Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Baskerville Project

On Monday I spent the day drawing a detailed letter V in Fry's Baskerville, for the Baskerville Project organised by David Osbaldestin at the Birmingham City University.
As a BIAD ex-student, ex-tutor and lettering geek, I was very excited to be asked, and was happy to be sat at a makeshift desk, complete with decaf coffee, packet of crisps, iPhone at side and all my tools, just like my studio. Except that my studio at home isn't painted green floor-to-ceiling with a million-pound motion capture camera known as Milo glowering in the opposite corner. (For more on the frighteningly large and strangely silent Milo, go here.)
The project is to honour the creation of the lovely Baskerville font in Birmingham in 1757. The video documentation from the day is being developed into a series of 11 animated films, which form the basis of a large scale HD multi-screen installation at Millenium Point, Birmingham, for the Hello Digital Festival. It's also being shown at the Plus Type Festival. The artwork is devised for a multi-screen installation of 11 iMacs on plinths arranged in a circle. Each iMac will be showcasing a short animated film, of each one of the artists creating their letter.
What a fabulous day it was! I began the day sipping coffee, saying hello to old colleagues and meeting new chums, and ended it bashing away at my first attempt at slate-carving, covered in grey slate dust with gritty eyeballs - courtesy of the charming Gabriel Hummerstone, all the way from Devon, who was charged with doing the letter B and let me have a go on the back of his slab. (I carved the slate the way I bang nails in - a little wimpy to begin with, but switching up to a bigger bashing tool soon solved that).
In between I'd watched Barry the copper-engraver from Dudley making his 'R' on a little sand-filled pocket, ancient briefcase stuffed with tools; met Evelin Kasikov the embroiderer making her 'S' from CMYK threads, seen the four pieces of Karen Lewis' 'A' come together effortlessly before my eyes, and seen Amy Brown's monoprint 'I' evolve on the desk opposite - beautiful. My 'V' was centred on the parallel development of the steel nib (my weapons of choice) which, if you don't already know, were invented in Brum in the 1700s, shortly after Baskerville. The world's steel nib industry was centred in the city, where famous names like Gillott and Mitchell made their nibs, only to meet a tragic ending when the Biro (pantomime hissing please) took over the market in the mid 1900s. The nib factories closed, tipping hundreds of thousands of nibs into the earth. Why am I not spending my weekends digging desperately with my bare hands to find them? Because they were steel, and therefore would, by now, be mere dust. I’m sure the sprits of all those unused pens still scribble away like lunatics when the sun goes down. It makes me want to cry. I was therefore pleased to be given a nice sharp consonant with which to make my point.
I biked back to New Street station thinking how bloody great my job is, being given the chance to do things like this, and admiring the skills of the people I'd spent the day with. I forget - it's easy to do - how many other ways there are to make things, and just how many humans there are creating, all over the country, the world, all the time. Here's to them, and to John Baskerville himself!

Further pictures from the day:

Other artists taking part:
Alex Hughes | Alex Parre | Caroline Archer | Barry Caine | Clive Colledge

The Baskerville Project:

Hello Digital Festival:

Plus Type Festival:

Photos by the lovely Matt and Nathan at Smile:

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