We have our studio in Pullens Yards - three yards built in Queen Victoria's era with about eighty studios, that have consistently housed craftspeople and artists for over a hundred years. This post is one in a series presenting the amazing array of our fellow makers...
Ornette Coleman's sax is squealing on the CD player, and Frank's studio is beginning to heat up from the Spring sunshine. Seated, sitting about six feet away from the wall, he picks up a plastic garden spray bottle, and sprays water on his pinned yellow canvas. The nascent painting is already covered with paint, predominantly yellow, but with splurges of pink, of turquoise, of green. Its surface a myriad of marks, brush scumblings, finger and stick scratching, paint washed so thin you can see the canvas weave, and layered so thick it coagulates in blobs and gloops. The visual play matches the swirling freedom of the jazz you can hear.
Every painting begins as a title. A memory or an idea. 'False start', 'Fire Next Time', 'Forgetmenot'. Frank starts work with colours and shapes that seem to fit the idea, but very quickly the painting itself takes over, "it tells me what to do" he says. The final title of the picture is not the one it began with, it has become something else. It has become a journey; it begins with an urge to capture or create something, it travels through experience, is affected by the maelstrom of ideas that come from half a century of making art, is inflected with references to other art - everything from Rembrandt to Chinese painting to African sculpture - and ends up as itself, something fresh and unique.
Frank Bowling is in the front rank of Britain's artists. A contemporary of David Hockney and Allen Jones, Frank is a Royal Academician, he has been exhibiting since 1962. His work can be found at the Tate, the Whitney, MoMA, the V&A, and almost countless other museums and private collections. He has been travelling to New York since the 1960s, and has a home and a studio there in Brooklyn. If you were to make a joke about Frank being a jet-setter, he will turn his gaze on you and say "I find it makes me want to sleep most of the time". Its so clear what matters to him, what has always mattered, is his work. He has had the studio in Peacock Yard for thirty years, when he first came, it had a basic dirt floor. Frank's students have slowly built it up - he has that effect on people, such an open, gentle, devoted man - they have laid a floor, installed painting racks, perhaps even filled the spray bottle and turned on the Ornette Coleman.
See other posts:
To visit the studios, which open twice a year, see more here:
Their ambition is nothing less than a new art school. Based on something most art students rarely encounter - discipline. Because what at first seems to be an Aladdin's Cave of alphabets, ink pots, wooden type, drying racks, and printing presses takes discipline to operate. Their manifesto offers both a promise and a challenge to today: "as an antidote to the immediate & often dispensable nature of modern technology, the slow articulation of the technical side of letterpress allows the designer to immerse themselves in the focus on craft & revel in the simple joys of making". They plan to pass on their knowledge, and develop student's skills with a programme of workshops.
Alan Kitching is a well-known innovator in graphic design, he has spent fifty years first learning the craft of letterpress and wood letter printing, and then using it in ever more inventive ways. His monograph "Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress" was published two years ago. Kelvyn is an experienced teacher, and has an highly varied portfolio of work - commissioned and self-motivated - that shows he is of a like-mind with Kitching; although letterpress is beset by restrictions in how it must be set up and handled, those restrictions can melt away to yield typography of the most imaginative and unexpected kind.
After all, much of the greatest innovation in typography to date - from the playful geometry of Hendrik Werkman to the precision of Jan Tschichold - was all made using exactly the same metal and wooden type, viscous inks, and heavy iron presses in this workshop. Indeed, Johannes Gutenberg's workshop would have looked very similar, we are channelling history here, a living connection that runs backwards through five hundred years of typography.
I have done one of these workshops, with Alan Kitching, and discovered more in a day than a decade of reading books and fiddling on computers. The first revelation was that the type is physical, you have to lift, carefully position, lock, ink, pull, to get even one letter onto a piece of paper. The process itself leads to consideration, weighing, deciding, which is simply not there with a computer. The second revelation was about aesthetics; the old typefaces, the way letters looks made of metal, the aged wood, the smells, the coarse paper, the entire process is an aesthetic overload.
The website lists the range of courses to suit every level of capability from civilian to experienced, and the fonts and equipment available, sufficient to enable infinite variation. And they have amassed a long list of visiting consultants, that reads like a who's who of current British design; Anthony Burrill and Hamish Muir of fabled design group Octavo to name but two. Any student or young or even older designer lucky enough to come and study here is going to leave stuffed with all kinds of knowledge; a firm grasp of typographic theory, lots of practical ideas, and creative inspiration to last their lifetime.
The photographs on this post are from the first workshop, in July 2018.
Rummaging around in the Atelier archives, I recently found my one college project that didn't get incinerated in the post-graduation-show bonfire. This hand-made blue buckram portfolio is one of an edition of 12, each of which held 12 letterpress posters. They were the centrepiece of my 1984 degree submission, and their rediscovery triggered a timely moment of reflection.
