Collections and Collaborations: The Process Behind the Posters
By Becky Chilcott
In November 2018, I approached fourteen artists, designers, writers, illustrators and musicians to ask if they would collaborate in pairs to create a poster designed to celebrate the St Bride Library and highlight the rich and varied collections it holds. This would culminate in an event to be held in the spring to help raise funds for the Library and commemorate the completion of their work.
Luckily, the following creatives said yes to the challenge:
- Anil Aykan
- Jonathan Barnbrook
- Paul Barnes
- Mick Clayton
- Catherine Dixon
- Tom Etherington
- Tom Gauld
- Alistair Hall
- Keith Houston
- David Pearson
- Bob Richardson
- Pam Smy
- Ness Wood
- John L. Walters
We paired them up ourselves but most were obvious choices as they had worked together before (or do so on a regular basis), but some were completely new and we hoped that the outcome would be fruitful . . .
The brief was very simple and open:
To create an A2 poster inspired by the rich collections that St Bride holds, the building itself or something related to its heritage.
All participants were offered a tour of the Foundation, Print Workshop, Library and its collections if needed; kindly led by either Mick Clayton or Bob Richardson who volunteer regularly at St Bride and are indeed some of the brightest and best treasures St Bride is lucky to have.
Boss Print and Fenner Paper very kindly agreed to sponsor the event – for which we cannot thank them enough for their generosity and enthusiasm for the project.
Fenton Smith and Justin Hobson’s knowledge and advice were absolutely crucial to the whole process – they were central to all the collaborations too – as they suggested printing techniques and paper that would lend itself best to each individual poster.
We set the deadline of the 1st April 2019 for the artwork and then waited with excited anticipation for the results to come through.
Here you can see the final results and a few words from each pair of collaborators about the process behind their poster.
We cannot express our gratitude enough for the time, effort, passion and energy everyone has given so freely to this project. We hope you appreciate and love them all as much as we do!
They have been printed in limited editions of 80 and cost £15 each (plus postage and packaging) and are available to buy via our online shop.
Please note that he letterpress poster created by Catherine Dixon and Mick Clayton is £30 (plus postage and packaging).
Anil Aykan & Jonathan Barnbrook (Fragile Self)
Printed on Omnia White 150gsm
St Bride has always been a big presence in our lives. It is one of the few places that has reliably documented the amazing diversity and creativity in British typography in a world where it is not that well understood or acknowledged. Importantly it is also a place that shows the social context of it all. You can’t separate the two in real life, and that context is one of the things that make St Bride so fascinating, so our project was very much about this. We took something that was very much about ‘popular British typography’ and put it in a modern context.
This project is different from the normal ones from our studio ‘Barnbrook’. Instead it is from the collaboration ‘Fragile Self’ between us – Anil Aykan and Jonathan Barnbrook, we are both members of our studio but we work under this name making music. So for this project we wanted to do something that had music as the core, but acknowledged the link with typography. We looked through the archives and chose a ‘broadside’ sheet from the 19th Century. These were cheap one-sided sheets and often had a salacious story, gossip or a song sung in the music halls of the time. We chose one of them with a song that we felt had the right melancholic flavour for us and reinterpreted the typography of the broadside in a modern context. It is a very mournful piece about a woman and her lover and what finally happened to him. To further acknowledge that this is a modern interpretation there is a unique download code integrated into each poster, and we chose a new Fragile Self image of Anil, which we thought explained the state of mind very well. We recorded a new version of the song without knowing or wanting to know what the original sounded like, translating the lyrics into modern English and adding melody. We are an electronic band, so the result of both is very modern but with hopefully a similar atmosphere of the original.
St Bride is an amazing resource. Many designers nowadays research by just using the internet, however going to the library, looking at specific pieces of work, by chance coming across another piece of print, absorbing the atmosphere of the building, talking to the people there, it will take you down a totally different and maybe more creative path. The world needs designers who don’t produce work using the same methods, also you need to have understanding of your own sense of place and your own sense of history to be something unique and for those working or studying in the UK, St Bride should be a big part of that.
Paul Barnes & David Pearson
Printed on Colorset 120gsm (various colours)
This was written by David Pearson to be read out at the event on the 14 May as he couldn’t attend:
I am sorry that I cannot be with you tonight. I am aware of how it must look that an evening celebrating close collaboration includes neither of the people responsible for this project.
This is my fault: partly for producing a poster that Paul really does not like and partly because my girlfriend bought me a trip to Japan for my 40th birthday (I am writing this from Kyoto with a glass of sake in my hand so apologies if my words seem only partially considered!).
Now to give Paul his dues, this is not an attractive use of his type, nor is it a desirable poster (sorry St Bride’s!) but it is from the heart, so please excuse the indulgence.
Warning. I’m not very good at analogies but this certainly doesn’t stop me from using them.
I was one of those young, boy graphic designers who decided that one solution – Helvetica – should be the solution for everything. This was because I was scared of a broader horizon that involved choices, and I constantly hid behind Swiss design as a steady, if unspectacular choice for every scenario.
