Take an excerpt from a national poet or writer and translate into a new typographic form;
Take the first line – draw it, typeset it, build it;
Then take the body of the text and typeset it.
How does leading, positioning, stresses on particular words and detailing affect the power of the piece?
How is meaning affected by interpretation in a tangible way? What is the relationship of the page?
Type and typography are completely new territory for me. I have designed logos before and incorporated typefaces into my projects, but I have never really examined type of itself. I find it a little bit intimidating: perhaps because it is an area that I know very little about; perhaps because I have always been a bit frightened of letters and numbers due to my dyslexia. However, it is possible my dyslexia might help instead of hinder me; it might mean I see the letters slightly differently – less as words and phrases in context and more as representative shapes and patterns on a page.
This is difficult as there are so many poems that could be visually manipulated in interesting ways. I find I am torn between two. The first is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy called ‘Havisham’, which is based on the character and sensibility of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Miss Havisham is a sad shell of a person, abandoned on her wedding day, left devastated and frozen in time, sitting year after year in a yellowing wedding dress, with the table still set for wedding guests and flowers dried up and dead in vases. I have been fascinated with Miss Havisham ever since I read this book when I was about 15 years old; and have designed wedding dresses and created stories of my own about this character. I think that I found Charles Dickens’s description of her both shocking and intriguing. I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to be heartbroken and humiliated so deeply that you become twisted and bitter and unable to move beyond. When I read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Havisham’, it was clear that she was also mesmerized by this creature. If I chose this poem, I would do something very creative with the words; perhaps I could change the transparency, work the words into the shape of a rotting wedding cake or float the letters into the shape of a ghostly wedding dress. I have never attempted anything like this before, but I love the idea. Here is the poem:
I am not sure I fully relate to some sections of the poem, but I think it would still be fascinating to use for my project this week.
The next possibility is ‘Search for my tongue’ by Sujata Bhatt. In this poem, Bhatt explores the constant personal and psychological struggle she has losing her original Indian cultural identity, forgetting language she grew up speaking and trying to adapt herself to her new home in England. She talks about having two tongues in her mouth and trying to spit out her Indian culture and mother tongue but finding it creeps back into her dreams and calls to her. A section of the poem is in Gujarati, her native language. I can relate to this poem because I am stuck between two languages: dreaming English and French; functioning in French, but always ready for English to creep back in. I understand how torn and confused it can make you, feeling lost somewhere between two languages with neither fully belonging to you.
Here is Sujata Bhatt’s poem:
You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,
munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha
may thoonky nakhi chay
parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay
foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh
modhama kheelay chay
fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
modhama pakay chay
it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I’ve forgotten,
I think I’ve lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.
Final Poem Choice
After careful reflection about which of these poems could have more potential from a typographic standpoint, I have decided to choose ‘Havisham’ by Carol Ann Duffy.
A bit about the author – Carol Ann Duffy
Dame Carol Ann Duffy was born in Scotland on 23 December1955. She is the first ever Scot, the first women and the first openly gay poet to hold the position of Poet Laureate (appointed in MW10ay 2009). She is a poet but also a playwright. She has won many awards including the Somerset Maugham Award, the Whitbread Poetry Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He poems address controversial issues such as oppression, gender, and violence but she writes in an accessible language that has made her poems popular with schools.
She came from a poor working class family in Glasgow. She was the eldest of 5 siblings. When Duffy was just 6 years old the family moved to Stafford, England. Here she attended many different school and had support as a writer from 2 different English teachers. She knew she was going to be a writer from the age of 11. Her work initially appeared in pamphlet format, after which the bookseller Bernard Stone selected a number of poems for re-publication.
Duffy’s style of poetry explores every day life as well as amazingly curious fantasy.
Charlotte Mendelson writes in The Observer:
Part of Duffy’s talent – besides her ear for ordinary eloquence, her gorgeous, powerful, throwaway lines, her subtlety – is her ventriloquism. Like the best of her novelist peers … she slides in and out of her characters’ lives on a stream of possessions, aspirations, idioms and turns of phrase. However, she is also a time-traveller and a shape-shifter, gliding from Troy to Hollywood, galaxies to intestines, sloughed-off skin to department stores while other poets make heavy weather of one kiss, one kick, one letter … from verbal nuances to mind-expanding imaginative leaps, her words seem freshly plucked from the minds of non-poets – that is, she makes it look easy.
