Here's real treasure for the map fiend: A topographical study of the region known as Europe. I remember Europe – some of it is just below us and there's a much bigger bit over on the other side of the British mainland. We used to holiday there when it was easy to do that, before the walls went up. I liked being in Europe…then one day…one dark day in the 2016, just over half the voting population of Great Britain decided they wanted to leave. Mostly for stupid reasons. But that is, as they say, history. We won't dwell on that.
Still, nice maps: a geographical study based on extracts from large scale maps of European countries featuring the natural environment, agricultural regions, areas of industry that it'll be harder to do business with now and both urban and rural settlements that we are no longer free to visit because an ill-informed population were invited to decide on something they were wholly unqualified to decide on. But as I've already said, let's not dwell on that particular clusterfuck.
Instead let's marvel at the myriad of lines, tones, colours and typography deployed to describe these now more distant regions.
Thankfully, the beauty of cartography is not influenced by poor socio-political referendums and we can still enjoy the skills and artistry of drafts-people from countries with whom we are no longer unified economically.
To summarise Marty Neumeier’s 2013 book Metaskills: when the robots rise up to conquer, our only hope, our last line of defence, will be to hit them good and hard with a hefty dose of creativity. It’s our last chance, a full-on, hardcore assault of creative power, right where is hurts. Boom!…Or, at least, I think that was his point…don’t quote me though.
As we automate and roboticise more and more tasks that we really just can’t be bothered to do ourselves, in the end, all we’ll have left to claim we are still superior – that we still have mastery over the machines – is our ability to think outside of the lidded vessel – to think and act unorthodoxically…irregularly…nonconformistically…offbeatedly……as they say.
Not for the first time I’m joining the many voices that have expressed, more elegantly and in much greater detail, that original thought is our most valuable gross international product. And, literally, thank God (or Darwin, if you’re less spiritually inclined) because without that, without ‘new ideas’, let’s face it, we’re robot fodder.
Now I for one, have what neuro-types might call a “growth mindset”. None of us have to rely on what talent or skill we already have and infact we’d all do well, better actually, to expand our abilities through conscious, mindful, concerted and continual training.
Dorte Nielson and Sarah Thurber's book The secret of the highly creative thinker is an aid to just that. Sub-titled "How to make connections others don't", the book guides you through the theory then the practice – the conscious, mindful practice – of connection making. Building on what people like James Webb Young began fifty plus years ago Nielson and Thurber continue the de-mystification of the creative process with the science and provide numerous exercises to help anyone expand their abilities.
It's a handsome volume, easy on the eyes and pretty quick to work through up to the exercises which you can spread out for as long as you like. It's one of those "I wish this was around when I was starting out" kind of books.
In our modern era of near-androidian supremacy, as singularity inevitably approaches and those in the know – those beyond the "creative industries" – elevate creative thinking to a prized status, teaching like this is welcome and valuable.
If nothing else, it means we’ll be ready for the robots.
In the May 6 edition of Daniel Benneworth-Gray’s Meanwhile (you do subscribe to Meanwhile don’t you?) he featured Jan Tschichold’s The Form of the Book. Amongst the details Daniel drew out of that was what Jan said about “Deviant formats” – formats that don’t work. JT mentions formats that are too big, too wide and too heavy. He doesn’t, fortunately, mention too tall.
[Screen goes all wobbly and we jump back in time].
In the dim and distant and dim past – so long ago, in fact, that no one quite knows when it was – someone or other decided it would be a great idea to put a church on a thirty acre island in the Thames known for its thorny bushes.
By the 10th century (those in the know now know) there’d been a Christian church on Thorny for quite some time although there’s no trace of it today. When Edward the Confessor ascended to the throne in 1042, Thorney’s status as a sacred place was well established and he saw to it that the construction of a new, more fancy church was begun. This grander building – probably the largest Norman church of its time – was consecrated on Holy Innocents Day 1065. And not a moment too soon! Just a few days later Edward made his last confession and departed for that even grander church in the sky.
