July 6th, 2015
It’s been a lively last few months, with new personal projects helping to break up the work routine. Photographer Martin Tompkins and I have worked together since the early days of Decode magazine back in the early 2000′s. Our first proper collaboration was for a book project we developed following a US road trip he and I took, along with my brother and two other friends, in 2003. The result was a limited edition hand-made book and accompanying exhibition at Bath’s Michael Tippett Centre called ‘Everything In-Between’. We collaborated again in 2013 on Havana Street Style, a book that documented Cuba’s burgeoning fashion conscious inhabitants in all their exuberant glory.
After a few beers recently, we got chatting about what to do next. A simple solution was agreed on to attempt a few quick outcomes that would test out new creative techniques. Nothing too precious and involving very little deliberation. The first project produced is a 12 page newspaper printed using Newspaper Club – an online service that allows you to produce limited numbers at a pretty affordable cost. Having never used the service before, there was an element of trial and error as we were using high density color for the photos taken. We were pretty pleased with the final result although the limitations of the process are pretty apparent as color quickly fades on newsprint.
All the photographs were taken during a one night walk around the city of Bath. We had it in our minds to show the city in an unfamiliar light – creating something ethereal and otherworldly. My response to the photographs was then to consider how typography and simple narrative could work alongside and help to compliment the imagery. All of the main typographic illustrations are bespoke forms inspired by the likes of Wassily Kandinski and Alexander Calder – formal yet modernist.
The words chosen for each illustration helped to then thread a simple narrative about ‘Night’ which in turn led to me choosing the Police’s song ‘Bring on the Night’ as both a title for the newspaper and the lyrics used as secondary running heads.
This first outcome has got us excited about doing some more experiments, so now all we need to do is find the time to devote to future projects. A tricky proposition as day-t0-day work needs to be prioritized but the will and enthusiasm are definitely there.
Creating these typographic forms also inspired me to have more of a play with words, so I had a crack at another approach using elongated crossbars, bowls and arms.
The full newspaper can be viewed at the Newspaper Club website:
Categories: Design Photography
March 10th, 2015
In October last year I was invited to deliver a paper at The Mediated City conference at Woodbury University in Los Angeles. The paper was titled: ‘Hollywood Menace – Los Angeles Mid-Century Modern Dens of Vice’ and continues my fascination with cinetourism which I’ve been exploring through the World Film Locations book series for Intellect. The conference brought together academics, arts practitioners, architects and film-makers who’s work is related to media and place in some way. Partly a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s seminal book on the subject, the conference also highlighted the vast amount of work being done in this area of cross disciplinary practice – the place where film, architecture, media, travel, politics and other forms of art all converge to help us make more sense of how we live in cities today.
It was great to meet so many interesting people doing some wonderful work. A few highlights were meeting Alice Arnold who’s film ‘Electric Signs’ is a brilliant visual essay on neon signage used for advertising in key cities around the world. Much of the film focuses on the massive electric billboards which are a blight around the streets of Los Angeles and the grassroots fight that is currently going on to prevent these signs from dominating the cityscape.
I also met the cultural geographer, lecturer and author Demetrios Eames, who alongside running the Charles and Ray Eames foundation that protects their iconic case study house #8 (more commonly known as simply the ‘Eames House’) produces books and installations under the banner Kcymaerxthaere – a fascinating ongoing project that explores narrative through interactive, temporary installations around the world. Demetrios is a polymath in every sense of the word as his mind-bogglingly diverse cv shows, but he is humble and full of enthusiasm for meeting new people and experiencing new things.
I came away from the conference inspired and creatively rejuvenated – seeing where the work I’m doing connects with projects and initiatives being done by others all over the place.
One contact made at the conference has led to a nice little writing ‘gig’ for the revamped Interiors journal. The journal, which initially focused its efforts on producing architectural flat plans for chosen film scenes, has developed its remit – now functioning more like a traditional online film journal although the focus continues to be on ‘place’ and environment. My monthly feature is called ‘Screengrab’ which sees me analyze one shot from a film semi-exhaustively. The first piece was on a fairly pivotal shot from John Carpenter’s aliens-are-among-us romp They Live, that offered me the opportunity to discuss typography, advertising and contemporary art all in one go.
My next piece will be on Charles Laughton’s masterful Night of the Hunter, which aside from being one of the most haunting films of the last century, is also one of the most beautifully told modern fairy tales with big bad wolves, timid grown-ups and courageous children present and correct.
