OK, so I have a new camera. I’m testing it out. I am exploring the settings. I’m liking it. Sheffield city centre, Fargate, 23 July 2011 at around 3.40pm.
Boys and their toys…
24pt Palace Script to be more precise.
It is in the same condition as all my other metal type; well looked after, but mucky after a long storage. It’s a full fount too, with ligatures and figures, as well as these nifty fractions!
Palace Script is originally from 1923 and appears to be owned by both Monotype, and Stephenson Blake, a Sheffield type foundry who were once a major producer of metal type. Most people will know this as the typeface of choice for invitations and anything that needs to look ‘classy.’ Monotype seem to be responsible for the continuing popularity of this script with their early digital version but there are many versions available on the web to buy or download for free.
Stephenson Blake also produced some very similar copperplate scripts, such as Imperial, Marina & Society Scripts,
I have never been a fan of scripts, especially this one. I have always found it to be a little too fussy for my tastes, and the fact that it is used as a ‘default’ script has stigmatised it for me. Still, there’s no denying that the actual physical cast type looks rather beautiful here.
The ampersand is especially nice though, with an elegant swash descender looping below…
These next images show how kerning with metal type is achieved; by creating overlaps and indents in each block, so that scripts like Palace can be closely and regularly spaced. The image below shows the overhanging part well – if you click on it to enlarge it, you get a better view.
I have also mentioned Stephenson Blake quite a lot in this post, and can identify this fount very easily by the ‘SB&Co.’ on the spacing slugs. This image also shows the indents on the body of the letters and the correspondingly shaped spaces and end pieces at the right and left:
I’ve been digital for so long that I’ve forgotten just how fascinating this stuff is. I have to say, that as a student in the mid 1980′s I didn’t think this was fascinating – just a way for ancient and outdated tutors to exact their perverse revenge upon us for being young! There is so much information that I have forgotten, or didn’t learn in the first place, that all this has become a bit of an issue for me.
Most designers now think of type as purely digital artifacts, things that only exist when the ‘print’ button is employed, or the presses are rolling. Just think about this for a while; it is not so long ago when many, many men were employed to manufacture this stuff, in every standard size from 8pt to 72pt; thousands of tons of metal, precision cast to make beautifully elegant impressions upon paper, were shipped out from dirty, hot and dangerous foundries, to be arranged artfully and expertly by many, many more men (these have always been very masculine trades – unlike printing, where there is a growing history being uncovered of strong and influential female printers – often wives/widows and daughters of established tradesmen), proofed and corrected, and then inked and pressed into paper. And don’t forget the legion of apprentices who had the lovely job of cleaning it all afterwards and returning each piece of type to its compartment in the case - all made redundant and obsolete by phototypesetting and then, digital technology.
Ahh. I am enjoying the recollection of long forgotten facts and experience, but also the feeling of being a novice again. I have often said that “the moment that you stop learning is when someone else will get your job” but I am also enjoying the feeling of being an old empty vessel, newly repaired and filling up again…
Half term often lures the Lestarets back up north to see our other types and last weekend was no different. On Sunday morning though, Mrs. Lestaret talked me into a trip into the city centre for a spot of shopping, to which I agreed on the condition that I did not have to go shopping. So off we went, me with my camera and Mrs. Lestaret with our eldest daughter Uppercase and the credit card. I don’t know who came out the best in that deal, but judging by the size and amount of Primark bags in the boot on the way home, I guess it would depend on whose angle you judged it from…
I had to park (No, I chose to – there are cheaper places to park in town, but I figured that this was worth the extra dosh. What? Did I really say that?) in ‘The Cheesegrater’ – a great brute of a concrete multistory, clad in angled aluminium panels. It has divided opinion in Sheffield but has won many architectural awards. I love it because it is so out of character with its surroundings. I like cities that reflect their cultural heritage, but tend to find that many of them end up as a pastiche of their former selves. I believe towns and cities should reflect each of their ages – that includes the odd 1960′s and 70′s concrete abortions too – it’s how we measure ourselves in our own era. Take the ‘Hole in the Road’ (Castle Square) for instance; a mini shopping area built into the subways under a major road junction, open to the elements in the centre, and on a slope, so when it rained the subways became impassable. (Many thought the stench of urine made it impassable, but that’s another story!) It even had a fish tank built into one of the walls and there were at least 10 tramps living in the darkest corners of the subways at any one time. Heralded as a breakthrough in urban planning when built, it is, alas, no more. The march of progress slows for no-one, so it will probably be no surprise that it has been filled in and now is a tram stop. Yes, a tram stop. Not a hover-tram, a laser guided particle re-aligning tram, or indeed, any other type of tram except one of those old fashioned things that run on rails and are powered by overhead cables. Ah, progress. But I digress. I just hope that we don’t get rid of all the character from our urban centres, just because they aren’t fashionable anymore.