The Abbey continued to rise in national importance as Kings were crowned and later buried within its walls. Although Edward is credited for establishing Westminster, it was Henry III who imagined what we can see today – partly because by Henry’s day, those pesky French were knocking up some really fancy cathedrals and we all know that kings are covetous creatures. So in 1245, Edward’s church was respectfully (Henry was one of Edward’s biggest fans) pulled down and construction of Westminster Abbey began in ernest. Not surprisingly, the building work took much longer than the time Henry III had on the planet and a whole bagful of kings and queens came and went, each making all sorts of additions and modifications to the plans, before the job was done.
[Screen goes all wobbly and we jump forward in time].
In 1965, the 900 year anniversary of that original consecration was celebrated in a year of events and commemorated in a very tall book that I suspect even Tschichold would have approved of. It's mighty tall but just a few pages in and it makes so much sense. Very tall photos of very tall things give way to very tall text columns and then more very tall photos of more very tall things. When tallness doesn't cut it, the designers (Roger and Robert Nicholson, London) turned to a 90° turn for a wonderfully long and shallow vista instead.
The book should have a fancy and rather audacious dust jacket but my low cost copy had already lost it's coat of many colour. No matter – the modest hard cover with that beautifully positioned and thrifty sans type will do nicely for me.
There's a few copies on eBay I notice and they don't all cost that much. Watch out though, there's a low cost paperback version but the overall design is lovely so even one of those would be good.
The latest (and over-sized) Pentagram Paper is a celebration of the ignored; ever-present but invisible to many, the ubiquitous maintenance cover is a hatch to a world below our feet that our feet will never explore. The paper is a collection of reproduced rubbings taken from street covers found around London. It was designed by Marina Willer and printed in dayglo inks. You can read more about it here.
I was over in my old stomping ground the other week, seeing my Mum who wasn't too well, and I managed to squeeze in a conflab with that man Luke Tonge, off of the Internet and the Monotype Recorder and Boat and other things. Anywho, he gave me this, which was terribly nice of him…not least because he also bought me a pint. Hope to return the favour when I'm in The 'Ham again.
Back in the day, agency types would have to defend apparent wasted space on a layout by claiming that it “illuminated the message”. Maybe they still do. No false claim though, we all know that what you leave out is as important as what you put in and yes, white space does illuminate the message.
A few weeks ago we put out a recruitment ad. It was a great opportunity for someone to join the fabulous Tandem team. All we needed to do was put the ad out there and watch the applications come flooding in…
More time passed…
Still no applicants.
I began to wonder why. The ad was thorough and truthful; detailed and clear. I showed it to some design-related friends and invited criticism. Oh boy, did it get criticism. I think “intimidating” and “a bit dull” were amongst the harshest comments. So I sought sagely advice from one who knows – from an expert in such wordly matters: ace writer for brands Mike Reed.
Mike swiftly and efficiently destroyed what I'd written and, kindly, recrafted it. It was like night and day. Dull and intimidating became interesting and welcoming. A new ad went out…
And, we got takers – some really good ones.
What Mike did played on my mind over the following days. During that time this other thing happened: I was in an internal meeting which was interrupted by a colleague who needed to ask our Creative Director an important budget-related question. Something had to be cut – maybe we could pull back on the lighting? The answer was clear: there were others things to cut before the lighting. The lighting was too important.
And it clicked. What Mike did to our ad was introduce some good lighting. The new ad said the same thing as our original…but the message had become illuminated…by better words.
I’m beginning to learn that good lighting makes all the difference in a museum or visitor experience. It guides you through a space, draws you in, reveals where to look, shows you which direction to take. It’s your invisible, intangible guide.
In copy, good writing does the same: it guides, draws you in and it reveals. Just like how bad lighting kills a museum space, bad writing kills the message.
I discussed all this briefly with Mike and he observed, “lighting and copy are often overlooked, but when they’re rubbish you really notice – of course, when they’re at their best, you don’t notice them at all”. Which nails it really: in design, even in the broadest sense, the most important things are often the things that, when done properly, no one notices. Beautiful lighting, good typography, a well proportioned page, expertly crafted copy – when executed really well, are often invisible and yet, they illuminate.
