Tooth Fairy Resigns

The Tooth Fairy may be resigning! Here’s Francesca Simon, author of Horrid Henry, telling the beginning of the story.

Francesca’s tale is also featured on the inside wrapper of the Milk Tooth Chocolate bar from Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. It’s a smooth milk chocolate with delicious chunks of delicately roasted milk teeth (a really monstrous treat).

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If you know a young writer, maybe they could come up with the ending? If they send their story to info@monstersupplies.org by 31 December 2014 they’ll be entered into a prize draw to win 30 bars of Milk Tooth Chocolate (enough for a whole class of little monsters!)

Find out more at the Ministry of Stories.

Turner colour experiments by Olafur Eliasson

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We nipped over to Tate Britain over the weekend to check out the Late Turner exhibition, which is more than worth the trip if you have time. His use of colour and light is quite extraordinary, and it’s incredible to think that he was painting his stunning, almost abstract canvases in the 1840s, a good sixty years before Monet started doing the same.

But, what really caught our eye was the separate show, upstairs in the Clore Gallery, of colour experiments by Olafur Eliasson, based on J.M.W. Turner’s work.

olafur_eliasson_2

The colour experiments are part of an ongoing series of oil paintings by Eliasson, working with a chemist to mix paint colours for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. The seven on show at the Tate are direct responses to seven of Turner’s paintings, some of which are on in the Late Turner show, including The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons:

Burning

Over on the Tate site, Eliasson has this to say about them:

‘For each of his paintings, I bring the colours and light into a schematic system which is then transferred to a round canvas without a centre. This shape generates a feeling of endlessness and allows the viewer to take in the artwork in a decentralised, meandering way. The fading colours in each sequence deter the viewer’s eye from resting on a single line or spot. Instead, the eye must negotiate its way around the work, which creates a sense of personal narrative.’

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Eliasson’s canvases are truly beautiful – unfortunately there’s not much indication of how they are produced, just that they’re oil on canvas. Though this studio shot over on Eliasson’s Facebook page is rather lovely:

eliasson-studio

This short Tate film explains more about the project:

Lovely stuff.

Random Spectacular Two

randomspectacular2_cover

The good folks at St Jude’s Prints recently sent us the second issue of their rather wonderful periodical, Random Spectacular, and it’s quite fantastic.

As with the first issue (which we reviewed back in January 2012) it’s a “collaborative exploration of the visual arts, literature, music, travel and much more”.

For instance, there’s a wonderful piece by typographer, designer and teacher Catherine Dixon about the letterpress scene of Buenos Aires (featuring the fantastic work of both Gómez Broncería Artística and Prensa La Libertad):

randomspectacular2_dixon

and a lovely set of images from photographer Finn Beales, all shot on an iPhone.

randomspectacular2_finn

There’s also a lovely feature about Ralph Steadman’s illustrations of extinct and nearly-extinct birds:

randomspectacular2_steadman

and an article by James Russell about the Submarine series of lithographs by Eric Ravilious:

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The format, somewhere between A4 and A3 (240mm x 350mm), means that the imagery is all gloriously detailed.

All proceeds from the sale of the magazine are again going to Maggie’s Centres (which support people with cancer) - so there’s no reason not to buy a copy for yourself right now!

August? It’s over…

 

- Ring, ring, ring -

Hey August.

Hmm? Yeah, I’m good.

Yeah, that’s … look, I think we need to talk.

Um, well, yup, it is serious.

Well, it’s … it’s just not working for me.

What d’you mean ‘what’? All of it!

*Sigh*

When this began, I thought it was really going to be something special you know? I had such high hopes. I genuinely thought we might go somewhere you know. But you promised so much, all those weekends away, days lying in the park, and God I wish I’d listened to my mates, but that’s…

What? Oh, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t…

They just said you might go this way, that you had ‘form’…

Look, that’s not really the point is it?

Just listen will you?

I’m talking about us. About now. And this just isn’t working for me. I’m done. I can’t stick around in this… this miserable gloom.

No, I know there’s a only a few days left. But that’s hardly a reason to draw this out is it?

What? Does it matter? Well, yeah, if you really need to know, there is…

You don’t know them.

You don’t.

Bloody hell. Look, okay, you might have met them a few times. But only ever very briefly. It really isn’t…

*Sigh*

Okay, okay, whatever. It’s September okay?

Pause.

You there?

Well, why d’you think? Surely it’s obvious. You’ve just been.… such a disappointment. And September has always been there for me.

I know. Of course I remember that you introduced us. Of course.

Well yeah.

I know. But maybe expecting a little less is more realistic. At least I’m not gonna be let down. Not again.

