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I’ve discovered Scarfolk.*

Scarfolk is a story pieced together by Dr Ben Motte, who discovered a package one day stuffed with printed ephemera from a town that never left the 1970s. And as the story unfolds, you discover that Scarfolk is a very dark place indeed.

Never

Imagine Quatermass, Survivors and The League of Gentlemen rolled into one in the minds of Chris Morris and Douglas Adams, with paranormal children, tacit-racism, mind control and mythical folk tales thrown into the mix. If you can’t imagine it, then just think what it would be like.

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Scarfolk is the brilliant invention of Richard Littler, a graphic designer who has a very keen eye for detail in recreating the 1970s and imagining the worst town to move to in the north of England.

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Scarfolk has been a blog for a while, and is now a book. I can’t wait for the soundtrack and the documentary, they are sure to be coming soon.

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You should visit Scarfolk and discover it for yourself. *

* For more information please re-read.

 

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I made the decision recently to leave Facebook. I had been mulling it over in my head for a while and the final push came last week when my wife, during one of her sleepless bouts, had checked Facebook and saw a timestamp against my name that suggested I was actively on Facebook despite being sound asleep next to her. While I have little control over my online activity being logged somewhere, I at least want it to be accurate.

I’d been considering leaving for many reasons: the fact I found it conducive to compulsive behaviour; that it wasted my time; the knee-jerk commentry; getting friend requests from work colleagues and ex-students and accepting them because I liked them but then feeling I wasn’t so happy for them to see so much of my personal life; the data trawling and potential privacy breaches; the trolling; reaching for my mobile to ‘check-in'; the armchair politics; the adverts, particularly the adverts … I could go on.

But now I have made the decision I feel liberated. That said, there’s been some work involved in leaving the 21st century. Firstly I have been reacquainted with some long lost friends in my 5 years of using Facebook, so I wanted to notify them I was leaving and make them aware of where they could reach me in the future if they so wished. Secondly, I manage a couple of different professional and personal project Facebook Pages so I needed to set up an admin account to continue doing so—this led to the strange scenario where I had to ‘like’ myself in order to pass on admin rights to myself! And finally I wanted to delete any photos I had there that I didn’t want sitting in virtual space forever, (although I think it highly unlikely I will have truly managed this as there’s always a digital trail out there somewhere).

So from tomorrow I’ll be Facebook free when I deactivate my personal account. I only hope it doesn’t lead to me sounding smug when I say I’m not on Facebook if asked; you know, smug in the same way people sound when you ask someone if they saw a particular television programme only to be told pointedly that they don’t have a TV.

September is a busy month for me in the run-up to the start of a new academic year, hence no new posts here for a month. However, I’ve been far from idle and I’m proud to announce one particular project is about to come to fruition. ‘This is us’ is something I’ve been working on with colleagues at University Campus Suffolk for a few months now, with the launch set for Tuesday 29 September and press ads to hit the news-stands from 1 October.

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3 of the 11 portraits in the UCS Waterfront Building lobby

The campaign was envisaged by UCS Provost Richard Lister who wanted to celebrate the individual stories of both students and staff at the institution as it turns seven years old this September. After initial idea sessions between Richard, Graphic Design Senior Lecturer Russell Walker, UCS Head of Marketing Michelle Wootton, Photography Lecturer Matthew Andrew and myself, we decided large portraits of some of the individuals who have been involved in the UCS story over the last seven years would be appropriately fitting.

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UCS Librarian Becky Blunk—Becky is American, before anyone comments on the spelling

After Michelle selected some initial candidates for the project, Matthew set about shooting them in-house at UCS over the summer. Michelle then copy-wrote the text based on interviews with all the sitters while I worked on handwriting samples, scanning them in at ridiculously high resolutions and cutting them about to compliment Matthew’s stunning portraits.

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Course Leader and Senior Lecturer for Photography, Mark Edwards

After Matthew had finished the post-production, we worked closely with printing and hanging the images, using a low tack and re-positional adhesive paper that was completely new to us. The scale creates a dramatic statement as you enter the UCS Waterfront Building lobby, where the 11 images are currently hung.

