Alan Kitching: A life in Letterpress

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The good people at Laurence King recently sent over a copy of their fantastic new monograph, Alan Kitching—A Life in Letterpress. It’s quite brilliant.

You will have seen Alan’s work before, even if you’re not a graphic designer. He’s designed book covers, stamps, magazine covers, protest signs, theatre posters, wine labels and more. All this is done using the traditional letterpress tools – movable metal type, large woodblock letters, ink, paper and a press. His work is immediately recognisable: bold, witty, elegant, colourful and thoughtful, often with a painterly use of ink.

Here are a few of his wonderful Broadsides, the large format typographic prints he has created throughout his career. This is number 1, from 1988, designed to be cut up into individual items of stationery (letterhead, compliments slip, label etc.).

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This one is number 5, from 1992. A typographic map, it represents the streets, businesses, pubs and history of Clerkenwell. It’s a beautiful and beautifully considered piece of work.

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‘Printing in London: 1476-1995’ (below) was commissioned by Heidelberg for their magazine High Quality, and was reprinted in a folder as Broadside number 8. A visual history of printing in London, it features printers, publishers, art schools and type foundries.

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In 2003 Alan produced a dual-purpose petition and poster for The Guardian, ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’. Published in the newspaper, it was designed to be cut out and pasted onto banners by people who met in London for the anti-war rally on 15 February of that year. (On the day, David Gentleman’s NO poster for the Stop the War Coalition was more visible – though that may partly have been because it was so readily available at the event.)

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‘Taxi!’ (below) was commissioned for the London Poster Project, part of the 2009 London Design Festival:

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The new book details the entirety of Alan’s career so far, from his beginnings as an apprentice compositor at 15, through his work with Anthony Froshaug, Derek Birdsall and others, to his time running the Typography Workshop in Kennington.

It’s especially wonderful to discover Alan’s early, less familiar work, particularly that created while working with Froshaug at Watford College of Technology.

Here are a couple of great experimental prints from the late 1960s using just metal furniture (normally used for spacing out type).

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Here are a few spreads from the book:

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Designed by Simon Esterson and Jon Kielty, and written by John L. Walters, three editions of the book are available. The book edition (£40) won’t be available until March 2017, but in the meantime, the Special Edition (£75) is available, and more than worth the cost. It features a three-piece binding with greyboard covers.

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Rather wonderfully, that’s the same style of binding as was used for the book Celia Sings, which celebrated the life of Alan’s late wife, Celia Stothard (and which was designed by the same team):

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There’s also a boxed Collector’s Edition (£200), with the same binding, which includes a hand printed letterpress signed print, numbered and wrapped round the book to form a jacket. That’s only available in a limited edition of 200.

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You can actually get your hands on a copy of the book edition before March. In tandem with the publication of the book, a major retrospective of Alan’s work is touring around the UK, and a few copies of the book will be on sale at each show. We caught the exhibition at the recent Pick Me Up illustration show at Somerset House, and it was an absolute treat to see so much incredible work. Alan was even on hand to run printing workshops and discuss his work (that’s him in the red jumper below, and peering through the doorway).

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From 3 June to 20 August the retrospective will be on show at The Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk. After that it moves to The Lighthouse in Glasgow, from 1 November through to February 2017. More dates are promised. We can’t recommend it enough, so if you get the chance do make the trip.

This short film, created to publicise the book, shows Alan at work, discussing various moments during his career:

Fantastic stuff.

Click and Stamp set

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Alistair has recently returned from a trip to Australia, where he gave a couple of talks to the good folks at AGDA (the Australian Graphic Design Association) in Melbourne and Adelaide. He also spent a fair amount of time bothering kangaroos and koalas. Here’s one he photographed in Adelaide:

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Adorable.

But when he wasn’t molesting marsupials, he found time to pick up this gorgeous Futura Bold stamp set, from Paper 2 in Sydney (we can’t currently see the set on their website, but it’s also available from Honest Paper and Telegram Open House).

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Each of the stamps clicks together with the next one, making setting a complete doddle – and perfect for getting your Wes Anderson on.

