poster proud

Every designer is likely to have a goal or two, a particular ambition to aim for. Last week I reached one of mine… I have designed posters for London Underground. They are up on the system as I write. I’ve been bursting to share the prospect that this may happen for several years, and now it’s real!

The underground poster archive at London Transport Museum is full of great examples of graphic design, with work by my heroes such as Edward McKnight Kauffer and Abram Games. These designers have inspired me in my quest to explore visual communication through print and pattern for as long as I can remember and now my design work is on the network hopefully catching the eyes of commuters in London, as theirs did.

I was pleased to be given the brief of ‘Parks and Gardens’ and was keen to move the visual qualities on from my Plot to Plate collection of kitchen gardens and parterres, although you may recognise in poster 3, ‘Community Gardens’ some of my motifs from that time. I have continued to play with elevations and perspective, while giving a polite nod to one of the other poster giants, Tom Purvis, whose poster I’ve had on a wall in our home for more than a decade, enjoying it every day. His series for LNER, ‘East Coast Joys’ appears to be made from cut out paper, the picture is made from flat colour in bold shapes. Having used this method for my commission for the Barbican last year I was keen to explore this again. You can see in my first cutout sequence I did begin to connect each poster to the next, as Tom Purvis had in his 6 LNER posters but I found this limited the scope for each poster composition in this instance.

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I began by gathering lots of imagery by making drawings and taking photographs and considered four different approaches to parks in London, one for each of the posters, from traditional activities such as rowing, to pitch & putt and the formal model boating lake. I wanted to create nostalgic content combined with a contemporary aesthetic. I remembered a hot day rowing on the Serpentine with a friend, I thought of many visits to Brockwell Park and all the different aspects of the ‘rooms’ it has within it. Greenwich was also an obvious one, Clapham Common and Hampstead Heath too. The posters represent lots of different aspects of parks, not four specific ones, and only one suggests a particular skyline looking across at the city.

Once the initial ideas were set I began to cut out the posters as general compositions, as well as single details / motifs to add. I combine both traditional drawing skills and digital manipulation in my practice, and this is how I worked here, scanning in paper drawings (cutouts) and subsequently working in Adobe Illustrator for final compositions / print artwork. I was able to make changes as required, including colour and motif placement options.

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As a designer I’ve always loved working across different surfaces and products, working with the industry experts in order to learn the best approaches and pitfalls of each context. Posters are large, but someone may look at it for less than a second… it needs to grab attention without being noisy. Large areas of pale colour might encourage graffiti… edges are as important as the centre, and so on. For people who have known my work for many years the look of the posters might not surprise, but my more recent work has been much more graphic, and understated so maybe some of you may not see these as so clearly of my handwriting. Let me know what you think!

Once I was told the posters were going up I had to go and find one. Luckily I was in London for the Design Festival so with wide-open eyes I took to the system and eventually found my first one at Embankment. I’m not sure I can put in to words what that felt like – I wanted to point and shout they were mine! The ticket barrier chap kindly took a picture of me alongside ‘playing a round’. Later that day I came across two more at Euston, and friends have let me know their sightings too!

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Design projects can take a long time to get to fruition, it is not unusual for years to pass. This can be frustrating when you want to shout out and tell everyone what you’ve been doing in the studio each week. I am always mindful of what I can share on social media, respecting my clients who might want to have control over a specific product launch. Now the posters are up I’m delighted and proud to shout about it… let me know if you see one on your travels!

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You can also buy them from the London Transport Museum shop.

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Art for all – good design for all

My design ethos is one of quality and appropriateness for the place. Good design should be all around us, big and small, the dot on the i, the cushion on the sofa, the roof on the building – no excuses. Why settle for second best, why copy others if you can be original? It is so sad to read of big companies risking reputations, not buying the best but producing poor quality copies – stealing designs. My students tolerate my monologues on the subject!

This blog entry celebrates some examples of quality design – because that’s what we should all aim for when making but also when buying. I have come across a great book called ‘Art for All’, telling the story of London Transport Posters. The book has black and white reproductions as well as colour, but the real charm is in the illustrations from original engravings of birds by Clare Leighton, printed in a salmon pink, as well as illustrations by Eric Ravilious (see below).

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(Art for All – London Transport Posters 1908 – 1949, Art and Technics Ltd. London, 1949)

The quality of design in these images is inspiring, with a great sense of detail without being fussy, and such skill in creating these images in only one colour while containing so much information of texture and pattern. I admire these artists but also the people who commissioned the pieces and enabled these images to be ‘Art for All’. As an aside, Both Leighton and Ravilious produced stunning designs for Wedgwood too.

It makes me think of my own practice and how I generate imagery using drawing and printmaking to create the visual language. Yes, the computer plays a large part in ‘tweaking’ for final output / reproduction these days but it’s the marks and textures, the print quality, a smudge of graphite, that cannot be created by computer. It might be quicker creating the whole image on the computer but it wont be as good as I want it to be. Having said that, it is also the creative process of working out, testing and feeling the work resolve on paper that I most enjoy. Was the design process meant to be easy? Its the struggle and questioning that keeps me doing what I do – I’m enjoying the journey. When so much time as part of having a design practice can be spent on the computer it is important to remember to turn it off and walk away to DO the creative things…and to get better at it…