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Esther Faniyan, current BSc (Hons) Bioscience student

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UCS receptionist, Jon Coy

It is hoped that this project will develop into more portraits and stories over the coming years, but in the meantime, the full scale images can be seen in the UCS Waterfront Building until the end of October, and over the coming weeks will be run as press ads, one-a-week, in the East Anglian Daily Times which will expand upon the sitters’ stories. Alongside this, postcard packs will provide further information about the individuals’ accounts of their time at UCS.

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It has been an honour to work alongside my colleagues on ‘This is us’ and it has been a mark of pride to be able to help showcase the difference UCS is making not just to Ipswich and East Anglia, but to the individuals involved; from students to academic and support staff.

For more information, go to: ucs.ac.uk/thisisus

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Tom Gauld’s response to reader’s letters about Steven Pinker’s article on grammatical rule breaking. The Guardian Review 23.08.14.

Do we need less or fewer pedants in this world? Well, according to Steven Pinker’s article in last weeks’ Guardian Review, (16.08.14), there are some grammatical ‘rules’ that we can afford to break. If you are convinced by his argument, then we can clearly agree we need less pedants in the world.

Personally I’m with him on this. There are just too many English language rules, many of which I have no knowledge of. And if you don’t know what they are, how can you change your behaviour? One of the problems with language pedants is they adopt a moral high ground that judges the character of the person who doesn’t quite get it right, despite the fact they may be communicating perfectly well. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my pet peeves. My wife and step-daughter will warn anyone in my company they will fuel my wrath if they start a list-based sentence with ‘A’, and then progress to the second part of their list without saying ‘B’ beforehand. This in my mind is less about pedantry though, and more about committment. Worse though, they will tell you about my hatred of the use of the word ‘evocative’ to describe something without stating what it is evocative of! I find this particularly annoying if used to describe music. But again, this is less about pedantry and more about ensuring what you are saying actually makes sense. 

Professionally however, when it comes to communicating clearly, use of language is important. My degree design students don’t know it yet, (they will find out in approximately one month, unless any of them read this post), but in one of my second year modules I ban certain words. That’s not quite true; I have a list of words and phrases that they aren’t allowed to use unless they are followed with a qualifying statement. For example, I don’t allow them to use the word bold. In and of itself, bold a meaningless describer for something visual unless it is being used when talking about a typeface, in which case it is entirely appropriate. Otherwise, it is just a subjective descriptor. I want my students to dig deeper than that—for starters, what makes something bold as opposed to not being bold? It is important to acknowledge such distinctions otherwise such phrases are meaningless. Likewise, the phrase ‘eye-catching’ has me thinking of someone playing ‘catch’ with an eyeball. What does eye-catching actually mean if it isn’t qualified; it is not something that can exist in its own vacuum. And while this might mark me out as a pedant to my students, it is an important aspect of design education, because as graphic designers we have to justify our rationale for the design decisions we make. We have to convince clients that we have analysed their communication problems and aim to successfully deliver their messages to their target audience, rather than employing our own artistic tastes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when we are designing we are not artists.

Despite not classing myself as a pedant, there is one area where I will confess to such a trait and that is when teaching typography. Students get sick of me discussing the difference between dashes and hyphens and appropriate usage of an ampersand. I’m not about to go into a typographic lesson here, but I think it is fair to say that there is a certain amount of pedantry at the heart of any typographer.

The contradictions in my views are not lost on me. Where I’m happy for the English language to be adapted over time, and accept this as part of a cultural/societal evolution, I am more resistant to the bastardisation of typographic constructs. But I equally accept that this is all they are, constructs—rules some people have mutually agreed to adopt that then become standards that others follow. Despite this dichotomy I am able to accept both my pedantry and that some of the things I believe in will fall out of usage by the simple fact others don’t accept it as that important as I do. I shudder that the em dash could disappear within my lifetime, but by rights, what should I really care? 

Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen in the future of typography, I still believe it is important that graphic designers should understand what they are doing, (or not doing), and why, and to be able to justify their reasoning. The ability to communicate is at the heart of being both a designer, and to choose to break ‘rules’ is fine if, A: you can demonstrate this is appropriate for the communication that needs to be delivered; and secondly: errr… if it makes a point.

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Snape birdwalk by Peter Silk (Spring, 2011 brochure)—image courtesy of Silk Pearce website

I popped up to Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh in Suffolk at the weekend to find two great, if small, exhibitions.

