Independent Research. Typography – In Progress

I’ve mentioned in a few exercises so far that I’d like to look further at Typography and investigate lettering of different sorts. Well, freshly inspired after watching interviews with different graphic designers and after being gently elbowed to do some research on something I enjoy by Tutor Feedback, I’ve decided to pull my finger out and have a closer look at lettering. I intend to do this through a variety of methods.


Helvetica. Rented from Amazon Prime

This is the first documentary about a typeface that I have ever sat through and it was actually very interesting. It was about the rise of a typeface called Helvetica and the subsequent story of how it has dominated the world of advertising text ever since. A variety of people were interviewed, some of whom loved and some of whom hate Helvetica. There was a brief explanation of the history of type faces, about how each one originally had to be carved out of metal by hand, this is something I had never properly considered before. I had known how type used to be made but had assumed that different fonts only really became a feature with the rise of computers. I was very surprised to learn how wrong that assumption was! Since watching this programme I have started to notice Helvetica font everywhere. Whilst I disagree with some of the interviewees opinions that it is the font of the Vietnam War/Capitalism, I can see why people think it is overused. It really is everywhere but that is because it is so well made and therefore useful! Main lesson learnt – Legibility is paramount.


This came up on a list of documentary films reccomended for people interested in Typography. It turned out to be nothing to do with it at all but still quite interesting. It explored how ‘the digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and the talent of people in a big way’.

It basically described how the accessibility of art forms through rapidly evolving technology has meant that everyone can now call themselves a photographer, a movie maker, a musician. The people interviewed within it were split between two camps. On the one hand there were the people who made out that we are on the edge of a cultural dark age due to the rise of the mundane artist, this level of mundane being put down to the lack of requirement to posses a high level of talent, followed by the belief that the mundane artists will overrun everything. I would disagree with this, surely if there is a wealth of mundane artists and you are an artist who has developed skill and quality, it’ll just mean that you stand out from even more people?

The other camp of people on the documentary seem to be more in favour of the evolution of the various art forms through the increase in technologies accessibility. These people were looking forward to seeing what the world looked like in ten years time to see how these fresh opportunities available to people have shaped the world of art culture.

This documentary reminded me of a couple of exercises within the course manual, most notably Part 4. Research Point. Gareth Dent – ‘Dealing with the flood’.


YouTube is a great learning resource especially for those short on time like myself. I have found several very helpful videos introducing the topic of Typography.

In this TED talk, Mia Cinelli describes why typography is important and relates the process that she went through of turning a sample of handwritten text into a font.

In this introductory video I received a basic guide to why typography is used and how one letter form can lead to another. For example, when an ‘n’ has been designed, the design for an ‘m’ and a ‘u’ are relatively simple.


As part of my investigating typography started to look at a few books. These were initially chosen because they looked to be palatable but turned out to be fascinating!

‘Why Fonts Matter – Sarah Hyndman’

This was a very user friendly introduction into different fonts, or, as I was soon re-educated ‘typefaces’. The reader undergoes several visual experiments which prove each point as it is introduced. My favourite of these was Chapter 11 which dealt with sensory experience. Whilst I had always known in a supermarket that brands try to imply value or pedigree through typefaces, I had never realised that my eating experience was also affected. One experiment inparticular deals with sweet/sour, the reader eats an item whilst looking at an angular sharp typeface, they do the same whilst looking at a rounded plumper one. The mouthful taken whilst looking at the sharp angular typeface will taste the most sour. This was incredible, I had no idea that fonts/typefaces could do this!

This made me pick up another book…

Just My Type – Simon Garfield

I initially chose this book because it looked as though it would give me more of an educational background on the history of typography, plus, it had lots of small chapters so I figured I could force my way through it if it became too dull.

No forcing required.

The tales in the history of type cannot be made up. Trying to say which bit hooked me the most is hard. Cobden-Sanderson, creator of Doves was an early contender, not content to let the type pass hands after his death he took three years to steadily throw it all in the Thames (at 76 years old) and then to make sure it stayed there, bequeathed it to the river in his Will.

Another favourite was the tale of Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans. Disclaimer – I have quite a military (dark) sense of humour so please don’t find it too offensive when I say I found this excerpt hilarious – “Eric Gill is remembered for many things: his engravings in wood and stone, his lifelong passion for lettering, his devotion to English craftsmanship – and his typefaces, notable Gill Sans, one of the twentieth centuries earliest and classic sans serif fonts.And then there is that other thing: Gill’s scandalous and ceaseless sexual experimentation”. Page 48 Lines 1-6.

I really wasn’t expecting that in a book about typography!

The majority of the book turned out to be a thorough summary of the different notable points in the history of typography and it’s uses which I must admit has made me curious to explore old painted signs. From the sound of the book, 1920’s Paris metro signs will definetley be worth a look. It also reminded me of something else I used to find very visually appealing that I had totally forgotten about, old entertainments posters with a variety of fonts such as music hall listings or old circus style advertising.

