newcomer to your blog and enjoy each and every one – but this one is particularly sweet! As a graduate of ACCD in the early 70’s, we all had to learn these skills – just love the freedom and freshness of these comps! And oh yes, I was one of the Winsor Newton Series 7 girls – 00 series were my favs!

  5. Laura

    These are absolutely beautiful. I wish that we still had courses that still taught hand made methods. Using a computer is fine, and great for getting things to send or print, but when it comes to opening the vast creative possibilities of the mind, the more disciplines you know and are able to do, the more you are able to create.