This year, the Scholastic Autumn Book Fair theme was ‘Enchanted Forest’. I volunteered to decorate a section of the school library as part of its magical transformation.
Considering the space, I was inspired to create some enchanted ‘flying’ books to hang above the readers. I hollowed out discounted children’s hardbacks and using Mod Podge to glue the pages open at different states, and hung them with nylon wire.
The signage was really fun to make, I painted wooden boards with freehand calligraphy and added autumnal detail and glass eyes for a touch of fantasy. I made headdresses for the librarians and signage for the cashiers to match.
I prepared faux foliage garlands and festooned the trees and windows, which looked beautiful with the light shining through the Fall colours. I added details to the trees such as battery-operated candles in lanterns, LED lights, sparkling rhinestones and strings of pretty ribbon with tags for the students to write on their book fair ‘wishes’.
I have always been fascinated by medieval illuminated manuscripts not just for the amazing painted miniatures and flourishes but also for the typographic inspiration. The Getty has such a wonderful collection, a rotating selection of which are always on display, and I find myself drawn to them quite often during my research for docent tours. This time however, the inspiration fed into my day job as a designer, a book layout for a client on the subject of Saint Patrick, and as its nearly St Paddy’s day, I thought I’d write a little about the process.
My client, a theology professor, had written a book about the saint’s teenage years as an inspirational story for young adults – the most unlikely character turns his life around to become a role model for later generations. It was certainly news to me that St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, started his early life in my home town of Liverpool and was captured, bound for Ireland as a slave.
Studying some of the visual cues used in medieval manuscripts from the 13th century onwards, and early printed editions of medieval inspired works such as those by the Arts and Crafts movement, I was inspired by the notion of ‘rubric’. Rubric is a device used in medieval typography for a variety of reasons such as a chapter heading, title or instruction, the word originating from the latin ‘rubrica’ the red ochre pigment used to create it.
When text is ‘rubricated’ it is highlighted in red and in a liturgical context may signify something akin to stage directions for the priest – the text left in black being the actual words to be read aloud. Other uses include red being used for the congregation’s responses, a little like subtitles on a film employing different colours to distinguish various characters’ voices. Red, and occasionally other colours such as blue or gold were used to highlight important names, first lines of psalms or section headings and for large ornamental or historiated (illustrated) drop capitals.
I decided to use medieval typography cues to draw on tradition and reference the origin of the story but also to break up the text into bite-sized pieces in an attractive and useful way, encouraging reluctant readers to not be daunted by the sight of a great deal of text. For the purposes of a book aimed at children and young adults, variation in typography adds interest but I was concerned that the text remain accessible and legible so I avoided an overly fancy script style and chose clean, sans-serif body typefaces. Also in this spirit I split the text up into sections and gave these headings to hint at what that section contained, in order to encourage further reading. The first paragraphs of the following text were set in red rubric style to further lead the reader into the chapter.
Another way I was influenced by the styling of manuscripts was to use the rubric idea to distinguish between different voices within the text. In the Patrick of Liverpool story the author has included passages of rhyme or ‘rapping’ to connect with the young audience, and I set this type as centred, in a different colour and typeface. Maewyn, the main character has his own typography style as do some other characters he encounters, this is a lively break in the narrative and attention is drawn to it visually.
The book’s illustrator is an inspirational story himself – a former prison inmate who was commissioned to create the drawings. I requested a hand rendered celtic style border from him to add to the illuminated feel, and varied the illustration layout as full page bleed or with a miniature style border to accompany the text.
As the book’s story is based on theological research it was important to include notes on this, however, I ensured information not aimed at the book’s main target audience ( such as difficult wording in the preface and reference notes section) was positioned outside of the main flow of text and set in smaller type so it is visually glossed over as ‘small print’ by the target audience in favour of the main story, yet is available for teachers or other interested parties to access.
Patrick of Ireland is available to buy on Blurb or though the publisher Liverpool Community Spirit and all proceeds go to charity.
The launch event for a charity book I designed was held in a church hall in Liverpool. Many members of the local community including Ethiopian elders and community leaders, and some special guests got together to celebrate with those involved with the book’s creation. A highlight of the evening was a haunting live singing performance in Amharic. We feasted on some festive Ethiopian fare, such as delicious Lamb Wot stew and Iab cottage cheese and yogurt, with flat Injera bread.
An evocative tale of love, hardship and success, with universal appeal, coloured with traditional detail set against the rich cultural backdrop of Ethiopia.
The book ‘Tell Out My Soul’ is a story for children of a Black saint. The boy, Yared, turns his life around from a tale of failure to self-belief and astounding success as a role model for future generations. The book’s theme was underscored by the fact the illustrations were created by a former prison inmate as part of his rehabilitation. The author is a theologian who specialises in ‘Community Spirit’ courses for the workplace to raise awareness of various cultural traditions and religious practices from all over the world.
I designed and put the book together ready for print as a pro bono project. although I am not religious, it was gratifying to be involved in a project with a great role model for young people, and positive messages that reach beyond the notion of religion. This book was created for schools and community groups in the UK, however it is available for anyone to order through Blurb, as a hardback book or e-book. Here’s a little preview:
These images are of some murals I did for a ‘multicultural centre’ during a residency in a school in the UK. On the staircase you would encounter sculpture from Ghana and Nigeria, and as you climbed you were introduced to Wayang Kulit shadow puppets and various other cultural ambassadors in silhouette. These were punctuated by full colour acrylic pieces such as this one based on a sculpture from the ‘Africa Explores’ exhibition at Tate Gallery Liverpool.
During the residency I also created a site-specific sculpture for the school library. Working with books destined for the skip, I photocopied and enlarged pertinent passages from literary sources and pasted them inside the books, their jackets painted bright colours. I fixed the pages open at various states and attached tiger-tail nylon thread. I then hung a shelf and arranged the books so the ideas therein would ‘take flight’ from the shelves to inspire young minds. Voila! a little installation hanging above the heads of readers hopefully too engrossed in a book to notice…