This drove me online to do a bit of research and collect some examples. I made a Pinterest board which can be viewed here.

Looking at these posters reminded me of the themes of Time and Place from this module. I think the old posters are great, they have character, the new ones in comparison are a bit ‘arty’ for my personal taste. As I was wishing that theatre poster design could revert back to the old style, I realised exactly why they cant! Those themes and methods are so associated with a Golden Age of entertainment, music halls and dancing girls etc, that using them now would mislead people into what they were about to buy a ticket for. These are not the posters that would accompany a poetry recital or a display of contemporary dance!

Looking at this amalgamation of typefaces eventually lead me into looking at calligraphy. Calligraphy is one of those things that I would love to be really good at but haven’t yet the time to master.

Instead I picked up a book called ‘Creating Calligraphy – Inkspired’ by Betty Soldi. This is another great book which I would recommend to everybody. It’s well made, the photography inside it is stunning and the attitude of the teacher is wonderful. She constantly reassures the reader that there are no mistakes, errors are fine and the key is just to relax and enjoy. The book also contains a systematic series of letter progressions to trace, room to practice and some pages to literally just go crazy with. I’ve completed mine from cover to cover and I could cheerfully do it all again!

Pinterest Boards – Collating More Items of Interest

A board initiated by the mention of Paris Metro signs which has grown to incorporate old advertising signs in general. They’re all works of art!

A board to collect items that use multiple typefaces on the same piece. Initially started out of interest but then with a nagging feeling that this might come in handy on the next module, Graphics 1. Surely there will be a typography section in there somewhere?!


Independent Research. Gallery Visit. Castle Art, Cheltenham

I visited a local art gallery called Castle Fine Art. There is a constant stream of new art to see in this venue. A I have popped in on various occasions I have found everything from pencil drawings of Star Wars scenes to paintings by Bob Dylan.

The Rampant Jekylled Whatabanker by Peter Smith

“This sculpture is the latest addition to Peter and Jayne Smith’s Lost Impossimals series, which is inspired by history and features literary characters like Sherlock Holmes and Willy Wonka. 

An overly curious banker takes a swig of a bottle left in an old safety deposit box and turns into a giant sweet-guzzling beast in this Victorian tale. Taking London hostage, he climbs Big Ben before being injected with an antidote by a mysterious stranger – who is later unmasked as Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde! “

Item description taken from

I like this sculpture. It is irreverent, brightly coloured and doesn’t take itself seriously. I also like the attention to detail such as the intricate work on Big Ben. I like art like this because it is pure imagination, just escapism.

Romero Britto is a Brazilian born pop artist. His use of vibrant colours and bold shapes exude a positive happy vibe. He works hard to help engage children with arts literacy programmes and donates time and resources to more than 250 organisations.

I liked the juxtaposition of these two pieces. In the background is a piece depicting three skulls which to me, always symbolise death. Right in front of it is a sculpture of two hands touching. I believe these hands to be modeled on ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo. I don’t know anything about ‘The Creation of Adam’ but whenever I see the painting I am reminded of life and creation. Because of this contrast, the juxtaposition of the two pieces in the gallery appeals to me.

Ronnie Wood is a classically trained artist from Ealing Art College. That was quite startling for me to learn! He varies his medium depending on what he thinks a piece requires, this can range from charcoals to oils, watercolours, spray paints, oil pastels or acrylics

One thing I still do not understand is how a famous name can command such an astounding price. Ronnie Wood can paint very well, I saw several self portraits by him on sale for approx £3000. This doodle though, this doodle commands a price tag of almost £10,000. That is a staggering amount of money and to be honest I cannot see the reason why.

A Duck Full of Joy – Tim Rogerson

Created as part of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouses screen debut, I also saw this cubist inspired portrait of Donald Duck by Tim Rogerson.

In 2009 he was named the official artist of Disneys D23 expo and is the official artist of the Olympic Winter Team.

I like the cubist air that Rogerson has given this portrait of Donald Duck. The colours are bright and joyous whilst the cubist approach gives an added texture to the visual dynamic.

Independent Research. Work Experience. Basic Prop Making.

I know I’m an adult, I know Harry Potter is a kids film….but it was these films that helped me realise what exactly I want to be. I love the props in the film and I love the graphic elements, what I didn’t know was which of these two elements had the strongest pull. To help narrow this down I took myself on a Basic Propmaking Skills course via a company called Creative Media Skills at Pinewood Studios.

The course was overbooked (25 students instead of 8) and dreadfully run with very little basic Health and Safety applied – I had to stop someone drilling through their own foot. Despite this, thanks entirely to the superhuman efforts of the industry Propmaster who came in on occasion to give guidance, we managed to create some articles.