That’s how William Morris pitched his, long-time pondered printing enterprise some time after 1888. Finally tipped over the edge by an inspiring lecture to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition in November that year, our hairy faced friend gathered around him a crack team; a finely-tuned, hand-crafted group – a punchcutter, a papermaker, an ink-maker, an engraver and a master printer were invited to join the fanatical craftsman at the Kelmscott Press.
52 works in 66 volumes were produced with the Kelmscott Chaucer being generally considered their masterpiece. Morris himself designed the types, title page, borders, frames and 26 initial words while his Pre-Raphaelite comrade Edward Burne-Jones produced 87 pencil illustrations, that were translated into line and engraved ready for print.
Whether it killed him or kept him alive I don’t know enough to say but Chaucer was issued in June 1896 after a two year slog and Morris died the following October.
In 1975 a facsimile copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer was produced by the Basilisk Press, following production methods that mirrored, as closely as was possible, that of the original A-Team (K-Team, actually). This time it took three years with the original volume being accompanied by a second that reproduced, for the first time, Edward Burne-Jones’ pencil sketches. 'Reproducing the Kelmscott Chaucer' is an article in The Penrose Annual from 1976. It tells of the troubles encountered by the new team: the impracticalities of using hand-made paper in the quantity required, the challenge of printing onto paper with a deckled edge, the difficulties of matting the ink and even the dangers of boredom during such a painstaking and laborious task.
During the early to mid-seventies phototypesetting was becoming standard. While they reproduced Chaucer using letterpress, the volume of drawings was produced using litho and the best phototypesetting available. That’s a huge but understandable leap from one method to the other, in craft and result. The Basilisk team went to super-human lengths to reproduce Chaucer with a spirit and effort worthy of Morris.
Now, of course, the gap between the techniques of the arty-crafty Morris and contemporary production methods is even greater. All the more admirable then that a few finely-tuned, hand-crafted individuals endeavour to keep the art of letterpress alive and relevant today.
For most of my Penrose Annual collecting career, to date, I've concentrated on the 60s. But I've come to realise the following decade has lots to offer. As phototypesetting took hold, memories of letterpress-as-standard still prevailed and also the 70s witnessed some amazing designers at work in various graphic arts.
Paul Piech had began to publish from his private press in 1959, his wood and linocuts full of purpose and protest. Follow that link, from his name, and you'll see what I mean. For this edition of Penrose, he cut motifs to illustrate an article on Caxton as well as being the focus of a piece by Kenneth Hardacre.
Tom Eckersley was in his sixties by now but his poster work was still breaking ground. There's plenty of supporting evidence in this edition to prove that.
A superb piece on the Kelmscott Chaucer gives background on the original and goes on to describe the production of a facsimile copy of the Morris/Burne-Jones masterpiece. I'm going to do a separate post about that.
As is standard with Penrose, there's a ton of other stuff including an article on the reproduction of old maps and graphic design from Canada – and then the usual technical developments of the day.
I've uploaded more highlights to Flickr.
Three things converged recently…
We went to London to start with. Haven’t been for ages and it was so good to be back, wandering around the city. Hope to be there again in the summer.
Then I began to read the book I’d been given at Christmas, Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road. It’s a lovely book…well, books really. The volume – the one I have – is made up of the original 84 – a collection of correspondences between Hanff in New York and her antiquarian book dealer at Marks & Co Ltd, at the title’s address – and her follow up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, an account of her first visit to London, a city she spent years longing to see.
Both are fabulous to read. The first follows a touching and ultimately tragic friendship between the author and the staff of the bookshop. It’s funny and super-charming and a bit sad. In The Duchess, we accompany Hanff, at a mature stage of her life, on her adventure in and around the city. Her fascination for London soon becomes infectious as you experience a view of the city that only a visitor can have.