In this poem Duffy examines the mental and physical state of Miss Havisham decades after being left standing at the alter. The poem expresses the bitter anger she feels towards her fiancé and the rage she retains for the abandonment she suffered that day – haunting her after all this time has passed. These feelings stand beside but in contrast to a strange obsessive sexual fantasy she has over the love that remains for her husband to be. She appears to be stuck in a spiral of bitter hatred and relentless affection for the man that shattered her heart that day. In the book this hatred for men and yearning to have power over them manifests itself in behavior towards others that involves manipulation and mind games. I need to find some way of portraying this within my typography.
Great Expectations interpretations – Page 1: Great Expectations’, published by GraphicDesign&
This book was a design challenge put out by GraphicDesign& for many different typographers to come up with their own interpretation of the first page of Great expectations. It is fascinating to see the different typographical approaches taken by 70 designers and typographers, which include Sam Winston, Tony Chambers and Luke Hayman from Pentagram. Here are some of my favorite pages.
Page typeset design by Typographics
Here the book has been diagonally divided. Your eyes are automatically drawn towards the bolder text – not just because of its weight but also because its larger size and the fact that it has been separated from the other text. I find my eyes dart in a triangular motion, starting with the text on the left, then the slightly bolder text at the top of the page and finally settling on the rest of the paragraph, which displays as a near pyramid shape. This is such a simple concept but it really draws you into the story and keeps you engaged with every word on the page.
Deconstructed offering by Cartlidge Levene
This is a completely different approach, in which Levene has broken down the text into 6 small columns. Personally I find the text quite difficult to read because of the size and the way it is broken up. However, it is a very striking layout it when you stand back and look at the shapes formed by the text on the page.
Alexander Cooper & Rose Gridneff of Workshop
Cooper and Gridneff have explored the section of text as if it were a magazine layout – transitioning it from a novel and playing with the form of the weekly publication ‘All Year Round’ where Great Expectations was originally published in as a series between 1860 and 1861. I love how tactile and reader friendly this piece is, with subtle references to the past while in a bold contemporary gesture, leaving a large section of the page blank.
Illustrator Sam Piyasena, aka Billie Jean
I really like this piece, the way that they have created a pictorial design using the notion of shadows, specifically the ‘shadowy misunderstandings’ that hang over the characters in Great Expectations. The effect is really quite dramatic. I would say this piece is more about the symbolism of the words and characters in the book and less so about reading the text.
The piece by Neil Donnelly mimics a British tabloid front page. Large text is used to draw your eye to the first line of text, which has been underlined in a traditional way. The next phrase has been written in capital letters to continue to draw attention to it. The rest of the text is in two columns with small text. There is about a 50/50 ratio between the amount of space taken by the title and the columns on the page. There is also another small subtitle amongst the text towards the bottom of the page. When I look at this, I barely glance at the columns of text, I just stare at the title and take it in.
This piece is very unique for Chambers. He appears to have turned his typographical pet hate, which is the ‘orphan’, on its head. The term ‘orphan’ refers to a word that stays at the top of the column alone. He did this in honor of the famous character in the book Pip who was an orphan. A subtle and clever hint to a fundamental element of the book. The layout is simple, with most of the text in the right-hand column. It is clear and pleasant to read and is unusual and unique but I could imagine reading the whole book in this format with few problems.
Fraser Muggeridge Studio
This is perhaps the most abstract interpretation. Fraser Muggeridge has decided to eliminate the text, using small led images as his interpretation of part 1. I am not quite sure what to make of this. I can understand how some of the images relate to the first page of Great Expectations – for example there are some clear references to family, with icons of babies and a family holding hands; however the parental advisory icon and tongue sticking out are hard for me to place in this literary classic. Having said this I think it is fascinating that this is what Muggeridge saw when he looked down at part 1.
Luke Hayman from Pentagram
The famous Luke Hayman from pentagram has created a very contemporary version of an illustrated drop cap followed by a clean and clear paragraph; easy to read and pleasant to look at. I like the idea of just doing an illustrated drop cap that sets the mood of the paragraph and then not feeling the need to tamper that much with the rest. I think this is one of my favorites and I would happily buy this book if Hayman would create contemporary drop caps and layouts throughout the book. He has subtly brought the book up to date whilst also keeping the feel and mood of the original Victorian work.
Paul Finn of Fitzroy & Finn
Paul Finn has turned everything on its head by deciding to print white on black as opposed to black on white as most of the other designers and typographers. He was inspired by the passage ‘…five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long…’, deciding to arrange his text is five columns, referencing the five rows of graves spoken about in this first page of the book. The unusual contrast and disposition of text on the page has considerable impact, creating a decidedly sinister mood.
