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Archived posts: Typography

Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice

Earlier today we finally made it along to the fantastic Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice exhibition at Central Saint Martins. The show is a potted history of lettering and typography, featuring examples from the college’s Museum & Study Collection and its Central Lettering Record, as well as some bits and bobs from alumni.

There are a whole series of photographs of Edward Johnston’s incredible type drawings on blackboards:

It’s an absolute feast of a show, which we can’t recommend enough. It’s only open for a few more days (it ends on Saturday 12 April), so if you haven’t been, get along, you won’t regret it. (Oh, and Professor Phil Baines, co-curator of the show, will be giving a tour of the exhibition on Thursday 10 April at 1pm.) Read more about the show on the Eye blog.

Penguin Random House Learning Journal

Often, when you get a job back from the printer (having laboured over it for hours, days, weeks, and often months), there can be a certain sense of disappointment, with the final result not living up to your by now unjustifiably elevated expectations. That’s not to say that the finished object isn’t worthy of love and pride, just that you can easily have an idealised view of what you hope to have created, a view which reality can never match.

But every now and then, the reverse happens. Despite having those same supposedly unrealistic expectations, the finished object manages to exceed them.

This happened to us with this learning journal we created recently for the Penguin Random House Academy – the in-house training programme for the company’s UK staff.

We were hoping it was going to look great, but once we got it in our hands, we couldn’t help but grin. It just felt right – the cover stock, the text stock, the print process, the finishing – it all came together in one lovely package. (And yup, we know we’re blasting away on our own little trumpet here, but heck, sometimes it’s okay to do that.)

We started out by designing the identity for the Academy, a simple circle. We then carried that circle through as a motif throughout the book.

The book is designed in two separate sections, each of which has its own front cover. Start at one end and it’s an informative guide to all the training and career development possibilities at the company; flip it over and it’s a travel journal, where you can make notes and doodle.

The text pages are printed onto a cream stock using the CMYK process, but with the black swapped for a Pantone grey.

The two halves of the book meet at a spread which reads in both directions, letting you know that it’s time to flip the book:

The covers are 2000 micron greyboard, foil-blocked in white.

The travel journal pages are a mix of blank pages, inspirational quotes, and many different types of lined paper pages:

Our thanks to Jo, Bethany and Erica at Penguin Random House, and printers Colophon and Lavengro for their help in creating something we’re dead proud of.

Tony’s Chocolonely

Alistair was out in Amsterdam this weekend, and stumbled across this fantastic typographic packaging: Tony’s Chocolonely.

The brand has a fascinating story behind it. It was set up in 2005 by Dutch journalist Teun Van de Keuken. A couple of years before he’d done an investigation into the cocoa industry, particularly in the Ivory Coast, where he discovered a significant percentage of the cocoa farm owners were engaging in what he saw as slave-labour practices. As an avid eater of chocolate, he saw himself as complicit in these practices and handed himself in to the Dutch authorities for trial. The case was thrown out, but on the back of it he set up the Chocolonely brand, to create chocolate that is produced entirely ethically.

It’s really interesting to see an ethically-based brand that looks fun rather than worthy.

They produce a line of bars that are shaped as big chocolate letters too. Brilliant!

Even the inside of the packaging is great, with a spot-the-difference illustration for the kids.

As it says on the inside of the label, “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people”. Lovely stuff.

Graphics Summer School 2013

Alistair was teaching on the Graphics Summer School at Central Saint Martins for the last couple of weeks, so we thought we’d present a small sample of the students’ work here.

The summer school allows students from a mix of backgrounds, experiences and ages to sample four disciplines in rotation across two weeks: illustration, advertising, photography and typography. For the typography section, Alistair set a brief to the students: create your own personal alphabet.

There was a fantastic variety of responses. Kaja Slokewska created a bubbly alphabet (above) from acrylic and glue, to represent her love of diving; while Gina Hollingsworth created an alphabet out of a single sheet of paper, just with cuts and folds. Beautiful.

Jonathan Yip created a really pleasing set of letters using guitar strings – first playing about with them in real life, then vectorising the results. Mighty fine.

Meanwhile, Andrea Sartini revealed a love of ice-cream with his set of melting letters (below).

Chris Hall created a fantastically complex grid for his alphabet, and went to town creating a set of properly bonkers letters.We particularly love his 3.

The students also had a half day introduction to the delights of letterpress, thanks to the wonderful Helen Ingham, which featured a quick whip through the history of type, followed by the chance for each student to set a line of metal type, which was then combined together in one souvenir print.

Check out more of the work over at Alistair’s Flickr set. Lovely stuff.

Carters Steam Fair

A couple of weekends ago we got the chance to visit the fantastic Carters Steam Fair while it was visiting Clapham Common.

Carters is a vintage travelling fun fair, entirely run by the Carter family, after John and Anna Carter bought their first ride, the Jubilee Steam Gallopers (below) in 1977. The ride was originally built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Norwich, in 1895; and the Carters extensively repaired and renovated it to get it looking as fine as it does today.

The other main ride they have that’s run on steam is the glorious Excelsior Steam Yachts ride (top and below), built in 1921.

The whole fair features a staggering wealth of traditional fairground art and signwriting, featuring work by Hall and Fowle:

“The later rides owned by Carters Steam Fair are painted in a style of dramatic three-dimensionality by the masters of fairground painting in the first half of the 20th century: Hall and Fowle. Edwin Hall was a master painter producing some beautifully set out and composed Art Deco designs that still stand out to this day; Fred Fowle joined forces with him later. Fowle’s work is unmistakeable in its design and skill, using gold and aluminium leaf, flamboyant enamels and a lot of guts he made some of the most extraordinary and exuberant artwork that can be seen on the fair to this day, most notably the Skid, the Octopus, and the Hook a Duck hoopla stall which are owned by Carters Steam Fair.”

Everything on the fair is still hand-painted, with incredible skill and style, by the Carter family. Indeed, Joby Carter even runs 5-day signwriting courses – the next one coming up this November.

It’s just an amazing place to visit. They even have a coconut shy, and a fantastic penny arcade, which even has a suitably creepy Jolly Jack:

And of course the rides themselves are brilliant.

The fair will be at Belair Park in West Dulwich for the next two weekends, and travelling all round London through to November (check their full diary here). Do go along if you get a chance.

London Transport Museum Acton Depot

We made our way over to London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot yesterday – it’s where they house the majority of the collection that’s not on show at the museum itself. As part of the tube’s 150th anniversary they’re having a series of events there, and this weekend was their Open Weekend.

The depot houses a selection of retired tube trains, buses, trams, trolleybuses; and a densely packed mezzanine full of an incredible selection of old signs.

It’s an amazing treasure trove.

And there’s a host of other wonders too. Back on the ground floor there’s a cabinet of woodblock letters, featuring various versions of the Johnston typeface designed  in 1917 by calligrapher Edward Johnston (who actually lived not so far away from Acton, in Chiswick). This was the typeface used throughout the London Underground, and still in use today (in the slightly modified form of New Johnston).

There are some bits of metal type lying around too:

There’s also a model of Strand Station, a now defunct station which you can occasionally take tours around.

There are also examples of the logo designed for the Victoria Line:

and some lovely old ticket machines:

How binary are those? Put your money in, get a ticket. Or don’t put any money in, push a button, and get an Authority to Travel. Brilliant.

Fantastic stuff.

If you missed it this weekend, they’re having a series of guided tours throughout the year.

If you’d like to find out more about the London Underground’s design history, then you should really get yourself a copy of Mark Ovenden’s truly marvellous book London Underground By Design.

Poster Art 150

We dropped in to the London Transport Museum over the weekend to check out their truly fantastic new show, Poster Art 150.

Put on to celebrate the 150th birthday of the London Underground, the densely packed show is a collection of 150 of the best posters produced for the tube. It features a stack of brilliant designs from the big names in poster design, including Abram Games, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Charles Herrick, Tom Eckersley, Edward Bawden, Fougasse (above); as well as a few fine artists, including Man Ray and Howard Hodgkin.

The show is split into six thematic areas, which neatly sidesteps the possible problem that might have occurred had the exhibition been chronological – namely that the more recent designs just aren’t as good. Partly this is due to the rose-tinted nature of nostalgia, but it’s not just that – the earlier designs have an energy, simplicity and wit that seems to have faded away from most of the contemporary designs we see now on the tube. Hopefully this show might serve as an inspiration though, both to the commissioners at the tube, and also to designers.

