The design for this Pleasure Ground poster has its roots in Playbill poster tradition. I have always liked the longer and thinner format of these prints. It echoes the early proclamation scrolls used by the Town Criers to disseminate information. I also wonder if the format was retained because as it met the need to fit on the protruding narrow pillars outside of theatres and playhouses.
It evokes an earlier time, links to when Portobello was a popular ‘Pleasure Ground’ and the posters that would have been there advertising the events and performances on the pier.
The style is for the text to be fully justified and so the type must be chosen or somehow made to fit. Being limited in the range of sizes and amount of each letter I could not set and print the whole thing letterpress. Like the Victorian letterpress printers (not necessarily bad designers but reliant on what was available… hence a different typeface on every line)… I utilised what I had. I have a wonderful, but small collection, of wooden type from Edinburgh’s Bishop & Sons. This was kindly gifted to me by the amazing Eric Deane under the premise that I use it… and use it I do!
I took proof prints on my trusty Farley of the main titles. Like the old jobbing printers, I had to improvise. To make it work I had to embrace the new technology. During my MA I have become increasingly interested in the journeys through analogue via digital and back to analogue. I have grown to like the digital reading of analogue marks. I am interested in provenance and the (conscious and mechanical) edit of history by what gets added and what remains.
Original Wooden Type
Original Wooden Type
By scanning the proofs and image tracing them in Illustrator a new form emerges from the old. This vectoring process is so useful as it allows the type to be re-scaled whilst preserving some of the integrity of the original. The other joy… (okay, I admit it, as a neo-Luddite, that these computers may have something about them after all… ) is that you have control over the kerning and spacing to make the balance and fit much better on a justified line. A boon to the anal typographer, but the challenge is not to take it too far, make it too perfect by channelling too much of Beatrice Warde’s ‘crystal goblet’.
This is a caveat I set myself but the ability to be able to do this liberates in new and exciting ways. There remains some of the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the letterpress (this I would call its ‘humanity’, others may call it ‘charm’), but there I have flexibility and choice. The right type for the right words (form following function), the easier avoidance of overly dominant white space in the unwanted rivers and pig bristles, etc. I know it makes sense.
Digital version of the poster (with added side stripe to fit ‘A’ paper formats)
The digital print out showed the history but the somehow deadens the image. Great for a visual, cheap to reproduce and to communicate that idea. This is where going back to the analogue has an added value. It provides for a more sensory experience. If time and money were no object, cutting and routing into wood and printing letterpress would be the way… but that was not possible (this time). Also, there is a balance to be struck… when does the final print become too ‘precious’ in its production and therefore becomes less ephemeral in its nature?
With this as a consideration screenprinting becomes a viable option. I can do it myself, so have control over most aspects of production again. It is ephemeral but (hopefully) of interest enough that it can become a souvenir or keepsake after the fact for someone, somewhere.
I like the medium supporting the message and try, where possible, to keep the integrity in. The design and production support this wherever it can. From the use of original Miller and Richard wooden type which would have been in wide use in the classrooms all across Edinburgh and the Lothians during Portobello’s hey-day to the printing on Southbank Smooth, a Fourdrinier produced paper (the same machine that made the paper in the Portobello Paper Mill).
The screenprint is made up of four different colours, green, blue, pink and black. There is a nod to seaside stripes and ice cream flavours in the choice. The scale was the most ambitious I have attempted to date. The image area is 420mm x 840mm. It was a challenge and it is not perfect (mistakes were made, lessons learned) but I think it retains an interest because of that.
Finished playbill poster is printed and once trimmed will be around Portobello in the next few days!