That’s two things…and neither are the point of this post. The third thing, and the point, is this: Buildings of London, published by Artifice, is another wanderer’s view of London. Roger FitzGerald is an architect at one of the country’s top firms ADP. Working in London, he clearly has a love for it that, though different to Hanff’s in nature, is at least on a similar scale; it’s clear from the pages of his book, that FitzGerald shares a fascination for the city.
The architect’s eye is obviously at work here but what struck me is how it takes the compositions of paint and collage – FitzGerald uses fragments of printed matter in amongst his brushwork – beyond physical structures and into the realm of ambience; they capture the sensation of each place. Paintings of places we visited just a few weeks ago, take me back there. In paintings of others places, I felt a sense of what it must actually be like. They made me want to be there.
Just like Helene Hanff’s book did.
You can get a copy of Buildings of London from you know where.
When it comes to vinyl, jazz is my first love. With the exception of one or two important album’s of a more contemporary genre from my youth, it was the jazz LPs I kept at that time when the medium was deemed obsolete.
Obviously, there’s no shortage of cool jazz album covers. Jazz begs for cool covers, like a short black hairy schnauzer begs for a Rich Tea biscuit every night around 7pm…as they say. But when it comes to charity shop vinyl pickings, jazz is a bit thin on the ground. And when I say, “thin on the ground”, I mean as thin as thin can be. Thin.
I’ve only been looking at charity shop vinyl since Christmas (since my family bought me a record player and my interest in spinning black discs was rekindled) and I can’t recall seeing any jazz beyond the softcore Kenny Ball and his Jazz Men kind of jazz.
Classical, on the other hand, is present in abundance. Where there is vinyl, there is classical. If there’s nothing else, there’s probably classical. No jazz. Lots of classical. I wonder why that is? What does that say about anything? I don’t know.
What I do know – have learned – is that when classical music record labels were commissioning cover designs, all the good designers were out to lunch…smoking…drinking…and listening to jazz. Leaving those record companies with no option but to stick a photo of the conductor or, if he's out smoking and drinking with his designer mates, a photo of some vaguely related landscape or some random piece of art on the cover.
Finding anything more interesting is quite a task. But not, I'm happy to report, an impossible task, as the examples here demonstrate.
Now, I'm not an expert in the field of classical music LP cover design but Prokofiev seems to fair well, inspiring some great cover art or, at the very least, the use of a Lissitzky painting.
This cover has nothing but Czechoslovakian all over the back so until I finish my intensive lifelong learning class in that particular language I can't tell you anything about the top notch cover design. Bartok is excellent too.
This one, on the other hand, is by Rudolf de Harak. I wasn't familiar with de Harak but a quick Google reveals…well, take a look. Flippin' amazing!
And finally, this absolute triumph from 1964, another from Czechoslovakia, is credited to the mysterious Frantisek Novy who appears to have gone on to become the Pope. Go figure.
Everyone loves a pebble, don't they? In fact, I would go as far to say that if you don't like pebbles, you don't like life. You are a fool. A fool!
I will concede though that 'pebbles' is personal. My wife, for example, being of pure heart and mind chooses the whitest of white examples. Immaculately cleaned by the violent salty tumult, their chalky surfaces seem quite unnatural to me. No, the impeccable stone is not for me. Tainted by the mess of life I favour a beach gem to mirror my scarred soul.
A couple of weeks ago we were up on Northern Ireland's north coast for a few days. Man, it's a remarkable coast! And with a land-locked upbringing behind me, living so close to the craggy land edge of this island is all the more exhilarating.
Maybe it's different now but when I set out into the world of creative things I was singularly ill-equipped. Ignorant of techniques, I thought it was all about in-built, natural talent. No one talked about techniques for creative thinking. I'd like to think it's different now. Over time, I stumbled across strategies and I learned, by trial and error, how to approach a problem. Bit by bit, I collected techniques – "I wish I'd known that years ago" techniques. I have them all written down in a little black book that I carry everywhere I go.