Initially we were briefed to make a flat clay item that could be used to make a mould from. I chose to make a penny coin.

I’m aware of all the errors in this recreation. Aside from the intial 5 minute brief there was zero guidance or assistance provided, we were left there until 5pm to muddle along – seriously this was a dreadful waste of about £1000. But my point is, bearing in mind all the errors and circumstances, I’m happy with my penny, it’s a miracle it exists!

From that we made silicone moulds;

After this we eventually made hard plastic casts of our creations. Well we tried to, the venue initially didn’t have enough chemicals in stock to make the casts. On acquiring the chemicals they were then the wrong ones or out of date so the moulds didn’t work. Maybe I’ll try it myself in the shed at some point!

After that we moved onto making foam weapons. Made from blocks of roof insulating foam we were given a range of images to work from. I chose to make a battle axe from Warhammer.

Whilst I enjoyed making the items, the course was so badly run that I would not want to repeat it. In the future I may at times make props to amuse myself, or for exhibitions, however I would not wish to have to churn them out on an industrial scale.

I will stick to the visual imagery side of the house from now on!

Independent Research. Gallery. House of MinaLima

The House of MinaLima is a free gallery in Soho, London. Owned by the graphic design duo Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima (most well known for their work on the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchises) this is a small but endlessly fascinating venue to explore.

It was these films which made me realise that a) Graphic Designers are actually employed in tv/film in the first place and b) the thing which I like about fantasy films is all the ‘stuff’ that surrounds the main story line. For years I’ve tried to explain to my adult friends why I enjoy them so much, the closest I got to it was “yes the child acting is awful but look at the talking paintings and the flying cars!”. It was MinaLima which made me realise that it is the props and graphics which appeal to me.

Initially I wasn’t sure if it was more the props or the graphic elements which held the appeal. To narrow this down I took myself on a week long basic prop making course at Pinewood Studios. This is covered in a different research post. The summary is, it’s more the graphics that I want to get into (although I can now make a mean foam battleaxe if you ever have the need….).

YouTube. (2019). Behind the scenes at the House of MinaLima exhibition. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

This video from Youtube gives a basic guide to the inside of the venue for anyone that hasn’t been…

Image result for house of minalima
Jones, R. (2019). The House of Minalima – The Graphic Art Of Harry Potter.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

Not only is each individual piece of work highly skilled in its own right, the layout of the pieces inside the venue is visually delicious. Every surface is utilised, a trail of the famous letters lead you up the stairs whilst the stairwell itself is plastered with the ‘Wanted’ posters and ‘Daily Prophets’.

Facebook (2019). The Harry Potter and <em>Fantastic Beasts</em> Easter Egg You May Have Missed. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

One of the things I love about their work on this franchise is that they have had to create so many different aspects. They have designed book covers, newspapers, maps, posters, packaging, logos and even props amongst so many others. One of the hero props of the series is an item called a Marauders Map which was inked entirely by hand. As someone who has attempted to create several small drawings using dip pen only to be thwarted by the rogue ink blob, this meticulously drawn perfect prop absolutely blows my noggin. In one room of the gallery it is displayed at giant size and on the floor, I mean…why not!

Image result for inside house of minalima
Pacific Northwest and Beyond. (2019). The House of MinaLima. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].
Image result for the marauders map
The Noble Collection UK. (2019). Marauders Map 1,000pc Jigsaw Puzzle — The Noble Collection UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

Within the story there is a joke shop run by two teenage boys. When it came to designing the joke shop products packaging MinaLima say in interviews that they had to think like these characters, to design something as they would have. This piece of knowledge made me understand something I hadn’t before. I’d always looked at the packaging and assumed that the designers were having an off-day, because it’s fairly naff. Now that I understand the approach behind it, it makes a lot more sense!

Image result for weasleys wizard wheezes
Wheezes, W. (2019). Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes stock photo by devoncr. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

Image result for weasleys wizard wheezes packaging
Pinterest. (2019). Harry Potter Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes packaging. Each piece of the packaging has so much detail and are really beautiful. | Joke Shop in 2019 | Harry potter events, Harry potter book 2, Harry potter dolls. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

Because I’m a huge MinaLima nerd I’ve watched a lot of their Youtube interviews. In one of them which I found particularly inspiring Miraphora Mina talks about how as a graphic designer you have to get really geeky about things like using the right type of paper, nerdy about fonts and typography, even about characters handwriting. The prop example which she used to illustrate this was a Paris postcard from the Fantastic Beasts films. It was reiterated again and again that authenticity in making the prop helps towards the characters getting properly into the role, how it gives them something of that era to relate too and use whilst surrounded by all the paraphernalia of a film set at work. I found this incredibly interesting to think about. Being from an engineering world, a lot of these very obvious things do not occur to me until I hear someone say them in an interview or read them in an article. These were messages which were repeated when I read articles about the work of Annie Atkins on the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Food for thought!