No.

No.

Oh come on. I gave you so many second chances.

Look, we’re done okay. That’s it.

I don’t know. Next year sometime I guess. I’ll just have to see how I’m feeling.

No. Don’t text.

Yeah. Me too, August. Me too.

Spectra

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Over the past seven nights, London has played host to a stunningly beautiful light installation, Spectra, by the artist Ryoji Ikeda.

Installed at Victoria Tower Gardens, right next door to the Houses of Parliament, the installation (which ended at dawn this morning) consisted of a bank of forty nine static high-powered searchlights, grouped together in a 20 metre square grid, creating a single beam of light that shot up into the night sky. From afar the light looked elegant and faint, a thin line reaching up to the clouds; up close, where you saw just a portion of the whole beam, it became solid and powerful.

At the gardens themselves, Ikeda had composed an ambeint soundtrack to listen to as you wandered in and out amongst the lights. The atmosphere around the lights was remarkably peaceful, even with the large crowds drawn to the site each evening like moths to a flame.

The installation has travelled the world over the past few years, appearing in different forms in different cities. In London, presented by Artangel, it was one of a series of art commissions marking the centenary of the First World War.

Our creative director and resident photographer Alistair has been out and about for the duration of the project, photographing it from various different perspectives.

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Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman, 1963

 

The Royal Academy invited us along last week to check out their new show, Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album.

It’s an interesting exhibition, featuring over four hundred shots taken by Hopper between 1961 and 1967. Here’s what he had to say about them when they were exhibited at the Fort Worth Art Centre in Texas in 1970:

“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

The prints produced for that show were rediscovered after Hopper’s death in 2010, and this is the first time they’ve been seen together in the UK. While it’s great to see them in their original form, their size (the majority are 9.5 x 6.5 inch) and the size of the space feel at odds with one another – it’s a peculiar decision on the part of the exhibition designers not to blow any of the images up, even just as backdrops, and leaves the exhibition feeling a little sparse, and without pace. Looking through the images in the accompanying catalogue feels much more engaging and much more intimate.

The photographs themselves are an intriguing mix of social document and aesthetic exploration. It’s not as if Hopper was a groundbreaking or outstandingly talented photographer – but he was mixing in really interesting circles at a really interesting time. Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp, Martin Luther King, John Wayne, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Peter Fonda, Hells Angels, hippies – they were all captured by his lens.

 

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Paul Newman, 1964

 

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Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964

 

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Double Standard, 1961

 

The exhibition runs until 19 October at the Burlington Gardens section of the Royal Academy.

All images © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. 

Comics Unmasked at the British Library

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We nipped along to the British Library yesterday to check out their new show, Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK, the largest ever comics exhibition in this country.

The show is a thematic retrospective of the British comics industry, with a particular focus on the way comics from the UK have sought to subvert expected norms.

There’s a wealth of great stuff on show, including a fair few samples of original artwork, such as this piece from Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl:

comics_tank_girl

Hewlett also designed the show’s key marketing image, a caped crusader called Lawless Nelly :

comics_hewlett

The show is divided into six main areas: Mischief and Mayhem; To See Ourselves; Politics; Hero with 1000 Faces; Sex and Sexuality; and Breakdowns. We weren’t entirely convinced the thematic groupings were necessary, and a chronological format might have worked just as well, if not better.

We did particularly like seeing a lot of the old strips from 2000AD though. Given how well Marvel and DC are doing by converting their back catalogue into films and TV shows, it’s odd that more of 2000AD’s rich cast of characters hasn’t had the same treatment.

This is a page from writer Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell’s fantastic Zenith story, about a Generation X superhero (which is hopefully being republished in its entirety this October, after years of legal wranglings over who owns the rights to the character).

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Of course, 2000AD’s key character was Judge Dredd, the fascist law enforcer who readers were invited to both love and loathe:

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The show features excerpts from the brilliant America strip from the Judge Dredd ‘Megazine’ (above, and below), written by John Wagner and drawn by Colin MacNeil.

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Also on show is John Smith and Steve Dillon’s Tyranny Rex, seen here hanging out with a very Princely character:

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It’s really impressive to see the vast array of British talent, and to note that most of them have also gone on to become pivotal to the international comics scene, none more so than Alan Moore, whose V for Vendetta runs like a thread through the exhibition, particularly in the form of the V masks that have been adopted globally by the Occupy movement.

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The other big talent running through the show is Dave McKean, who worked as the Artistic Director of the exhibition. There’s a fine selection of his work on display, including props and original artwork from his book The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, written by Neil Gaiman.