Ideas are the single most valuable commodity in the design world so why rely on what you were born with. Why think that's all there is – especially when there's so much more. And if you don't think you're that creative, what then? Maybe, just maybe, you simply haven't worked out how to be really creative yet.
What you need is some technique. You need to get meta. You need to think about thinking.
John Ingledew's new book, How to have great ideas, brings together many strategies to unblock your creative pipework; to release your shackled genius…
Commit time to your creativity. Invest in it. The least you can do is read a book or two. Ingledew suggests much more: question, act, hoard, leap, fix, get outside and explore…my personal favourite: Go to the factory. Always, go to the factory. Then sleep, daydream, take a chance; swap, combine. Fail.
Crucially, on page 176, he says, "Understand your process", that's what it's all about really – find what works for you; equip yourself, "To have ideas quickly and repeatedly it's vital to understand which conditions make you personally most creatively productive". Ingledew quotes Tchaikovsky, "If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it halfway, we easily become indolent and apathetic".
How to have great ideas: A guide to creative thinking
was published this month by Laurence King.
'Twas the tenth year of the second millennium whence I happened upon a somewhat modest volume inside which there was to be found, described in line and word, a city so French it is now known by some as…Paris.
Remarkably, by an unholy coincidence, by fortuitous happenstance, exactly and precisely five years, two months, one week and three days later I chanced upon this quite different and similar bound collection of papers that describes, in word and line, the very same different land of somewhere else. Italia.
You can click on each image for a closer look.
If you go down to the woods today…then make your way through the trees…and pop out the other side (just like the Ancient Clan O'Neill probably did around the middle of the thirteenth century) you might find yourself (if you happen to be near Cookstown, County Tyrone) at Tullaghoge Fort.
I've been working as an interpretive designer now for nearly two years. It's been great. Revealing. I've learned all about Irish history and have some grasp of the whole Northern Irish 'situation', something that we can all have an opinion on but can't understand, in a fair and balanced way, unless we have some insight into its origins. Tullaghoge played no small role in Ireland's story – a fascinating story of intrigue, general sneakiness and skulduggery – the stuff of legends.
If there's an overriding thing I've learned over the last two years it's how certain forgotten, hidden or just carelessly misplaced episodes in our collective past can hold their own against the most thrilling works of fiction. In many ways, the job of the interpretive designer is to present these episodes as such – as thrilling works. That's how we approached the Tullaghoge story; a story of conflict, conquest, betrayal and, well, more conflict.
Enter the fabulous work of Will Freeborn. When we looked for an illustrator to help us tell the Tullaghoge story, we didn't want to commission technically accurate historic reconstructions, we wanted to capture a sense of drama…that sense of legend…a ghostly dream-like peek into a sensory past. The illustrations Wil gave us are mean, moody and messy.
The project involves much more than these illustration. It's a whole outdoor visitor experience with landscape architecture and sculptural interventions. Our hope is that it'll feel like a story book brought to life. Not 'Disney-fied' though, it's gritty and, probably, quite mudding – this is, after all, Northern Ireland. By the spring, it should all be finished and I can show you the whole thing.
I was in Belfast city centre just before Christmas, panic buying (as you do) and I stumbled across the Linen Hall Library charity bookshop. I spent far too long sifting through the mishmash of rejected, obsolete and generally disappointing volumes. I was beginning to resent the time I'd wasted, lamenting how I would never get it back and that, really, I'd been quite foolish in getting distracted from my true, less selfish seasonal mission. The last book I looked at was a defaced children's book about bees and beekeeping. Inside the front cover was this inscription.
I think that's my mantra for life, right there. Repeat after me…
It's coming up to two years since my Dad died and in a way I'm more aware of his presence than ever before. Memories of Dad and tools go together like 'Spear' and 'Jackson'. As those two years have passed I've had numerous reasons to reach for one thing or another. My Dad came from the look-after-your-tools-and-they'll-look-after-you school of hard knocks, as opposed to our use-it-and-throw-it-away kindergarten of fluff.