Two amazing teachers then stepped into my life (Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon) and invited me to consider a different way. What if letters had personalities? what if letters could wear different hats based on the scenarios they found themselves in? You wouldn’t dress the same way for a wedding and a jog round the park after all. So why would you force the same letters to suit every circumstance?
Catherine took our class on a visit to St Bride Library and I was never the same again. Don’t get me wrong, I still subscribe to the Simon Cowell school of fashion: 18 pairs of the same jeans and t-shirt, thrown thoughtlessly together each day, but I now at least know what a mohair shirt and wing-tipped shoes are. And sometimes, they are the exact right choice.
The type itself comes from the recently-released Commercial Classics range, and I would urge you all to look up this amazing work (see the link below). Look too for the original punches, matrices and metal type that inspired it, all of which can be found in this very building.
I accept my fate for this very personal and very indulgent response – and promise to buy up the posters myself. Looking at the design, they shouldn’t cost very much.
Mick Clayton & Catherine Dixon
Printed on Shiro Echo, White 160gsm
I [Catherine Dixon] really wanted to focus on the location of St Bride and in particular its proximity to Fleet Street and the support that the St Bride Institute offered when first established to the printing trade that had once flourished in that part of the city. The collaborative partnership with Mick Clayton, a retired Journeyman/Compositor, who now volunteers in the Print Workshop offered an opportunity to tap into that trade background and into the practical knowledge of print that is represented within St Bride. I was fascinated by some trade printing terms I had come across in doing some preliminary research for the poster, which I sent over to Mick late one night to see if there were any others that might offer some clues as to possible design directions. The next morning a page-long list of extraordinary terms arrived back from Mick and so emerged an idea to celebrate St Bride as the last resting place of this amazing but lost language of trade compositing and printing.
The poster was hand typeset using wood display types and Gill Condensed Bold (18pt) and printed in the Print Workshop at St Bride with the help of Steve Linehan, Barry Felstead and Andrew Long.
The poster set out to celebrate the skilled craftsmanship of the printing trades of Fleet Street and the print workshop space at St Bride. The good will it required to execute exemplifies something else quite remarkable about St Bride, its sense of community. And as with the best collaborations, so much has been learned and the respect and affection held in the partnership has deepened. What a privilege to be invited to participate in this project! Thank you.
Tom Etherington & Keith Houston
Printed on Gardapat 13, Klassica 115gsm
Keith: I think it’s fair to say that we were bowled over by the collection’s standout items. Caxton’s Chaucer and the Kelmscott Press’s much later edition, for example, stuck with us both. As such, we had planned to replicate some of the typographic techniques used in these and other works in our poster – double hyphens; carefree approaches to hyphenation and spelling; letter spaced C A P I T A L S; over-enthusiastic italics – but the end result was a little too busy. Typographic fashions are just as rooted in their respective eras as clothing fashions are today, and as we tried to combine those eras we veered a little too close to pastiche rather than tribute.
Aside the most eye-catching items (Gill’s design sketches; Caxton’s Chaucer; Pouché’s wood type), what struck us as we continued to look around was how well the collection conveyed all the individual stages of the printing process: it was fascinating to see how type designers, punch cutters, typographers and printers navigate a craft that reverses itself over and over with each successive phase. Designs, punches, smoke proofs, matrices, sorts, stereotypes, presses and specimen books – each of the artefacts of the printing process is either mirrored or not, and from there we took the idea of pulling them together into a single poster.
Tom: After deciding to focus on the different stages of the printing process, we thought about ways of visualising this as a poster. As a designer ‘show-through’ can often be your enemy when making printed matter. It happens a lot on the text pages of books when there are dense printed areas on thin paper stocks. I thought perhaps show-through could be a fun way to illustrate the reverse sections of the printing process for this poster.
So Keith wrote a passage of text explaining the different stages of printing, and I created a simple typographic poster with the text. The stages that involve reversed lettering are printed in reverse on the back of the poster, and then for the stages of printing where the lettering is the correct way round are printed on the front of the poster. They then align up and read as a complete paragraph when the reverse shows through to the front.
It was a bit of luck that when we suggested this idea to Fenner Paper they sent through a sample of a new paper they have which is actually made to allow for show-through.
Choosing a typeface for the poster felt a bit daunting, it had to have a proper connection to St Bride. Paul Barnes of Commercial Type has recently started a new venture relaunching historical typefaces, and St Bride was a big influence on his work and research. He kindly let me used Caslon Doric and Throrowgood for the poster, both of which felt perfectly in line with the idea of the poster.
Tom Gauld & John L. Walters
Printed on Sixties, 60gsm
Mick Clayton gave Tom Gauld and John L. Walters an extensive tour of the labyrinthine St Bride building, including nooks and crannies they had never seen before. John scribbled down his impressions of the institution, and Tom put some of these words into image panels in a comic book format. ‘I didn’t want to focus on one item from the collection, but to try and capture the feeling of the eccentric building stuffed with fascinating artefacts,’ said Tom.