And you know, it’s interesting to stop there and linger on that word ‘designers’.

It feels like most of the contemporary commissions on the underground are given over to fine artists rather than designers. Witness the Olympic and Paralympic Posters for London 2012, Mark Wallinger’s Labyrinth, and The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London icon – all commissioned through the Art on the Underground programme. Where are the commissions for designers? Surely a show like this demonstrates just how brilliant a tradition of design London Transport has – it’d be great to see them embracing that by commissioning more contemporary designers, rather than just fine artists.

Anyway, here are some of our picks from the exhibition:

‘A train every 90 seconds’, the first poster Abram Games designed for London Underground, in 1937.

‘Behind the seen’, one half of a pair poster by James Fitton from 1948.

‘The lure of the Underground’, by Alfred Leete (the chap behind the Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You poster) from 1927. This is a glorious poster – a fantastic economy of line, with wonderful characterisation, as you can see in the detail below:

Austin Cooper’s poster advertising the V&A’s first major poster show in 1931, and depicting Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods.

One of the highlights of the show is the fantastic array of different and frequently bonkers typographic styles. Here are some lovely ligatures from Frederick Charles Herrick’s ‘The lap of luxury’ poster from 1925:

And two Os getting up close and personal in Charles Paine’s ‘Boat Race’ poster from 1921:

And Alan Rogers’ lovely styling of the word Underground from his 1930 ‘Speed Underground’ poster:

Tasty stuff.

‘For the Zoo’, from 1933, by Maurice A. Miles, one of many posters for London Zoo featured in the show.

‘Away from it all’ by M.E.M. Law in 1932 – has a tube train ever looked so dynamic?

And finally, ‘Cup final’ by Eric George Fraser in 1928, which puts you right in the heart of the action.

The show runs until 27 October, and is really outstanding – do get along if you can.

God’s Own Junkyard

We nipped into Chris Bracey’s God’s Own Junkyard in Soho yesterday – what a treasure trove!

Bracey creates neon signage for fashion and film, and the exhibition / pop-up shop collects together a stunning mix of his work as well as some found signs, old movie props, and other bits and bobs. He started making signs in Soho back in the 70s (his work feels entirely at home on Beak Street) and he’s since worked with the likes of David Lachapelle and Martin Creed, Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick. Not a bad client list.

God’s Own Junkyard is at Circus of Soho, 47 Beak St, London W1 until the end of January.

Revamped

Sorry, we know we’ve been blithering on about Hoxton Street Monster Supplies a lot, but we’ve just been doing a heck of a lot of stuff with them lately.

Since there’s been such a lot of new stuff going on inside, we thought it would be a good time to refresh the outside too.

So we commissioned traditional signwriter Nick Garrett (and his partner Mat) to completely revamp the shopfront. We gave Nick a carefully set layout of all the text, and he tweaked and nudged it to make it appropriate for the front of a shop.

They then marked up the facia with a chalk trace down, and set to work.

Nick used a bespoke colour mix of signwriting enamel for the lettering.

Mat, getting busy with the Ministry of Stories logo.

That’s rather a lovely Q isn’t it?

The panels beneath the windows and on the doors detail all the products the shop sells.

Particular respect to Mat for the many many hours of care and attention he lavished on the Official Notice on the shop’s door.

Lovely stuff.

Letterpress: something to say

Mid-October already? Ay caramba. How did that happen? The days, weeks, and months are just flying past…

Anyhoo, the folks at the wonderful St Bride Library have been in touch to flag up their upcoming event Letterpress: Something to say.

It’s a one-day conference “exploring letterpress as a means for delivering real content, be that a set of sharply thought-through design intentions; a re-imagining of the possibilities of the inky process itself; an analogue springboard to new digital visuals and environments; or a reconnection with the power of a simple press to communicate ideas.”

Confirmed speakers include: Anthony Burrill, Catherine Dixon, Ian Gabb (RCA), Thomas Gravemaker, Dylan Kendle (Tomato), Peter Nencini, and L’automatica (Barcelona).

The conference is on Friday 9 November, from 10am until 6pm. Tickets here.