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Delicious. A lower case set, and a set of numerals are also available.

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The set is made by O-Check Design Graphics in Korea.

Grimm & Co

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Way back in October 2012, we posted on here to ask if anyone around the country was interested in setting up their own local version of the Ministry of Stories.

(The Ministry is a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people, based in Hoxton, which is hidden behind the fantastical Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Alistair Hall, creative director at We Made This, is one of the co-founders of the Ministry and the monster shop, and has worked as their Art Director for the past six years. Read more about his work for the Ministry here, and for the monster shop here.)

A host of people came forward in the hope of setting up their own centre, and since then a vast amount of work has being going on, with various Ministry related projects now in gestation.

But the first fully fledged new member of the Ministry of Stories family has just launched.

And it’s quite brilliant.

Grimm & Co, Apothecary to the Magical, sits proudly in the middle of Rotherham town centre. The shop takes up the ground floor, and the writing centre sits above on the first floor. It’s incredible to see something like this right in the heart of a community.

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According to legend, the shop has been supplying evil plots, wild schemes, and kitchenware to the local magical community since 1148 (just after lunchtime).

Grimm & Co has been designed by the incredible team at Side by Side, who have donated all their time and skills for free. It’s an absolute labour of love, encompassing the branding (including the wonderful monogram, below), the products, the packaging, the interiors and the exteriors.

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The shelves above hide the hidden doorway which gives access to the writing centre beyond. There’s even a giant bean-stalk slide to take the young writers (and some of the not-so-young) back downstairs after they’ve finished writing.

And a fantastic story wall.

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We know for ourselves just how much work goes into creating something like this, and the team at Side by Side, along with a host of collaborators, have done an amazing job.

Deborah Bullivant, the indefatigable powerhouse behind Grimm & Co (or Founding Director as she’s more commonly known) says this of their work: “Side by Side’s ideas are unique, cliché-free and their professionalism is exemplary, doing whatever it takes for their client with a touch of awe and wonder.” Which isn’t bad.

Grimm & Co is a fantastic addition to the Ministry of Stories family, and we can’t wait to see what happens next…

A Smile in the Mind

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We nipped over to The Partners on Wednesday evening for the launch of the revamped A Smile in the Mind – Witty thinking in graphic design.

The book was originally published in 1996 (that’s our grubby copy on the left up above, which we picked up around 1999), and presented a wealth of the sort of graphic design that deals with ideas, play and wit. When we were at college, it was considered a key text for ideas-based design.

With a fresh neon pink coat, the new version has been extensively revised and updated, with over 1,000 examples of witty logos, book covers, posters, illustrations, packaging and photography – about 50% of it new material. And we’re ridiculously chuffed to have our work for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies included in amongst that.

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We thought we’d show a few more pieces from the book here. Up first, a cover for Nabakov’s Lolita, by the offensively talented Jamie Keenan. Quite possibly our favourite bit of graphic design from the last twenty years.

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Sticking with book covers, our studio partner David Pearson’s wonderful cover for Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, from the Penguin Great Ideas series, is rather brilliant too – with the spine of the book duplicated repeatedly across the front cover.

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This logo for The Guild of Food Writers by 300 Million is a perfect example of graphic wit and economy:

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Sticking with food, this pack by Design Bridge for Tiger Nuts is, well, the nuts.

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There’s a good section at the back of the book where various design folk talk through how they came up with an idea, including this corker of a poster by Arnold Schwartzman for the Los Angeles Olympics:

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A Smile in the Mind is a fantastic compendium of witty thinking, and a real credit to both Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart who put together the original edition, and Greg Quinton and Nick Asbury who put together the new edition.

You can see a further selection of work from the book (including our stuff) over at Creative Review.

60 years of TV commercials

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We made our way over to Hixter Bankside yesterday for the annual Clearcast party, for which we’d designed an 8 metre long backdrop.

Clearcast are the clearance service for the TV advertising industry – they review TV commercials at the script stage, checking that they conform to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. That way, before production begins, advertisers can make sure their ads aren’t harmful, misleading or offensive.