Alistair Hall & Bob Richardson
Printed on Creative Print, Champagne 170gsm
I visited the Library together with Jonathan Barnbrook and Anil Aykan; and Bob Richardson had been good enough to put a list together of the most notable bits from the Library’s collection. Obviously a treasure trove of incredible stuff. And Bob’s knowledge is simply encyclopaedic.
During the visit, I spotted a long and thin little booklet lying slightly to one side – the Specimens of Wood Letter book from R. D. DeLittle.
DeLittle was the largest and most innovative British designers and manufacturers of woodblock typefaces. Set up in 1888 by Robert Duncan in York, it produced a huge range of display typefaces in wood, mainly for posters and theatre bills.
The booklet featured some of DeLittle’s incredible elongated sans serif typefaces.
Then in the reading room I saw another DeLittle specimen book, put to one side for Andrew Long, and it had some more glorious examples of their elongated faces.
[These came in numbered versions, including Nos. 40, 41, 43, 53, 58, 196, 315, 316, 318, 321, 322, 323, and were shown in various line heights including 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 30, 40, 50. Dating is a little tricky, but some of the types certainly date back to the 1890s – no. 53 is from 1892, 58 from 1893.]
Mainly I just wanted to steal unashamedly from the DeLittle specimens, while creating something people might want to put up on their walls.
Fortunately, while researching DeLittle, I came across Colophon Foundry’s recently released Coign type family (https://www.colophon-foundry.org/typefaces/coign/), which was inspired by DeLittle’s elongated sans faces, as seen during visits to St Bride Library. That meant that I could create a poster that not only showcased a physical thing from the library, but also the more abstract essence of the library as a place of research, inspiration and scholarship. Brilliant!
Coign is an extensive family, with 28 styles featuring 4 widths in seven weights. It’s a real stunner. Wonderfully, Anthony at Colophon was kind enough to lend me Coign for free, so that I could produce the poster.
I wrote some words that captured what the library meant to me, and used Coign to set those, and then Caslon for the smaller text. It’s a consciously digital design – using the tools of today, but inspired by the tools of the past. It was printed onto an off white stock, 170gsm Creative Print Champagne, kindly supplied by Fenner Paper.
You can read more about Coign here (https://medium.com/@Colophon/coign-the-most-condensed-font-ever-probably-c3d56086a1bd), and buy the type family here (https://www.colophon-foundry.org/typefaces/coign/).
I believe the full DeLittle archives are now held at the Type Archive in Stockwell (www.typearchive.org), after DeLittle finally ceased trading in 1998, over a hundred years after they started.
Pam Smy & Ness Wood
Printed on Pergraphica Smooth, Natural 120gsm
Before visiting the archive at St Bride, illustrator, Pam Smy, and designer, Ness Wood, hadn’t discussed what they wanted to research, other than to agree that they both wanted to focus on doing something about women in print. Both were blown away by the richness of books, wood letters, printed materials and connected ephemera that were tucked away in boxes and files in the archive. It was full of visual treasure and there was plenty to inspire their different and particular enthusiasms.
In searching through the sliding shelves they came across the name Beatrice Warde. In the late 1920’s Warde had used the male pseudonym, Paul Beaujon, to publish her article on the typeface Garamond, an act which revealed just how male-dominated the industry was. Based on this article, Paul Beaujon was offered a job editing the Monotype Recorder in London. ‘Paul’ accepted, and Beatrice Warde arrived in London to begin her long career as writer and marketing manager for the British Monotype Corporation. Pam and Ness knew this was the woman that they wanted to focus on for their poster.
During their research they discovered connections between Beatrice and themselves. Warde’s mother, Mary Lamberton Becker, had written about children’s books in Books as Windows, 1929, and Pam and Ness work together in children’s publishing.
Warde had corresponded with furniture designer Richard (Dick) Russell (he and his brother Gordon exhibited at the Britain Can Make it Exhibition, 1948) and Ness studied History of Design focusing on this period at the University of Brighton and Dick’s archive is now at their Design Archives. Beatrice also had contact with T. S. Eliot at Faber & Faber, where Ness designed the Eliot Macavity picture book series amongst others for this publishing house.
Pam was excited to discover original black and white illustrations for Presenting Miss Jane Austen in 1952, which was worked on by Warde and Becker to celebrate the opening of Jane Austen’s house in Hampshire. As Pam’s illustration is inspired by the classic fiction and the pen and ink work of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s this was another link to the collection.
In the archive on Warde, Pam and Ness found inspiration for the colours they used, the decorative design from that era, the portrait of Beatrice and the statement of ‘This is a Printing Office’. The resulting poster is a blend of these elements.
The final touch was a stamp on each poster, inspired by the many library stamps found throughout the St. Bride’s Library and Archive. Each one adds it’s own slight individual imperfections to each of the posters.
A FOOTNOTE: A memorial service was fittingly held for Beatrice at the Church of St Brides on 17th October, 1969. Today there is the TDC Beatrice Warde Scholarship, sponsored by The Type Directors Club and Monotype who offer a scholarship under her name for young women who demonstrate exceptional talent, sophistication, and skill in the use of typography.
We couldn’t have done this without the kind and generous spirit of our sponsors and would like to thank: