My interest in cartography intensifies inline with the concentration of cartography. Sheets are lovely but an atlas! With an atlas comes a frenzy of map-joy. And a pocket guide! A small, maption-packed book…with cloth-bound, foil-blocked cover…and a plethora of tipped-in fold-out maps. Man alive!
On a recent drive to Galway (a four hour slog from Belfast) I listened to an episode of the BBC's Seriously podcasts. It was a spliced together collection of recordings of Roald Dhal, talking about his past. It's great. Amongst all the things he touches on is what an adventure travel used to be. It still is, of course, but not like it was back in the day.
Obviously, you might still purchase a pocket guide for your holiday – and that guide might still be a thing of beauty, albeit super-efficiently mass-produced – but may I suggest that the reduction in adventurial magic that Mr Dahl refers to is directly proportional to the reduction in production investment in pocket guide production. Needless to say, I'm sure the cover price also reflects this difference.
Around the middle of last year I made one of these, just for the pleasure of sewing those lines and pinning those pins: The Marber Grid, rendered in cotton thread and map pins on a canvas board. A tribute to Romek's very clever system that brought unity to so many Penguin and Pelican covers through the 60s and 70s.
It was pretty well received on the social medias back then and again more recently when I made one for friend-from-the-internet Daniel Benneworth-Gray. So I'm now offering to make them to order.
The grid is re-created, by hand, at actual size, as the great designer intended it, i.e. Penguin and Pelican paperback size. I've mounted mine in a 30 x 40cm Gunnabo from IKEA, which has the necessary extra depth for the map pins and I'd be happy to supply the 'Homage' framed the same way, or you can take care of framing yourself.
There's a bit of work involved but I'm keeping my pricing as tight as a taut thread, hence:
Framed: £65 / Unframed: £55
Happy to include UK postage and packaging in that cost but will have to charge a little extra if you're elsewhere – I'll let you know how much before you commit. If you'd like one email me by clicking here. We can arrange payment through PayPal (if you don't have an account it's really easy to sign up). Allow around two to three weeks for me to make your 'Homage to Romek'.
Map pins mark the critical grid points:
One grey thread represents the broken line on RM's original drawing.
Click each image for a closer look.
I can’t tell you very much about Hans Thoni except that he died in 1980 aged 74 and was a Swiss graphic designer. There are a few of his posters online and some stamps he designed. There’s much more online about Finsteraarhorn, the highest and less popular mountain in the Bernese Alps.
It’s nothing personal, Finsteraarhorn is, I believe, a perfectly respectable Alp, It’s just that it’s hard to get to. And I don’t mean ‘no public transport’ hard to get to, I mean it’s in the middle of flipping nowhere. It’s, what we explorers call, “a very very long way away”.
Of course, I’m an armchair explorer really and would much rather scrutinise the results of a tectonic uplift from the comfort and relative warmth of my living room, with or without Kendal Mint Cake…
Thoni’s economic illustration of Finsteraarhorn is as sparse as a mountaineer’s emergency rations after three days of blizzard-bound isolation. I count three colours and really, not much drawing. But everything is just right. Just as it should be.
I’m a little obsessed by this tiny depiction of a very big thing.
Between the years of 1876 and 1890 Justus Oehler's great-grandmother Agnes Leibbrand made 42 flower pressings which she kept in a decorative envelope box and which, after her death, remained hidden away, as if forgotten in a drawer, waiting to be unearthed by Oehler decades later. In the latest Pentagram Paper (No. 46) all surviving compositions are reproduced at actual size and Oehler tells of discovering the treasure in his grandparent's house.
Agnes carefully labelled each piece with a number, a date and a description of the fauna's origin. Oehler reflects on his great-grandmother's meticulous work and on the 19th century pastime, "…an art whose delicate beauty and emblematic floriography reflected the social and aesthetic sensibilities of the time".
It's a touching collection, made all the more interesting by how Agnes seems to have stopped pressing when she got married…as if, perhaps, the activity represented a time that had come to an end. I don't know, the Paper's text is very brief but Oehler wrote enough to trigger thoughts on the collection's significance.