The first celebrates 15 years of Colchester based graphic design agency Silk Pearce‘s work for the annual Aldeburgh Music festival. Their branding of the festival and programme designs have often featured in design magazines such as Creative Review, and a large display of all of their programme covers collected together features as you enter the show. This is followed by many framed prints of artwork they’ve created over the years, featuring techniques including collage, photomontage, screenprints and digital illustration that reference many aspects of Snape and Aldeburgh. Often fun and full of wit, the work vibrantly shows a diverse approach to image making, and visually dispels any notion of Aldeburgh Music being po-faced as many similar ‘serious’ music festivals might come across. Whoever commissioned Silk Pearce 15 years ago made a wise decision, and the brief must be an annual joy for the studio to anticipate.

Max Gill exhibition—image courtesy of LCAT website

Max Gill exhibition—image courtesy LCAT website

The second is an exhibition of the work of Max Gill, the younger brother of the more famous Eric Gill, at the Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust‘s centre, also at Snape. The centre is worth a visit in its own right for the amazing letter craft, stone masonry and calligraphy on display, but Gill’s maps and book work are absolutely stunning in the main exhibition room. I was particularly taken with his Tea Revives The World map, being a big tea fan myself.

It is unusual enough to get exhibitions of Graphic Design anywhere, but the fact these exhibitions are on together is a rare treat. You’ll have to be quick to catch the Silk Pearce show as if finishes at the end of August, coinciding with the Aldeburgh Music Proms. The Gill exhibition is on until 12 November.

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“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.

Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.

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Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine circa 1976

The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.

I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.

Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border

I never place much importance on traditional English New Year celebrations, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve found I’ve stopped staying up to hear the ship horns blasting at 00:00 from Ipswich docks, and will now gladly go to bed before 10 o’clock if there aren’t any decent films on TV. But as my summer holiday ended with a jolt and a return to work yesterday, I started thinking about the concept of a ‘year’, as going back to work usually signals a start of a new year in my mind much more than 1 January. In considering this, I came to realise there are so many different ‘years’ in my calendar, that I decided to share my thoughts as a point of interest.

My calendar
—There’s the obvious January to December 12 month measurement.
—My personal work year, where-in I count one year ending and another starting depending on when my summer holiday falls.
—The academic year I work to as an educator. This runs from September to August, although work for this obviously starts well before September, and is usually signified to me by returning to work after my summer holidays as mentioned above.
—The finical year April to March. Thankfully now I don’t take on so much self-employed work, I don’t have to fill out an annual tax form but I have to keep it at the back of my mind in case I ever do take on a well paid commission and I have to contact the tax office.
—My workplace, University Campus Suffolk, has its own finical year which runs from August to July. This means any budget I have responsibility for has to be spent by the end of July.
—Subscription year pt 1. One of the luxuries I consider of having a job that pays reasonably well is that I can afford several magazine subscriptions, such as to Eye, Creative Review, The Wire and Baseline. Eye and Baseline, the latter in particular, have a somewhat loose relationship to regular publishing dates, and I think my current annual subscription to Baseline has been active for nearly 2 years.
—Subscription year pt 2. Outside of magazines, there are professional memberships to keep topped up such as D&AD, Typographic Circle and Design History Society. The former is currently free with the fact that the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course at UCS is a member, and were it not a member, I’m not convinced I would see the worth in paying to be a member myself. Thankfully, over the years, (no pun intended), I’ve managed to stagger magazine and membership subscriptions so that as few as possible fall within the same month.
—Annual fees. These include paying for no ads and domain name mapping on WordPress, domain name and hosting renewals for other websites, and a variety of things that I’d forget if they weren’t programmed into Omnifocus on my phone and tablet.
—The football year. This doesn’t really register with me, not being the slightest bit interested in football other than knowing when home matches are as Ipswich is a massive football town and the traffic system grinds to a halt at certain times on a match day.
—Clocks changing year. With the soon to be drawing in summer, I look forward annually to Autumn, my favourite season, and the changing of the clocks signals this as much as the changing weather.
—The Chinese year which runs differently to our new year. The only reason I need to remember this is to wish the Chinese couple who run our local chip shop a happy new year when it comes around.
—Finally, not technically anything that affects me, but I’ve always been interested in the Ethiopian year since the time of Live Aid when I heard that Ethiopia follows a completely different monthly cycle to ours and, according to Wikipedia, it is actually 2006 there at the moment.