The project represents a significant moment of technological change, when I witnessed skip-loads of letterpress equipment dumped, and specialist technicians dismissed. It didn't seem right to me, and I was conscious that certain skills were being consigned to history. I went looking for the last journeyman compositors in the college. I found them standing around, without students, and so very willing to teach me. I learnt everything I could from them before they got their cards.
This project also represents a rich student experience; opportunities both practical and academic were central to the syllabus at the London College of Printing (LCP) during the early 1980s. My excellent complementary studies course inspired a fleeting interest in Concrete Poetry. In particular, the American poet ee cummings' conflicting mix of elation and cynicism matched my mood at the time.
Typographically, I was struck by the way cummings 'built' his narrative using type. I asked the compositors to teach me how to build my lines of type and I was then given enough instruction on a printing press to use it myself. The bookbinding department advised me on which papers to source, and taught me how to make my own portfolios. This self-initiated project was a complete design-and-production experience — and it was academically underpinned, with my final dissertation on the British private press movement.
It is obvious now (but not at the time) that it was only by following my instincts that I managed to produce a coherent, consolidated and fairly credible final degree submission.
My interest in ee cummings was initially typographic; he was a poet whose work relied on ignoring the rules of grammar and was enhanced by unconventional type-setting. As a wayward student, sometimes at odds with the regimented instruction of my tutors, cummings' stance had great appeal for me. With three deserted rooms packed with letterpress equipment and the whole production process open to me, I was free to go beyond the constraints that cummings had in the 1940s when his poetry was first printed. I could use type and print to explore my own interpretation of his work.
I have to admit that I struggle with today's mobile text abbreviations and chat acronyms. I don't think I'm on the same wavelength. But looking at this poster now, I realise that cummings was using a similar phonetic version many decades before the mobile had been invented. Oddly, I do not recall having any difficulty understanding his poems. Indeed, methodically piecing together these lines using a combination of Ludlow hot metal and wooden type seemed quite straightforward, even when I was setting everything in reverse. There is clearly some valuable research to be done, looking into the merits of slow-paced hand typesetting and reading skills.
This marked the point at which I realised just how sexy type could be...
And at this point I also discovered s l o w, fast, and suddenstop type.
Fast forward 34 years...
This year, tens of thousands of graphic design graduates will embark upon their new careers. My daughter will be one of them, having graduated this week from the London College of Communication (LCC). Apart from the change of name (LCP to LCC), this is the very same university and the very same course that both of her parents attended 34 years ago.
For the last three years, mother and father have had to restrain themselves from comparing and commenting on her course experiences, her final dissertation submission, and the preparations for her graduation show. The benefits of our hindsight have been freely offered but (quite rightly), considered unhelpful by the recipient.
Nevertheless, I remain a design graduate and am now an employer, so I am well placed to compare just how prepared today's graduates from LCC may be. On the one hand, the insane student numbers on the course, reduced student-tutor ratios, limited access to hands-on technologies, a reliance on isolated home working, and crippling student debt all conspire to provide a poor grounding for undergraduates and a troubling future for the design profession. On the other hand, hasn't it always been the case that it is the determined graduates (despite their university experience) who succeed in forging new directions in their chosen field?
My optimism remains with this generation of graduates who did not have access to all the resources I had — but should, I hope, leave our arts education system with scorn for how they have been short-changed, making them more alert to workplace deficiencies and more determined not to stand for it. They should not forget to bring their creativity too; perhaps a mix of cummings-like observation with a loud, challenging voice?
Above, left, my seven-year-old daughter at the Type Archive produces her very first proof.
Above, right, my graduate daughter in the much-diminished LCC letterpress department, setting a Gill Sans pangram (below).
LCC 2018: Graduates
Fresh out of university: Rebecca Chilvers
More letterpress: Aladdin's Cave
To accompany our pitch design for Arsenal's logo, we republish this article - about British football logos more generally - first published in the football magazine FOURFOURTWO in 2007.
British club football has become a real force in the world game, by dint of taking the best of what is available, the best players, the best managers and the best playing strategies. One part of the clubs' identities has been left outside this efficient pragmatism: the badges. The club logos languish in a naive and essentially Victorian era. They have not kept pace with the sponsor and sports-kit company logos that appear alongside them on every team's shirt.
Recent changes in design law allow new badges to be registered as designs as well as trade marks for extra protection against counterfeiters - the stalls outside every ground selling cut-price kit. Arsenal recently redesigned its badge (as of 2007) and has become the first football club to register the new design at the Patent Office. The club can now take action against counterfeit goods free of some of the limitations of trade mark law. Unlike a trade mark, to sue for design infringement, you do not have to prove the badge was used in a trade context - it is enough to prove ownership of the "property". This could mean that a surge of clubs redesign their badges for extra protection, following Arsenal's lead.