Clearcast asked us to create an eye-catching backdrop to celebrate the recent milestone of 60 years of commercial television. We looked through the archives of the most popular TV adverts, and pulled together a selection of the best bits from the scripts. We then created a huge typographic backdrop, designed to fit onto a glass partition in the venue’s main room. (The backdrop was produced by the event organisers, PR Live.)

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If you click the image below, it should open up the full artwork.

Here are the ads from which those bits of copy come – nostalgia-fest!

Cinzano – with the fantastic Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins:

 

Gibbs S.R. Toothpaste – this was the first advert shown on UK television:

 

Sugar Puffs

 

Renault Clio

 

Guinness

 

Boddingtons

 

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British Telecom

 

Um Bongo

 

R Whites Lemonade

 

Heineken

 

Budweiser

 

Yellow Pages

 

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(Going through those ads made us realise that commercials with great dialogue are few and far between these days. We have a feeling that might be because ads are made to work in many different countries now, so dialogue (except in voice-over) is far less common. Or perhaps witty copywriting is just out of fashion? Seems a shame.)

There was also a photo-booth at the party, run by the good chaps from Lots of Little Ideas, and we designed a series of prop-cards for that, featuring taglines from some old adverts – all set with the correct typographic styling.

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Werewolf Biscuits

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Our latest product for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is due to hit the shelves soon, and we’re hoping it’s going to be a best seller. (It’s already been featured by Werewolf News, which bodes well.)

Werewolf Biscuits are ‘perfect for lycanthropes of all sizes’. And guaranteed 100% silver-free.

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We also created a bespoke version of the packaging for The Story, the fantastic annual conference based around story telling of every conceivable form. The packs featured the running order for the conference on the back, and went down a storm with the delegates:

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See more buzz about the conference (and the biscuits) on this Storify page.

Werewolf Biscuits will be available online and in store soon.

British Pathé

 

So we’ve just lost a few hours browsing through the fantastic British Pathé archive on YouTube. We thought we’d share a few highlights here.

Up above, a short film from 1967 showcasing the new British road signage system. Check out how a handy guide helps drivers to decipher the new signs.

The film below shows how a Mr Batley can produce portraits on a Monotype caster.

 

 

The next film, Wallpaper, is brilliant, showing how wallpaper is printed – all set to a swinging soundtrack that lets you know this is just about the most fun a human being can have.

 

 

And how about this one – showcasing how Ordnance Survey maps are produced?

 

 

Or, say, when you’re enjoying your favourite magazine, do you ever wonder what went into its making?

 

 

This short film shows how neon lettering is made by remarkably smartly-dressed men in Acton:

 

 

Here are a couple of chaps engraving postage stamps:

 

 

Finally, meet Mr Leonard Ware, the rubber man:

 

 

Find more over at the Pathé channel.

Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

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We were invited along to a ‘blogger’s evening’* at the Royal Academy on Friday to check out their new show, Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

The show documents the huge popularity of gardens as a subject amongst painters during the second half of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th. It’s a very Royal Academy show: beautiful, accessible, and popular / populist. It’s all extremely civilised. That could be damning with faint praise, and certainly some of the paintings in the exhibition are almost offensively pretty – but overall, it’s a good show, particularly thanks to the later works by Monet.

At the beginning of the evening we were given a passionate and informative introductory talk by art historian Graham Greenfield, who explained that although gardens had existed throughout history, they had largely been habitats of the rich and privileged. With the industrialisation of the 19th century though, and the growing middle class, gardens had flourished as domestic spaces. An explosion of affordable publishing had allowed a rapid and extensive spread of horticultural knowledge through books and seed catalogues. (As well as the paintings, there are photographs and ephemera on display in the show, including some beautiful copies of the Dictionnaire Pratique D’Horticulture et de Jardinage.)

Gardening had become a thing.

And at the same time, the Impressionists were responding to the advent of photography. Painting had been freed up from being directly representational, and could now be far more expressive.