On the books front, Havana Street Style was published last August and so we held the launch event at Bristol’s ‘The Cuban’ on September 11th to celebrate with copious amounts of Mojitos and heaps of authentic snacks. The book was a thoroughly enjoyable collaboration between myself as project manager, photographer Martin Tompkins and author Conner Gorry, but a book isn’t really a book until it arrives back from the printer to be leafed through, passed around (and occasionally smelt).
Following the recent announcement in December by Barack Obama and Raul Castro that the United States and Cuba will restore full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than fifty years, we’re hoping the book will take on a tad more poignancy as one of the last collective portraits of life in Havana before massive cultural and economic changes change the country forever.
I’ve been working with colleagues at Intellect on a new book series called Crime Uncovered, which explores the ever increasing popularity of crime in all of its manifestations, from literature and film to television and videogames.
Each title is devoted to a particular character type such as ‘The Detective’ or ‘The Anti-Hero’ and contains protagonist case studies, interviews with crime writers and longer essays on the wider background and perception of these fascinating – and much loved – characters in crime.
I opted for a minimalist but playful approach for the covers – using type and monotone only to convey a mood and which can be used for future titles in the series. The challenge here is to modify only one letter on each cover, turning the type into a ‘character’ which alludes to the whole basis of the series. The temptation with these covers was to use imagery, but as there are so many case studies of well known protagonists in each book, choosing one figure to represent the whole bunch just didn’t seem like a good idea. I also wanted to avoid falling into clichéd territory with shadowy (often male) characters donning stereotypical garb, concealed by plumes of smoke ala Raymond Chandler.
We’re hoping the accessible, reader-friendly approach we’ve taken to the books content and layout will connect with general enthusiasts of crime fiction, students and scholars – but as with all publishing ideas, only time will tell.
More about the series and the first two titles scheduled for release (Antihero and Detective) can be found here.
Categories: Architecture Design Education Film
August 12th, 2014
It was an honour to present at this year’s Typecon in Washington D.C. as part of their annual Education Forum. This was my first visit to the conference run by SOTA (the Society for Typographic Aficionados) so having my esteemed colleague John Paul Dowling, a past presenter, to accompany me on the podium made the experience that little less daunting.
Our presentation was entitled ‘If at first you don’t succeed… : Affecting a Change in the Referral Process of Design Education’ and looked at how adjusting the graphic design course curriculum in respect of the referral process can foster a learning environment that embraces the notions of ‘trial & error’ and learning from mistakes both for students and staff.
The 25 minute presentation went well with some great feedback at the Q&A session, particularly from educators in the US who teach in institutions that rarely allow for module or project ‘retakes’. I think the positive response was also due in part to our emphasis on the student as an individual – each of whom enters a university course with a whole set of inherited or learned character strengths and weaknesses. Teachers, like parents (or even psychiatrists) need to have an understanding of these issues in order to help support students ideally before, but certainly at, the point of ‘failure’.
From left: Juliet Shen, Gerry Leonidis, me and John Paul Dowling. Photo by Helen Lysen
The common misconception that failure is primarily due to laziness disregards the fact that all learners – like all children (for those parents out there) are different. Some seemingly know what they want and how to express it from an early age, while others have great difficultly articulating what they want or need.
Motivations differ too for each student, so attempting to understand these motivations can help to steer them away from disaster toward self awareness.
We delivered our presentation on the first day of the conference which meant we could relax and enjoy other speakers waxing lyrical about such things as Cyrillic scripts, hand lettering, (not so) new Swiss design, Symbology from Victorian-Era Calling Cards and historical type revivals.
Keynote speaker was Tobias Frere-Jones (he of celebrated and recently split type duo – Hoefler & Frere-Jones) who managed to make what could have been a yawn inducing near-two-hour presentation on the design of US currency immensely watchable and relatable. Also good to see him receive such a rapturous welcome considering the recent brooha surrounding the duo’s acrimonious split and he seemed visibly moved by the audience’s show of genuine support and affection.
Tobias Frere-Jones. Photo by Helen Lysen
It’s fair to say we were both pretty ‘typed out’ come Sunday afternoon and saw the closing night’s bowling party as a welcome relief, even though some still couldn’t resist the urge to analyze the font adorning the venue’s neon signage.
I can’t say we saw much of D.C. beyond the usual tourist spots (Capitol Hill, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums) but a few jaunts to the outer rim locales of Georgetown and Arlington at least gave us a sense of the city’s geographic identity.
Overall, the experience was a good one. I got to rub shoulders with some pretty high profile font nerds (Matthew Carter, Frere-Jones, John Downer), ate some famed D.C. chinese food, Mexican waved my way through a Nationals baseball game and finally managed to stand in Abe Lincoln’s imposing shadow.
Until next year Typecon. It was fun.
Categories: Design Education