The basic design approach for football badges is faux heraldic. The designs borrow basic shapes from the mediaeval system of heraldry. Heraldry is shaped by unbreakable rules that ensure visual clarity. The system is overseen by the College of Heralds, founded in 1484, that frowns on any innovation, but football clubs gaily flout these rules and, without understanding, cram their shields full of images: animals, plants and ribbons that have little to do with the restrained incremental accumulation that meant the crests of noble families remained identifiable through the centuries.
The design of several newer badges from the last 20 years - Blackburn, Fulham, Sunderland, Southampton - are terribly mixed up. They don't really seem to know what to communicate. Instead of using experienced, professional designers, the clubs hold car-boot-style 'competitions' with the fans submitting ideas, and the board chipping in their thoughts. The results are cobbled-together collections of tradition and modernity; images that represent a bit of the old badge, the city, the shirt, the new stadium, the game of football itself. (Before anyone cries that fans are the heart and soul of every club, I answer, of course they are. But fans aren't asked to design the new stadiums, manage the accounts, or establish the teams' diets. Why are these areas treated as domains strictly for professionals, but the clubs' identities aren't?)
Many well-known international brands have logos that date back into the nineteenth century, like the first British football clubs; Levi's, Shell, Philips, Dunhill, Kodak, Goodyear are all more or less a hundred years old. Their original trade marks, or badges, were complex in a similar way to football badges, but they have adapted them to the changed visual conditions in which trade marks now need to work.
Like modern companies, every football team now has to use its badge in ways unimaginable even 20 years ago. The technical and physical demands are vastly more convoluted. Badges are now viewed in microscopic size on photographs of the players, shown in roughly printed newspapers, on flickering television and web screens, stitched into football kit, printed by every conceivable method onto huge ranges of merchandise. In these, and many other circumstances, the fussy fake heraldry does not hold up well, rendering the lettering and imagery near illegible.
Rather than lagging behind, football clubs need to catch up with their commercially astute sponsor companies. The clubs ought to have badges that work in all the applications demanded of a modern club. They ought to have badges that capture and communicate the soul of a club, but work in today's environment.
In order to illustrate what I mean, I have produced speculative redesigns of five badges, with arguments for why the changes have been made.
Arsenal grew out of an informal team formed by the workers from the Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory. What the recent redesign of Arsenal's crest has shown is that the badges can be updated with a fair degree of success. The badges have evolved and changed since each club's inception, and it is commercially and aesthetically sensible for that evolution and adaptation to continue.
All the clubs should isolate the key feature within the clutter of their faux mediaeval crests, and transform that into a clear and distinctive symbol. Over recent years, some clubs have begun to do this - Derby County with its ram, Chelsea with its lion. Another step in the exercise ought to be deciding what is unique to the club, and what is merely borrowed from the city. The most beautiful and memorable Arsenal shirt was the one that they won the double with in 1971 - the gun was a simple silhouette, white on the red. Although it's in the right area, the new badge disappoints in its detail. It's a made-up blobby cannon from a date about 100 years too early, not at all like the ones made by the Woolwich Arsenal. My design preserves the detail of the Woolwich Arsenal gun, and uses unusual squared-off letters taken from the outside wall of the Highbury stadium.
Any business as ambitious and well-known as Man. United is likely to experience 'brand stretch', moving beyond its origin as a football club into clothing, sports wear, publishing, even beer. Imagine the sales of Man. United branded boots and lager if David Beckham used them? Even without Beckham, with an estimated one million fans worldwide, the potential sales of a Man. United polo shirt sporting a dancing red devil must be painfully attractive. I am not even a fan and I would buy one.
There are a number of theories about why the devil first appeared on the Manchester United badge, but the most likely is that the team used to be called Newton Heath with the consequent nick-name 'The Heathens'. The devil was a kind of pun used to illustrate the nick-name. My design takes the flimsy, ragged devil that squats in the current badge, and redraws him as more assertive and with more character. An 'M' and a 'U' are also hidden in the design.
I would be shocked to learn that a graphic designer had been anywhere near the letters in the Bolton Wanderers badge - they look so awful. My guess is the Chairman's little son had a go.
Bolton, one of only two clubs in the premiership to have a badge made up of letters, should learn from the successes of American baseball teams over the last 100 years. The best known brand example is, the New York Yankees, which has a beautiful badge: a monogram of overlapping letters, an 'N' and a 'Y' recognisable to people who aren't even baseball fans. You can see people wearing it, usually on a baseball cap, in any high street in the Western world - Becks and Posh have a matching pair of caps. It's the Hilfiger of the sports world, and every sports team's identity should aim this high.