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Overall it’s a fascinating show. Perhaps a little bit dry, as exhibitions at the British Library can sometimes be. The lighting is set quite low, presumably to protect some of the older items from damage, but as a result you find yourself squinting to read some of the captions, and some of the comics themselves, which is a drag.

If you’ve got an iPad though, you can download the Sequential app, which contains a free companion piece to the show, Comics Unmasked – The Digital Anthology, which actually lets you feel much closer to the comics (though only selected excerpts are included). The anthology is available to download for free until the exhibition ends, on August 19.

Planting Poetry for the Ministry of Stories

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Our memories of poetry at school mainly consist of being forced to sit and read aloud various impenetrable and ancient poems in a hot and stuffy classroom while glancing out of the window and thinking “I’d so much prefer to be out there right now”.

So it’s a massive pleasure to have worked on the latest Ministry of Stories project, where poetry is written rather than just read, and where it’s done outside rather than in.

Planting Poetry is a project the Ministry runs with primary school children. It runs over the course of five sessions, with the support of a facilitator and Ministry writing mentors. For this year’s project, thirty Year 5 children (aged 9-10) at William Patten Primary School in Stoke Newington explored a garden attached to their school, responding to the various edible and decorative plants they grow there.

They then created ten poems inspired by the garden, written in the Mesostic form – where a vertical word is formed from within the horizontal lines of the poem.

We then took their poems, and turned them into 3D signs which could be ‘planted’ in the garden. (Our designs are entirely based on the wonderful ones created for the project last year by Burgess Studio.) Each line of each poem is laser cut into pre-painted lengths of wood, which are then drilled and mounted onto a rod, before being installed around the garden. The fantastic folks at Beam Laser Cutting did an incredible job, doing all the production, and the poems looked really wonderful.

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blossoms

bridge

snail

wonder

lambs-ear

green

bumblebee

flowers

Brilliant poems, and the children from the school seemed genuinely thrilled at seeing their work made real.

See inside Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

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Thanks to the magic of Google, you can now take a 360° tour of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. The tour shows up whenever you Google the shop, via the ‘See inside’ panel.

The good folks from Aardvark 360 came to photograph the shop on a fantastically sunny morning.

It’s a super slick operation, taking no more than an hour, and the results give you a really clear sense of the how the shop looks, inside and out (though we’d still recommend a visit in real life of course).

While they were doing the shoot, one of the shop’s regular customers, a Mr Griffin, happened to have dropped by, and agreed to be included in the shots.

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What a gent.

Dumb quotes

Tony's-Cafe

This is Tony’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little place on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. They do a really fine create-your-own salad for just £4. We go there often for lunch.

But. Their sign. It’s a problem.

Look at it. Just after the Y. Just before the S. What is that? It thinks it’s an apostrophe. It certainly wants to be an apostrophe. Heck, it downright needs to be an apostrophe.

But it’s not.

And you know what’s to blame for that?

Typewriters. Damn typewriters.

Take a look at this. It’s a full set of the characters available on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter:

olivetti_characters

Rather beautiful right?

Let’s take a look at the punctuation characters along the bottom row.

Right up front there, that character made of two little vertical lines, like a pair of rabbit’s front teeth? That’s what you’d generally have used to mark out a bit of quoted text. It’s a versatile little thing: you could use it both at the beginning and the end of a chunk of quoted text. You could also use it to indicate various units of measurement – a number of inches, or a number of seconds, or even a number of arcseconds if you were a nagivator. It even doubles (if you’ll excuse the pun) as the ditto symbol.

Further along the line, just after the ampersand, sits its singular sibling. You could also have used that to mark out quoted text, but more frequently you’d have used it as an apostrophe. It also did fine work when it came to measurements, denoting numbers of feet, numbers of minutes, and of course, numbers of arcminutes.

So back up to Tony’s Cafe, we can see that little fella doing his job just fine as an apostrophe, right?

Nope. Uh uh. No sir. Not at all.

You see, although those two characters I just mentioned, which we can call typewriter quotes, were fantastically versatile, they were in truth a mashing together of different characters. It made perfect sense to do that back then, because typewriters only had a set number of keys available.

Here’s the layout of the Olivetti Lettera 22.

lettera_keyboard

The characters that got messed with were the single and double Quotation Marks, which come in left and right varieties; the Apostrophe (which is the same as the single right quotation mark), and the Prime, which is the angled mark used for various units of measurement. Those look like this, when set in the Georgia typeface:

prime-examples_2

So, with typewriters, those characters got mashed together. The left and right varieties of the quotation marks were merged, losing their ears and becoming upright verticals, which meant they could also double for primes. They must have felt good about that versatility, but you can’t help but wonder if they looked at the still-curved comma and semicolon with a sense of loss and longing…

Either way, it was a sensible solution in the days of the typewriter, typing in a single typeface at a single size, when stylistic finesse and grammatical accuracy could be ditched in favour of utility.