2006, that means I haven’t started work at University Campus Suffolk yet. I expect that won’t be a justifiable excuse for taking a slightly longer holiday and extending my year a little longer.

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I’ve just posted scans from, and notes on, Printer’s Progress 1851–1951 over on The Small Letter blog. Bought recently from a second hand book shop in Felixstowe, it has leap-frogged other publications I have bought and that have been waiting to be showcased on The Small Letter as it is such a fascinating book. Written in 1951 by Charles Rosner, it attempts to study the difference in printing techniques and processes used at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 with those used at the time of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Rosner worked for a Cambridge based print firm, Balding & Mansell, and this is clearly a promotional item for them. However, it is an important study and document of the changes in that one-hundred year time period. As Rosner points out in the introduction, if an exhibition of printing techniques had been hosted in 1800, the exhibits wouldn’t have differed much from those used in 1500. However, by 1951, and with the advent of photography, everything had changed.

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An example of printing an illustration from 1851

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An example of printing techniques from 1951

The importance of photography to printing is highlighted in the layout of the book itself. Examples of the different era’s printing techniques and processes are segregated to the front and back for 1851 and 1951 respectively—these eras are separated by a dramatic full page photograph of a close-up of a camera lens.

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As well as providing ample examples of different processes from both eras, Rosner also provides lengthy analysis of all areas of printing, including the economic and social standing of printers themselves, and of the emerging designer of his era. A fascinating book, check out the scans and my notes over on The Small Letter.

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A 1951 review of Printer’s Progress from The Times Literary Supplement.

I’d read about Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft on the Design Week blog last year when it reopened after being refurbished. It made the design press largely because of the rebranding by Phil Baines, in which he re-drew Gill Sans for all accompanying graphics. In truth, what Baines had done more than help advise on the dressing of the museum was to shine a light on an important historical design gem. And when I realised we wouldn’t be too far away while holidaying on the Kent / East Sussex boarder last week, it went on the itinerary of possible things to do. But rather than visit after going to the Chermayeff exhibition in Bexhill on our return journey home, we decided to go on a separate day, worried that two exhibitions in one day would be too much.

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As it turned out, the museum is very small, and we could have easily done it after visiting the De La Warr pavilion rather than travelling the congested A259/A27 from Kent on a hot summer’s day especially to see it. But Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft’s size, (and accompanying over-priced admission fee), was the only disappointment for what is otherwise an excellent museum that focusses mainly on Ditchling’s rich typographic and printing heritage. For it was in this sleepy village that Eric Gill founded an artist community that attracted the likes of Edward Johnston, Philip Hagreen and Hilary Pepler, amongst others.

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As one would expect, much of the museum is given over to Gill, although it is interesting to note that his controversial animal and child abuse accusations are glossed over. The only mention I could find anywhere was on a display board that simply read: “Controversy and debate were part of Gill’s day to day life when alive and they continue to be part of this artist’s legacy”. Regardless, the important work that he produced, along with all other exhibits, are given plenty of space for visitors to study.

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Some of my favourite work displayed were these small wood engravings by Philip Hagreen, and it was interesting to note how the importance of the faith of those involved in the artist community spilled over into social welfare considerations and general philanthropy.

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It was also refreshing to see sketches and preliminary work alongside finished pieces.

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There is even a small mock-up of a print room.

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This was a delightful little museum to visit. The sensitivity with which the branding and display presentation has been approached is testament to the attention to detail paid by Phil Baines, and ensures due respect is paid to some of Britain’s most important early twentieth century graphic designers and typographers.

Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft website

 

 

It’s not everyday your local Tory MP big’s you up in the local newspaper. But to my surprise, I found my McJunk project featured in MP Ben Gummer’s weekly Ipswich Star article yesterday.

While I’m not sure Ben has completely seen he point of McJunk, (see McJunk essay here, and website here), and I’m certainly not sure that the free advertising McDonald’s are getting from this is appropriate, I can’t be too harsh on the man as I expect that Ben’s love of beef burgers is a family thing that he is unable to distance himself from.

McGummer

Ipswich Star, Friday 25 July 2014

 

 

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