To illustrate my point, my design uses a beautiful and distinctive 'W' from a 'Tuscan' woodletter alphabet, more or less contemporary with the founding of the Wanderers (the New York Yankees use letters from a similar typeface).
The Sunderland badge, designed in the late 90s, has absolutely everything in it. It's how Del-Boy would design a club badge. My design preserves the shield from the current design, which has a very attractive outline. The main emblem is a sun as they play in the 'Stadium of Light' after all. The sun represents optimism, power - it is eternal. It is also the 'Sun' in Sunderland! (Sunderland could do with some sun shining on it right now.) This approach is like an American Football club, which has a memorably direct relationship between their names and their symbols; the Dallas Cowboys have a big star, taken from Texas' famous lone star flag, the Minnesota Vikings sport two horns, one painted on each side of their helmets.
The current badge looks frighteningly close to Bertie Bassett, the bulging man made of Liquorice Allsorts. The halo is another wonderful chance to make a great symbol. The 'Saints' is a very potent idea that just needs the right emblem to express it. My design is very simple, no tree, no rose, no scarf, just a classic leather football from an old Southampton badge, and a halo. (If your badge has a football, and you alter it every time the FA brings out a new ball design, you'll soon be changing it every season.)
Quentin Newark is a founding partner of design studio Atelier Works; called by Jonathan Glancey of the Guardian "the fashionable London design agency".
In just the last three years, the studio has won over thirty awards for its design work. Current projects include rebranding the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a stone sundial outside the Houses of Parliament. Other clients have included the Tate, the Design Council, Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen. They designed the Labour Party manifesto for the 2001 election.
Newark has just written his first book: What is Graphic Design? published by RotoVision. He was chosen as one of 'the ten leading graphic designers in Britain' by the Independent on Sunday.
We were asked, along with 49 other designers and artists, to create an homage to the great British road sign - to mark the 50th anniversary of the scheme, in an exhibition at London's Design Museum.
We had already come up with a different concept for the road signs, using the metaphor of animals.
So we turned our attention to the vexed issue of the pavement that runs alongside the roads. Does the pavement need signs to help protect pedestrians?
Roads and pavements share the public space. A pavement never ends, it links invisibly across a road, a fact only very rarely made physical by things like zebra crossings. In some, preciously rare, instances the powers that be continue street paving over a road to make the links literal.
Using surfaces to show drivers that part of the road is shared, with vulnerable pedestrians.
The fact that pedestrians have to share the invisible links escapes car drivers entirely. They see only the road. Blind to the invisible links. The road is all there is, their road. Which they want to drive on without impediment. As fast as possible.v
People driving want to drive. They don't want to slow down, least of all stop, for a second longer than is absolutely legally necessary. People climbing into a car, or swinging their leg over a bike, are possessed by the Spirit of Velocity from the Vorticist era, a Spirit that glories in speed, and the invulnerability of gleaming metal. Pedestrians are intruding.
The passion in what I write here is because I don't drive. I walk. I am a life-long pedestrian. All my time is spend on pavements and crossing roads, dodging cars, and increasingly cyclists.
Our first sign, to protect pedestrians: urging cars not to jump red lights, or put another way, urging cars not to put pedestrians at risk when it is their turn to use the shared space.
Cars regularly ignore the lights on Walworth Road.
The new threat
What happened with cyclists? There are a few, often on Boris bikes, wobbling about, new to the area, unsure of where to go, cycling at a gentle let-me-see-where-am-I kind of speed. But there is a new breed, I first encountered in Amsterdam. The hardened, hurtling, I-ain't-stopping cyclist, often on a racing cycle. This kind scream at pedestrians. I'd understand it if the screams came when pedestrians were dithering on the road in the way of cyclists who had right of way, but I have been screamed at crossing lights that were green for me, as cyclists whizzed through red lights, and, most alarmingly, walking on the pavement.
Speeding along a pavement on a steel vehicle.
Signs have gone up in Stockholm, warning pedestrians of a new threat, pedestrians using their smart phones whilst walking. A year or so ago, several accidents were reported caused by people so absorbed by playing Pokémon Go they stepped out into speeding traffic.
After we make the pavements safe by stopping cars jumping red lights, and encouraging cyclists to use only the roads, we have a new risk to mitigate: the zombie phone user.
We suggest signs placed low down, the only sliver of the phone-user's vision not filled by the phone screen.
Smart phones make us dumb - waking as if in a digital dreamworld.
Celebratory exhibition at London's Design Museum.
We have produced a series of design ruminations and thoughts on the fifty year-old British road sign system; possibly the most important graphic design project in the world. The posts are:
A reimagining of the signs in animal form.
Playing with what the signs can mean.
Our designs for a celebratory exhibition at the Design Museum.