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art Book community design history Illustration Liverpool Los Angeles museum Print Typography

St Patrick & Ancient Inspiration

Getty manuscript example
Getty manuscript example

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.

Italian 15th c example
Italian 15th c example

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.

Arts and Crafts rubric example
Arts and Crafts rubric example

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.

St Patrick spread

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.

If you like to know more about Medieval manuscript conventions the British Museum has a lovely online resource for viewing digitised works and a great glossary of Manuscript illumination terms

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art community gallery Los Angeles museum

Reflections of a Gallery Docent

As a transplant to Los Angeles, it was exciting to be selected for training as a Getty docent. Over many years at Tate Gallery one was encouraged to lead tours using dialogue-based, object-focused methodology, with the understanding that the passive receipt of information does not supply the tools or confidence to approach artworks, nor motivate individual engagement with them. It was refreshing to find that the teaching strategy at the Getty is just as forward-thinking and interactive, carefully avoiding a disappointing and didactic lecture-on-wheels experience.

With the belief that works of art reveal themselves over time, the focus is firmly on ‘close looking’ at a limited number of objects and sharing within a supportive environment, the resultant lively dialogue benefiting from a multiplicity of perspectives. Appropriate contextual information is introduced to extend the dialogue, not suppress other possible meanings nor suggest a ‘definitive’ reading.

Summer training incorporated a fun and well-organized balance of theoretical underpinning and practical exercises. A fascinating dossier of reading material led to animated weekly group discussions. As we were tasked with developing individual themed tours, any fears were allayed as we were supported by research materials and helpful, patient staff. We were also treated to curator time – the decorative arts lecture led to a widespread re-evaluation of tour plans to shoehorn in a fancy bed, marquetry tour-de-force or gilded sconce or two.

Selecting only four objects from the embarrassment of riches on display was a headache until the realization that one could develop several tours and rotate them as appropriate. Flexibility with object choices avoids dismay when the morning gallery mapping stars are not aligned. How liberating the ability to sneak off behind Titian’s back and leave Friedrich to his pondering whilst one runs away with Puryear and Hepworth or spends time striking poses with Batoni!

It has been such fun working with the mutually supportive, dynamic people in our group as colleagues and new friends. It is a pleasure to fulfil our collective duty to keep artworks alive by creatively engaging the next generation of visitors.

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(Originally published in The Gazetty, the Getty staff newsletter)

Categories
architecture art community culture gallery Los Angeles museum

Views from the Getty

Getty Center Central Garden
This summer I was selected as a Gallery docent at the Getty Center in Los Angeles! It has been such a great experience going through training, meeting such wonderful people and getting to know the art work in more depth. ‘Docent’ is not a word we really use in the UK, but the role is similar to the one I held at Tate Gallery Liverpool whilst at university, as a ‘freelance artist’, facilitating workshops with visitors using close study, discussion and practical activities such as drawing.

It really is a great privilege to spend time each week up at the centre, The Meier-designed complex sometimes feels like some sort of utopian spaceship filled with treasures. I spend hours in the galleries with the works and exploring the campus discovering my favourite areas to sip coffee and study or gaze outwards at the cityscape below.

Next month we will start teaching school groups, encouraging them to look closely and engage with art, and have a positive experience of one of my favourite places in LA. I can’t wait!

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Drawing exhibition gallery Los Angeles museum

Getty Sketchbook

During down time at the Getty I like sketching in the galleries. As well as pursuing  a long tradition of sketching from master works,  it helps to quietly focus on an individual piece and allow you notice nuances otherwise overlooked, which is good practice when developing tours.

At Getty Center there is also a designated ‘Sketching Gallery’ where artwork and replicas are displayed with materials provided for anyone to come and draw.  The volunteers in there are so lovely and encouraging, it’s a veritable oasis of calm as visitors concentrate on their drawings.

After Jacopo Bassano, 'Portrait of a Bearded Man'
After Jacopo Bassano, ‘Portrait of a Bearded Man’
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After Jusepe de Ribera, ‘Euclid’
After Pietro Cipriani, 'Dancing Faun'
After Pietro Cipriani, ‘Dancing Faun’