Anyway, the cheesegrater is a remarkable building from any angle, and as I wandered towards the Winter Gardens and the Millenuim Galleries I spied another photo opportunity in front of one of half a dozen or so shiny metals balls gushing over with water. You can see the arch of the Winter gardens in the reflection if you squint funny.
I thought I’d try a self-portrait too. This wasn’t taken in the water distorted reflection on one of those metal balls, I do actually look as deformed as this!
I spent a diverting half hour in the Ruskin Gallery and was gladdened by this sign. You don’t get that much. I was taking another photograph of some etchings when I was politely accosted by a terribly friendly security bod and informed that, although I was allowed to molest several of the major artworks, I was not allowed to photograph them. I know, I know, I know the rules, but, well… I begged my apologies and continued to the Lovebytes exhibition next door.
There were some interesting exhibits, but the one that attracted the most attention was the Body Paint digital wall by Mehmet Akten. Its colours and textures changed depending on your movement and proximity, so encouraged normally rational, exhibition going people to do things like toss their hats across the room and so on. Wouldn’t catch me doing anything like that. I did take a sneeky picture though. Once more, the ever-so-friendly security bod apologised and reminded me of the no photography policy in the galleries. More apologies followed and went our separate ways, both happy in the understanding that we both clearly understood the policy.
Another piece I was drawn to was a dining table, set out with plain white crockery. A digital projector, directly overhead displayed varous patterns onto each of the plates, bowls and tureens. Whilst I stood there in quiet contemplation, an error window appeared in the centre of the table:
It was a temptation too great to resist. I thought I had been discreet, snapping off the lens cap as I unzipped my jacket and switching the LCD screen to the viewfinder so I didn’t display any tell-tale light. Well, my unbearably polite and apologetic personal security technician was digitally beamed into my vicinity, where clearly under some sort of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy, I was excorted to the doors and asked not to return, but reminded that that did not include the gift shop, where his colleagues would gladly divest me of lots of money for very little in return. I obliged on the first bit and found myself back outside in a crisp Northern light.
OK I deserved it. I’m not after sympathy or anything. Just recalling the moment is all. Ah well.
I was looking at the Winter Garden structure and admiring the tiny but elegant brace that holds up the central wooden arches. On the left, not as elegant, but pleasingly similar is a supporting strut from a neighbouring building. On the right, a bloody ashtray. Come on people! I know we’ve banished smokers to the elements, but should we station them in front of all our lovely new (or old for that matter) buildings? Ok, I was feeling a little abashed as I (ahem) left the galleries and I, like everyone else I suppose, would have left without noticing this. It did begin to cloud my other observations of my old home town.
A walk around the town hall and I came upon this old police box – I had forgotten about this! But whose bright idea was it to paint it that colour? Did an old mental institution find some left over tins of ’1970′s Mental Hospital Green’ and donated them to our cash strapped Bobbies? Bloody Hell! You’d think that there was at least one bright spark in the Force who would say, you know, if we paint it dark blue like the Tardis, we could use this as a good PR tool. But no. Some Dilbert will have answered the phone and said “Oh yes? From the 1970′s you say? It is that vile and bilious shade of green isn’t it? Oh splendid! Send it ’round!” Like I said, I wasn’t in the greatest of moods.
I did feel like dialling 0 for Assistance though, but thought better of it…
I did get back into the swing of things a bit later though. I found this little corner around the back of Union Street. I love how the upper storeys of buildings get forgotten behind the shiny plastic facades and plate glass of the shops beneath…
And whilst waiting for Mrs. Lestaret and Uppercase to return I spied a section of ghostly graphics from a different era. Sandwiched between the plastic facades and plate glass (I know, point made!) and further disguised amongst the bus stops and street signs was the partially obsured legend “& Co.” I liked that. It made me forget my earlier mood. I returned home a much more happy chappy…
And yes, I decided to play about with the settings on my camera, and push things a little further in PhotoShop. B&W is still cool…
This last weekend I’ve been back up north to Sheffield. See the folks; show the children off, etc. In amidst this scene of prosaic domestic activity, I managed to squeeze in a couple of exhibitions. I spent a good hour browsing, reading and marvelling through the entries at the 2nd Artists Book Prize at Banks Street Arts, where my own humble offerings are on display with seventy-nine other entries. There were some very unusual ones that challenged the concept of ‘bookness’, a good many altered books, lots of handmade papers and a few commercially bound editions. There were many types of format, content and execution, and most were unnamed and only identifiable by a small blue sticker with a number for voting purposes. There were voting forms in the exhibition for the public to register their two favourites.
There were too many books to go through fully, which meant having to decided which were to be investigated further. There were perfect bound digitally printed volumes, hand-made paper creations, elegant casebound books, accordian folds, flagbooks, Japanese stab bindings, loose leaves and even a CD!
