I just got an email from Russell from Designers & Books. In October they launch a Kickstarter to re-publish Depero's Bolted Book. So, nothing really important then. (Oh my god! They want to re-publish the Bolted Book!).
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.
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.
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.
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".
'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.
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…
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.