These tools feel like they are engrained with the imprint of his hands. That bradawl and the carpenter's pincers down below go with the mallet I posted ages ago. That serious looking steal contraption below is a ratchet brace. I have no idea what I'll use it for but I'm itching to put holes in things with it.
I have a friend whose Mum died this week. That's terribly sad. Everyone's experience of loss is different so I can't imagine how he's really feeling right now. He shared a beautiful photo of her and (I hope he doesn't find the comparison offensive) it connected with what I'd already started to write here.
Whatever you believe or don't believe, I think it's a blessing that the memory of our loved ones live on not just in our minds but in the artefacts they leave behind. Photos are vivid – for me, my Dad's tools say as much about him as anything could. My friend is unlikely to feel this right now, with his Mum's passing so sharply in focus, but these things can bring great comfort as they conjure warm memories of the times we spent with those no longer here.
I've heard of Insel-Bücherei but until last week I haven't actually seen any. First published in Leipzig in 1912 their aim was mirrored by Penguin in 1935. That is, to bring affordable books to the common man. Their design obviously influenced the Penguin Poets and Scores although Insel-Bücherei's books were hardback, rather like the original Ladybird books, and the spine and cover labels were actually glued on labels.
There's been talk of them in The Penguin Collector but from before I was a PCS member so I may need to order back issues to find out more. A quick Google reveals the extent of Insel-Bücherai issues. I picked these up for £1 each. Not sure that'll be a common occurrence.
There's a digital collection here.
According to our go to guy, our trusted fount of all known knowledge, the word ‘illustration’ comes from the latin word ‘illustra’tio’ or ‘illu’stro’ meaning ‘enlighten’ or ‘irradiate’ – ‘irradiate’ meaning ‘illuminate (something) by or as if by shining light on it’.
Thought as much.
Since I became an interpretive designer – since February 2014 – I have commissioned more illustration than I have during the rest of my long, roller-coastering career. I've worked with visualisers before, to capture concepts, but not so much illustrators, to capture stories. As interpretive designers though, a large part of our remit is to bring stories to life – to shine a light on them. To, as the godfather of this discipline put it, 'make the remote, coherent'.
And boy, what a tool illustration is – what a pleasure it is to commission illustration and what a joy it is to see the work of amazingly talented artists. With illustration we can visualise the impossible to see; the legends and maybe-truths. The romantic I-hope-it-happeneds or the horrific how-awful-that-must-have-beens.
With illustration we can capture not just scenes beyond our time and vision but imagined emotions – we can fulfil the primary directive of interpretation, to paraphrase Tilden, we can, 'relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor'.
We can compress and combine ideas – illustration is an extremely pliable tool. But that's not all, illustrators can add more than just their ability to render a scene in a technically acceptable way – they can do it in style – with their own style.
These pieces are by a local illustrator, Sam Hunter. I've had the pleasure of working with Sam a few times since I moved to Belfast but over that last year Sam's done loads for us. And he's done it with a startling panache, a 'flamboyant confidence of style or manner' (seeing as we're using definitions a bit here).
His linework astonishes me. Each piece is more than fit for purpose and more than answers the brief well, they delight. They also baffle me. How does he do it? Sam's illustrations display such flare (such 'flamboyant confidence of style or manner'). How come those squiggly, scribbly lines work so well? It's alchemy to me. Delightful alchemy.
We're using these on outdoor graphic panels that will be installed at points along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. The illustrations will bring local legends or unique episodes in history to life. One shows how children used to stilt-walk across a shallow causeway to school everyday; another is about an evil, poisonously spinned wart hog that, it is said, would emerge from the sea with murderous intent; another depicts a town's worst fishing disaster, which happened when a storm was summoned by a rather unneighbourly sorceress.
I could go on but maybe you see my point. Illustration may be one of the simplest tools for interpretation – the discipline is, after all, 'an art which combines many arts' – but it's also one of the most accessible and, perhaps, most powerful thanks to how varied styles can be (we can choose what best suits each opportunity) and how pliable the end piece can be (we can make it do what we want it to do). The key to all this, of course, is the skill and flare of the illustrator.