Art Students, Plymouth 2012


Regular readers may recall I visited Plymouth University as an Associate Lecturer last year. A two week stint running a Type & Layout workshop with First Year Illustration. There were 45 in the group and it was busy, fun and the Uni has a good feel to it. So I was pleased when Ashley Potter asked me back this year.
 

O, just one thing, Gary. There are 69 students this time” Muttering darkly under my breath I cheerily assured my Course Leader that would be no problem. Half as many again? Oo, er.

First up was a personal introduction in the lecture theatre called ‘Who is this Bloke?‘. Serried rows of gimlet eyes peering through the dim light. Elevated baked seating like the Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium. Without the football. Or the numbers. Or the noise. And it was Plymouth. Some smart questions which is always a good sign. Second part, ‘What is Type‘ – to give them an introduction for the project. Attention can wander after too long so this became a fairly rapid-fire exercise knowing that I had the images on my iPad and would be able to refer back to them through the coming weeks. A great teaching tool. (Not me, the iPad).

Back in the studio with 69 students. They all had good space to work but rounding them up took forever as small groups milled about like grazing wildebeest. Getting their attention meant raising my voice too much and disturbing Year Two across the partition. Fix required. So that evening I rummaged in the workshop for a ball of string and two clamps to bisect the room. Once my side of the string they began to coalesce into a group and we could talk normally. The novelty broke the ice and registration became String Time. Certainly the closest I’ll ever get to any comprehension of String Theory anyway.

It may sound amusing, in fact a little humour is often the best way to tackle a problem, but imagine the extra strain on the course with so many – marshalling groups, timetables, paperwork, logistics etc. With University fees restructured no doubt there has been a surge intake with students’ natural desire to beat fees hike. Some even by-passed a Foundation Year. Ducking under the fiscal string . . .

 

Work time, sleeves rolled up. Ashley rallied round and called in the delightful Claire Harper whose help was invaluable. Groups of six students at a time and I made as much one-on-one time as I could. So much to share, so little time.

Initially they seemed to struggle with what was expected and, to be fair, it is not easy to explore  with type when you are new to it – remember these are illustration students. There is a decent work ethic in the group and the desire to meet expectations maybe inhibited them at times. At one point I was concerned that vitality shown in layout was a bit lost in final pieces. Yet by the end they produced great first-year work. Some by natural talent, some by graft, some too timid, some really stretching themselves and a few by epic escapology! Have a look at the work they produced here.

Will 69 complete the course? Will 69 well rounded happy young adults emerge? Will all become professional illustrators and be making a good living in a few years time? From what I have seen, probably a few more than you might think. But in the end, how long is a piece of string?

What do you think?

Nick Hornby

Arsenal. They had a seemingly impossible first leg deficit of 4-0 to AC Milan to overcome and I wanted to see them do it. 3-0 up at halftime . . . It was true Roy of the Rovers stuff. Or, to younger viewers Nick Hornby stuff. Hornby is an obssessive Arsenal fan and eloquently articulates the terrain of football and the nature of fandom in Fever Pitch. I had distanced myself from Chelsea for some time because of crowd violence. Hornby expressed the nature of being a thinking fan in a sport plagued by hooligism and it resonated with me as a reader.

The cover design of Fever Pitch was by Ian Craig. And jolly good it was too.

 

My involvement was in the late 90s, with Nick Hornby’s editor Liz Knights, as a client at Gollancz and the cover of High Fidelity in particular. The hardback jacket had a blue high-contast face on it. It wasn’t too hot, to be honest, but it had a high recognition factor and my task was to use it but bring more to the party for the paperback. I spent much of my youth in record shops and loved Nick’s account and his personal writing style (Sweet man to meet though we didn’t get to know each other well). I added a vinyl record, dub-stylee, and played with the type, adding selective varnishes. Little more to say except that was liked and sold very well. A happy tale thus far . . 


I worked with Liz on trying to establish the Indigo imprint of Gollancz, with Hornby as the flagship. We worked together through her battle with that foul stalker, cancer. Despite extraordinary valiance, the malign disease claimed her. Without Liz the imprint struggled on for a while. Hornby’s new novel was delivered yet I was hearing nothing about the crucial jacket design briefing. Concerned, I asked for a meeting to discuss it. O Dear. Through the glass security door I saw the brief being hurriedly written en route to the meeting. It read ‘Hornbyesque’.

With a working title of Father & Son it tells of the relationship of an adult playing down his age and a rather grown up boy ~ hence my proposed design motif:

 

Sadly, it was rejected. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. They went with another design group and the book’s final title was About a Boy. Now retired art director, George Sharpe, called to express concern when a remarkably similar idea coincidentally turned up from the same stable on Tony Parson’s first novel. I just let it go, it’s just an idea, right . . ?

A tale of former glories and ‘We wuz robbed‘. But, as Arsene Wenger might say, ‘You can’t win them all, even if you play your best game‘.