Episode 1: A Potter
I'm not a fan of The Potter. Too derivative for me. But I know, I concede, I’m in the minority; I certainly am in our household. I’m not sure what the dog thinks but everyone else (the goldfish doesn’t count) flipping loves a bit of Potter.
During the summer we went to The Making of Harry Potter, down there at Leavesden Studios near Watford. Even I was a little excited – I imagined there would be at least one or two things I’d find interesting. I was wrong. There was loads of stuff. You’d have to be a very cold-hearted troll to not enjoy it; if you're a Potterette, I expect you’d need some kind of charm spell to keep your brain from exploding. There is much to get excited about.
The sheer volume of stuff is enough to make you pledge your allegiance to He Who Shall Not Be Named in order to obtain just a tiny fragment of it. Thankfully your soul is saved (although not your bank balance) by the gift shop, crammed as it is to the mythical sea creature’s gills with fabulous stuff. The perfect takeaway being, obviously, a wand and we were delighted to be fleeced two-fold…for two.
Magic: a delightful visitor experience and a perfect memento of the day.
Episode 2: The Poet
At the end of September Tandem’s latest project went live: Seamus Heaney | Man & Boy is a permanent visitor experience, housed within HomePlace, a new arts centre dedicated to, arguably, Ireland’s greatest modern poet. I had very little to do with the project so when we all went along just prior to launch day, I could enjoy it without too much baggage. I wasn’t that involved but I was in close enough proximity to the project team for a little Heaney magic to have rubbed off on me and I had by this time come to enjoy his words immensely.
Man & Boy has been received very well so far with some great press coverage in the Irish Times, the Guardian and the New York Times. It is a special experience and I think you'd have to be a very cold-hearted troll to not enjoy it; if you're a Heaneyite, I expect you’d need some kind of charm spell to keep your brain from exploding. There is much to enjoy. At the centre of the inspiration gallery upstairs there is a fountain pen, suspended as if in thin air. It's the kind of pen Heaney used.
The perfect takeaway? His wand…his gold nibbed, inky wand.
Episode Three: Two Jokers
You can’t buy a Conway Stewart from HomePlace. The company that made them went out of business, first in 1975 and then later in 2014 after an attempt to rejuvenate the brand just didn’t come off; despite the company's reputation for excellent pens demand was just not high enough.
The company was started originally in 1905 when Frank Jarvis and Thomas Garner left De La Rue, a leading fountain pen manufacturer, to set up on their own. Legend has it that they named the business after two music hall comedians of the day. It didn’t do them any harm, things went pretty well and Conway Stewart enjoyed great success with their top notch and affordable fountain pens.
It must have been some time in the 50s that Seamus Heaney was presented with his pen by his parents. He was 14 and went on to use that pen for the rest of his life. He wrote about it more than once: in ‘Digging’, the first poem in Death of a Naturalist, Heaney famously wrote:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun
In the more explicit 'The Conway Stewart’, from Human Chain, he beats less around the bush and goes into so much detail that pen nerds have speculated confidently over precisely which model he describes – probably a 58 although some have suggested a 388.
Mine is a 15.
I got it on ebay. It’s a nice example although not exactly like the Poet’s. His had three gold bands around the lid, mine only has one. But still, when it arrived my hands trembled as I removed it from its modest packaging. It feels nice in the hand and is, I have to say, an elegant pen. Yes, it’s “squat”, as Heaney described his and yes, it does feel “as snug as a gun”.
It also feels magic.
Can we stop referring to the Co-op “re-brand” as nostalgic please?
It’s a shallow response to a well considered solution. If we hadn’t seen that mark before, would we think it retro? Just look at it! I would suggest that if we hadn’t seen it before we’d think it a bold, maybe even ground breaking design for a business built on strong ethics.
OK, perhaps nostalgia comes as a bi-product but it clearly wasn’t the intention of the designers. It’s actually a great example of really smart, grown up graphic design; recognising that the solution was already there and there are better things to spend the client’s money on. In that respect, it’s a beautifully appropriate and ethical solution. It reminds me of this.
Let’s talk about that instead.
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.