Barnbrook has taken a different approach again in looking at Dickens’s grammatical structures and devising a mathematical, unemotional analysis. The geometrical web of shapes and lines that connect across the page half cover the text below which has been placed into an order which makes it virtually impossible to make sense of. The page is beautifully done and visually it is one of my favorites but Barnbrook has given us a direct insight into a world of his own, instead of perhaps trying to portray the emotions within the original book. This is not a criticism as I find myself drawn the order and the structure, delicate and precise boxed text alongside complex lists of the words in the original text. It is simply fascinating.
Victorian Style Typography
Great Expectations was written in 1860 which was in the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria. There are a variety of typical Victorian typographical styles that I would like to explore before deciding on my approach to this project. I am feeling so inspired by the different layouts in the Great Expectations interpretations – Page 1: Great Expectations’, published by GraphicDesign& that I need to make sure I don’t go a off topic but focus on where I want to take this project. I want to look back at the typography characteristic of Victorian times and then look at other influences associated with the book, the character of Miss Havisham and the emotional resonances of Duffy’s poem.
The Comeback of Victorian Typography
In this article written on 13 June 2013, Dr. Shelley Gruendler, explains that she is seeing more and more graphic design from the Victorian era, particularly from the second half of the 1800s. There are some people that think that it is very ‘over the top’ because of its swirl and scroll like accents but there is no doubt that this way of presenting text has a kind of charm to it. The article looks at how different this approach is to something at the other opposite end of the spectrum, such as the simplicity of Helvetica; however, my interest in this article waned somewhat until an image caught my eye – a beautiful poster, intricately embossed but with no ink. It looks like the letters have been etched onto the paper with a pen in some sections; in others you can imagine the paper being placed into a metal press or between rollers to produce this beautiful end result.
Despite going off on a tangent this article does have some interesting references to typographic letterforms from the Victorian era, which are characterised by elaboration and ornamentation.
I like the idea of a very simple, clean final piece, but 1) the character of Miss Havisham is so complicated, and 2) the Victorian era was not about simplicity and minimalism, but about lavish design and ornamentation – as manifested clothes, architecture and furniture design.
“You don’t see it but its there”
The amazingly inspiring work of Irma Boom is worth mentioning at this point. In Particular her extraordinary work for Chanel No5 perfume. She used embossing with no ink. The book is light and airy and you don’t see the text but its there. Just like how she feels about the perfume Chanel No5. Her book captures the energy and sensation of the perfume. even though perfume is known to be a liquid that smells and book is a solid tangible object that is often meant for a very functional purpose, she has managed to give these two different things a strange, magical crossover. I would like to try and reflect this concept within my work this week. I want to really create the character of Miss Havisham within my end project so that you can almost feel her presence just like you can feel the presence and almost smell the fragrance of chanel No5 in the pages of Irma Booms book.
What about Miss Havisham’s surroundings?
Miss Havisham’s home in the book was inspired by a 17th century mansion close to where Charles Dickens used to live in Rochester, Kent. The house is grade I listed with six reception rooms, eight bedrooms and four bathrooms and sits in about half an acre of garden. There is also a grade II listed summer house in the grounds said to be visited by Samuel Pepys.
“Many of the rooms still retain their grand features. A massive oak staircase sweeps up from the hall, which has a fine carved ceiling. The sitting room is fully panelled, with a stone fireplace bearing heraldic shields.”The Independent
The name of the house in the book is Satis House, which Estella explains means ‘enough’ but then she goes on to say that the person who is living in the house can never ask for more than they have. The actual name of the house is The Restoration House and this name dates to the 1660 when Charles II spent his first night back on English soil there on his journey to reclaim the throne. Despite all of the people who have lived there since and the amount of money spent on it, the house still needs an astonishing amount of work. The house seems to have got the better of them all! I like the symmetry within this house; this is also a prominent feature of the Victorian era.
Embossing directly onto textured paper could beautifully reflect the energy and mood of the poem ‘Havisham’. The poem talks about the endless wilting of a woman’s soul, the unhappiness and bitterness within her. The description of her and all that surrounds her in the book and in the poem is ghostly and cold. The wedding dress she sits in, the rotting wedding food and flowers that surround her. I could use a yellowed textured paper and the act of embossing onto the paper with no ink could reflect the idea that Miss Havisham is fading away as a person, the harshness of the embossing process indicative of the bitterness and intense emotion she has inside; but I also want to indicate that she is there physically but not really there, not herself – drifting away like a spirit leaving a corpse.