But, you know, we don’t generally use typewriters now.

We use computers. Which are just a little bit more sophisticated.

So we shouldn’t really need those vertical typewriter quotes anymore.

But, and it’s a fairly sizeable but, when computer keyboards were put together, they were largely based on typewriters. Here’s the current Mac keyboard, with the key with the quotation marks / apostrophe highlighted.

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Theoretically, that key should only bring up left and right quotation marks, either single or double.Those should be the default setting right?

But they’re not. The default characters are the straight vertical typewriter quotes. Characters designed specifically for a drastically reduced set of keys on a machine from the last millennium.

So if we go back to Tony’s cafe, and its sign, this is what you get if you type it out, in AG Book (which is a passable approximation for the actual typeface used on the sign):

 

tonys_dumb

 

And of course, that damn typewriter quote is there, happy as Larry.

Or Tony.

Whose salads, as we’ve mentioned, are really quite good.

Now, of course, there are ways around this intolerable situation. Depending on your software set up, you can tell your machine to ignore the typewriter quotes – sometimes (and entirely justifiably) called ‘dumb quotes’ – and replace them with what are called either ‘smart quotation marks’, ‘smart quotes’ or ‘typographer’s quotes’. Those are all software settings – you might also hear the characters referred to as ‘curly quotes’ or ‘inverted commas’ – really, how many terms to these things need? Smart quotations, smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, book quotes, curly quotes, inverted commas – identity crisis much?

In Microsoft Word, where they’re called “smart quotation marks”, and you’ll find the setting in the AutoCorrect tab of the Word Preferences. This is how it looks in the version we’re running:

Word-AutoCorrect-preferences

Using InDesign, as we are with our revision of Tony’s sign, you switch on ‘Typographer’s Quotes’ in the Type section of the Preferences panel.

With that done, this is how Tony’s looks when you type it out, now with a proper apostrophe:

 

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How much better is that? Not only is it the correct grammatical character, its weight and form just fit so much better with the word.

So, we can use the correct characters if we tell our software that we want to. But we shouldn’t really have to do that right? These are hardly obscure characters, only used once in a blue moon. Why on earth do those typewriter quotes even still exist? They were ingenious, but they’re a relic from another age. Stick ’em in a museum.

And actually, you know what, the problems don’t really end there anyway.

Because even if you have your smart quotes turned on, you’re not guaranteed to be getting things right.

Have a look at these three examples, set in Georgia again.

The first one uses the default typewriter quotes:

prime-examples_a1

Unpleasant. Deeply unpleasant. And more than a little confusing.

 

The second one uses typographer’s quotes:

prime-examples_a2

Better. But wait – punctuation klaxon! That height measurement? That’s totally wrong. For that you need to use primes, as we have done in the third version. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice that the apostrophe before ’70s is wrong. Despite being called smart, sometimes these quotes can still be a little dumb. When they appear with a space before them, they automatically assume they’re at the beginning of quoted text. But here, we’re using the mark as an apostrophe (marking the absence of 19 from 1970s), so the mark needs to face in the other direction. So in this instance, despite having smart quotes on, we have to use a key command to insert the right character.

So, with all that in place, it should look like this:

prime-examples_b

Peace at last! Typographically and grammatically wonderful.

Headache much?

And it doesn’t even end there. Many contemporary fonts don’t even feature primes in their character set. They’ve just sort of been forgotten about. Instead, those inferior usurpers, the typewriter quotes, have taken their place. You can sort of fudge them, by italicising the dumb quotes, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

And this isn’t just a problem for purveyors of fine salads.

You’ll notice the problem most online, where typewriter quotes are slung about with a hideous abandon. That’s not a giant problem in body text (though it still irks), but it’s grimly obvious in headings. Here’s a recent post from the very popular tech site Engadget:

Engadget-UK-post

Those typewriter quotes must be laughing it up. Relics they may be, but there they are, in the heading of a post about Google Glass – they could hardly be hanging out anywhere more modern!

This seems to be something to do with the software used for most blog posting, which is less than eager to insert smart quotes.

So, you’re smart people. And you probably know even smarter people. How do we fix this? Surely we can get rid of those dumb typewriter quotes?

Because dumb isn’t clever.

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Oh, and if you’re looking to read a little further on any of this, we’d like to highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s wonderful online book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which is a treasure trove of learning. His article about this very topic is brilliant, and far more concise than this one.