Within this context, the show presents the work of a wealth of big names: Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Monet, Sargent, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt and Klee. The show is organised by various themed rooms (Impressionist Gardens, International Gardens, Gardens of Silence and Reverie, and Avant Gardens – see what they did there?) Threaded throughout these are rooms dedicated to Monet.

The first room, showing the early days of Impressionism, is perhaps the least interesting – it feels as if all the artists are working from the same fixed viewpoint. But as the show progresses, the work becomes more and more interesting, as it slowly evolves into something closer to abstraction.

The paintings that really caught our eye were Gustave Caillebotte’s Nasturtiums (1892), and Gustav Klimt’s Cottage Garden (1905-7).

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But Monet is the undoubted star, and the work he made based on his gardens in Giverny takes centre stage.

It’s the final room that holds the real show-stopper, with the three paintings that make up Monet’s triptych Water Lilies (Agapanthus) having been brought together for the first time outside of the USA. They cover three walls of the octagonal Wohl Central Hall, so that as you stand in front of the central panel, your vision is filled with Monet’s incredible painting. You feel as if you’re simultaneously floating in and above the water of the pond. And at the same time, you’re drawn to the surface of the canvas, to the individual brush strokes – you can see why these paintings were so inspirational to Jackson Pollock. They’re quite wonderful.

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They are part of the series of huge (around 2m x 4m) canvases Monet made at Giverny, the Grandes Décorations. You can see others from this series in a couple of dedicated oval rooms at the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris. (If you can’t visit there in person, you can always Google your way round.)

The show is definitely worth a visit – be warned though, it’s busy, and probably well worth trying to get there early in the day, ahead of the crowds, while you can still have some chance of feeling like you’re enjoying the peace and calm of a beautiful garden.

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* Why is it that that sounds so undignified?

A decade of photography

 

Alistair, who runs We Made This, spends most of his time designing stuff. But he also spends a fair bit of time hiding behind a camera. We thought we’d share a selection of his work from across the last ten years – just click on the picture above to open up a slideshow.

Check out more of his work over at Alistair Hall Photography and even more over on his Flickr page.

British Hardware Federation

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We stumbled across this little paper bag the other day, and crikey it’s peculiar.

It features branding for the British Hardware Federation, the national trade association for independent hardware and DIY retailers in the UK. We’re not quite sure when this particular bag dates from, but we’d guess it’s the early 1970s. (We’ve been in touch with the BHF to ask them if they know anything about the branding, but they’ve not got back to us with any answers yet.)

So that symbol. That’s the male gender symbol right?*

So, hum, was the British Hardware Federation really suggesting, as James Brown would have it, that DIY is a ‘man’s man’s man’s world’? Because that seems kinda outrageous, even in the 70s.

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The symbol itself, the circle with an arrow pointing outwards at an angle, and its equivalent female symbol, the circle with a cross below it, have an interesting history.

Their use as markers of gender dates back to the work of Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus, in his dissertation Plantae Hybridae (1751), where he used them for male and female parents of hybrid plants.

But Linnaeus didn’t invent the symbols, he just appropriated them from the scientific study of alchemy, where the male symbol was originally used to refer to the metal iron, and the female symbol to the metal copper. In fact he’d previously used them as such in his 1735 piece, System Naturae.

The symbols’ use in alchemy derived from a shorthand for the names of the planets, each of which was associated with a metal. Iron (a hard red metal used to make weapons) was associated with Mars (big red planet, god of war); and copper (a soft metal that turns green) was associated with Venus (goddess of love). Read all about that over on this Today I Found Out article.

Which is all well and good, but doesn’t perhaps explain why the male gender symbol was used to brand a DIY trade body. It’s possible it was something to do with iron, but it feels like most people would have connected the symbol with maleness way before they thought about a hard red metal.

Of course, there’s a much more contemporary instance of the symbol being used as a key part of a much larger brand identity…

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Volvo refer to their mark as ‘the iron mark’, so they’re definitely anchoring (sorry) the symbol with that meaning. As opposed to subtly suggesting that cars are just for men.

*If anyone knows any more about the British Hardware Federation identity, get in touch. It’s always possible that the symbol refers to something very DIY specific. We’d love to know.