I was obviously drawn first to the more formally bound books, and then moved on to those with more unusual formats and materials. An early favourite was title ‘Clocks’- a slim casebound volume in grey cloth, around 30 x 25cm, which began typographically with single words on each page, progressing to beautiful graphic swashes on graph paper, and ending with pinholes in the page in the position of numbers on a clock face: booky, graphic and mysterious – it ticked all the boxes for me.
I was also really charmed by this tiny (around 9cm tall) slim accordion book of prints depicting rice terraces, held in a gatefold cover and fastened with tooth-like toggles. The simplicity and quality of the single colour printing appealed and inspired me – I need to think about my own themes and practices if I am to produce anything as delicate and communicative as this.
My favourite (and got my vote) was this tooled brown leather box, around 10cm square and 4cm deep titled ‘Working Song for a Shetland Shearer.’ The lid lifted away to pull out a… well, I don’t know the technical term for this, but it was a sort of double/twisted accordion, which, when expanded, the panels revealed engaging wood/linocut prints in three colours. The content featured interconnected verses of Baa-Baa-Black-Sheep, with directions for sheep shearing and mixed illustrative styles. The result was a beautiful and seemingly inconsequential work, that ‘spoke’ much more intensely than I had first thought. This is a book made not to celebrate or inform, but exists for the romance of itself, imbued with importance by its own craftsmanship. The leather box binding makes the book solid, timeless, precious and personal. This is a book that I wish I had within easy reach of my desk right now. I seem to enjoy the perverse feeling of creative inspiration tainted by jealousy!
There were seven other books that really twisted my melon, and a whole host of others that sparked ideas, made me think and made me smile. Here are some of my favourites.
The winner of the first Book Arts Prize, Katherine Johnson was awarded an exhibition at the gallery where she displayed a range of altered books and book inspired concept pieces. There were two main installations. The first one, in a stark, white room, featured paper planes made from book pages, emerging from a casebound book titled “Wings of Fate; Strange True Tales of the Vintage Flying Days” by Norman Macmillan. These were suspended on drop lines fro the ceiling, and emerged from the book in a graceful arc across the room to a point just above the door. Mesmerising in the simplicity of its effect. These images don’t really do it justice, but they are all I’ve got.
The second piece, in a darkened room lit by a single spotlight, was a thick vertical column of paper chains, each link made from a line of text cut from a book. Suspended from a single point at the ceiling, they fell to the floor and spread outwards to an abrupt end.
Both were elegant and inspired works that made me smile and wonder about the possibilities held within the form of the book. There were a number of smaller pieces on display too, each confidant in it’s execution and beautiful in their detail. One to watch.
My thanks to John and the kind folk at Bank Street Arts, who gave me permission to take the photographs, as well as all of the artists whose work is shown here. I apologise for the lack of individual credits but I would be happy to add details and weblinks to any of the featured artists. Go visit the gallery if you are in the area. It’s a small, independent gallery, run by enthusiastic, friendly people. Try the Bakewell tart in the café too!
I also went off to the other side of Sheffield to the Cultural Industries Quarter, to the Yorkshire Arts Space to see an exhibition of posters by Martin F. Bedford, a designer, illustrator and photographer who was an early inspiration for me as a young pup! He designed lots of gig and event posters for many of the cities arts and music venues, especially The Leadmill, (some history here - many a lost night spent in the bar in my time!!!) which many of us aspiring designers wanted to do. I did, in time, design quite a lot of posters for them (so thanks Martin!) but back to the story.
BUT. Yes, but. There has to be a but. It was shut. Why aren’t galleries open on a bloody Saturday? So go to Martins website and take a look at his work online – buy a print (I wish I could afford a John Cooper Clark one, above!) or buy the book. I have had one of his books since last Christmas. It is really a blast from the past for me, but is also full of quirky, colourful grassroots design and striking imagery, and has lots to offer those who enjoy music design and ephemera, and may never have even been to Sheffield! It is also worth considering that The Leadmill was notorious for quick turnarounds and last minute work – many of the posters I did were commissioned on a Wednesday, printed on a Thursday, flyposted on a Thursday and Friday night for a gig the next Tuesday! As I recall, they only paid a flat fee of forty quid for each design! But you could get in to the gig for free and see some great (and not so great acts) and see lots of people carrying your posters which they had paid a pound for!
Anyway, following my disappointment at this exhibition being shut, I wandered down the road to the Site Gallery (which was open and free) and spent a while in a wonderful exhibition space showing a minimalist video installation by by New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Daniel von Sturmer. I’m not usually moved by this sort of work, but these wes playful and beguiling films, well presented with crystal clear sound. The fact that I was the only person in there answered my earlier question about galleries don’t open at the weekend (they did have two very delightful ladies on reception though!) but it was nice to have the place all to myself.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Visit your local galleries and arts centres. Apart from supporting real, honest people sharing and promoting the work of other creatives, you may leave inspired, educated, baffled or just smiling. Exercise your intellect and your emotions.