running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Great Gray Stuff

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Alasdair Gray Self PortraitIt's been a long time coming, but at last Alasdair Gray, perhaps Scotland's greatest living writer, is being formally recognised for his amazing illustration and design work.

Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters, 1952 – 2010, is at Edinburgh's Talbot Rice Gallery from October 23rd, and is an exhibition of Gray's extensive visual works.

The exhibition will chart the development of his idiosyncratic designs and unique illustrative style which adorned both the covers and interiors of critically acclaimed novels such as Lanark (1981), 1982 Janine (1984) and Poor Things (1992).

Gray studied at Glasgow School or Art, and originally turned to writing to 'subsidise my picture-making' as he once put it.

He created the designs for all his books, and both illustrated and typeset them. 1982 Janine in particular features some remarkable experiments with type, in the ergodic tradition.

Janine and Old Men
Covers for 1982 Janine and Old Men in Love

Poor Things and Lanark
Covers for Poor Things and Lanark

The exhibition will also feature a selection of sketches, illustrations and photographs of Gray's murals, and examples of the dozens of other books and magazines Gray has provided artwork for.

Gray Stuff coincides with a flurry of other related events.

Firstly his work is to be included in the 2010 British Art Show, which opens in Nottingham (23 October 2010 - 9 January 2011). Then there's the launch of A Life in Pictures, an extensive visual biography published by Canongate. There's also a selection of Gray's portraits going on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and BBC2's The Culture Show is also featuring a special on Gray on 21st October.

Talbot Rice Gallery
British Art Show 2010
A profile of Alasdair Gray, Scotsman, 16 Oct 2010.

Typecast Typeface

Sunday, 10 October 2010

One of my HND graphics students, Terry Smith, has designed a typeface for a recent corporate identity project. The project was called 'Typecast' - an upmarket clothing store where the solution had to be typographically-based. The brief didn't actually require a bespoke typeface design, but Terry decided to design one anyway, and created a whole set of uppercase glyphs.

To get started, he based his design around a simple 2 X 2 square grid, further divided by two 45 degree diagonals:

typecast grid

Using Illustrator, Terry then set about constructing each glyph using the angles and the negative spaces to create the suggestion of more recognisable typeface shapes. Here, for example, are A, B, C, D and E:

a, b, c, d, e

Once Terry had created a full set of glyphs, he then devised an overlay treatment of his campaign strapline:

Typecast strapline

And here is the final set of glyphs:

Typecast Glyphs

The highlights here for me are the F, the P and the Q - completely abstract but clearly legible and very satisfying.

The jury is still out on Z - ideally this should just have been a mirror of S, but it never quite looked right. One option might have been to use the same glyph for S and Z, using the context of the word to allow the viewer to 'see' which letter it was. Another solution might have been to add an underscore or some other visual indicator to differentiate the two.

Overall I think this is an ambitious design. a great exercise at this level for a design student, and a good starting point in the exploration of serious typeface design.