Reflecting on the Poem
Carol Ann Duffy has written this poem as Miss Havisham in the first person. The poem is called ‘Havisham’, without title, perhaps because she is trying to portray her as a creature instead of a person. The whole poem conveys mixed messages about the two disparate emotions she feels for the man that jilted her at the alter. This is clear from the first sentence, ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’, which contains a dissonance that shocks the reader to attention – revealing at once her resentment for this person, clear feelings of heartbreak and fondness for him, and a desperation to re-establish power and control. Towards the end of the poem, she uses the metaphor of a ‘slewed mirror’ to question ‘who did this..to me’. Perhaps distorting the letters in a slewed mirror could be a way of portraying the distortion in Miss Havisham’s mind as she utters these twisted and sinister words.
The original Great Expectations was printed in typography similar to Times New Roman. I want to try and experiment and see what the text looks like in a slewed mirror. I have some mirrored card that distorts quite heavily; perhaps I could try and reflect the Times New Roman text in this mirror to see what happens.
This was interesting because I was able to see that holding up the poem in Times New Roman to a slewed mirror meant that the poem was completely distorted, everything was bent out of shape and even the shape of the paper did not make sense anymore. Everything became very strange and it was impossible to read the words on the page. I can relate this directly to the delusion that Miss Havisham must have felt and how she portrays her feelings in the poem.
I wonder if I could print onto the mirrored paper to show the level of distortion that she is feeling. This would make the poem somewhat difficult to read.
So now I have two ideas for the project in terms of printing methods, embossing and printing onto mirrored paper, but what about the actual layout of the text?
I found some raised rubber stamps letters that I was able to position onto a base. I thought that if I bought a variety of different papers of different weights, I would be able to push the stamps into the paper and create an indent. This unfortunately did not work. To start with, lining up the letters might have been easy for most people but with my dyslexia I simply could not get the letters the right way round and kept printing words backwards or upside down. Once I had figured out how to do this, I tried to put weight onto the stamp and paper to create an embossed impression but, because the stamps were made of rubber, I did not manage to make an impact on the paper. I decided to try using the stamps for their main purpose and I stamped the words onto the paper with white ink. I quite liked this effect as it created a kind of ghostly barely-there feel, which suits the energy of the poem very well. However, I wanted to experiment more.
I put the poem into photoshop and played around with fonts and different techniques; I had the idea of printing onto mirrored paper with the aim of creating the same distortion that I see reflected in Miss Havisham’s state of mind in the poem and in the book. I used blurring and distorting tools to manipulate the words on the page. I distorted some words more than others to highlight sections of the text that I think really capture the essence of Miss Havisham. The poem talks about how she stands in front of a mirror and asks of it ‘who did this to me?’ unable to really see herself now, lost in a deranged world, caught between heartbreak, hatred and desperation for power over the one that broke her heart, as well as toying with other peoples feelings and emotions. To portray this, I put the text in a Victorian framed mirror so that the text becomes a slurred monologue uttered as she regards herself in a distorted mirror.
I think this worked quite well but there is still something missing from this project. I think that the embossing could have been really effective on the mirror. Originally, I wanted to do something really simple – embossed words on natural, off-colour paper – but I didn’t have the time or resources, it seemed, to pull this off. Another option could have been to laser cut the words into paper, this could have created a very dramatic effect.
I think that overall the project went reasonably well. I really enjoyed the research and looking further into some of the references I used this week. I have learnt a great deal about type and printing methods through the ages. However, I think, in large part, because I have had a very busy week, it has been difficult for me to give this project the time and attention that I wanted to when it came to the final piece. I don’t think I carried out the idea as originally conceived.
What have I don’t to push me out of my comfort zone this week?
I have never worked with stamps before and I have only ever tried embossing at school with a proper roller and paper that is easier to emboss into. I found it very difficult to do so without this equipment.
I also think that this week was in general out of my comfort zone. Typography is not something that I have much experience in, and I found it very challenging to come up with a workable idea for this project. I have taught myself many different techniques on Photoshop and I have tried to be courageous in exploring technical possibilities, but I think this is a project I would like to build on, after learning more about type, typographical processes and effects.
If I had more time I would try and distress the mirror and make it look older and distorted, I would then emboss the first line onto the mirror to add another layer to it.
- How does leading, positioning, stresses on particular words and detailing affect the power of the piece?
- Positioning the words within a mirror frame on mirrored paper makes details in the poem come together. The contrasting blurring of some words and not others allows the reader to catch glimpses of the words that define the character of Miss Havisham.
- How is meaning affected by interpretation in a tangible way?
Physically being able to stare into a distorted mirror and see a blurred poem filled with words of desperation and despair and looking at how the mirror has distorted the poem and your personal self image gives the reader an interactive and tangible experience of the poem.
- What is the relationship of the page?
The relationship of the page is that the mirroring effect and traditional Victorian frame is able to captivate and highlight the energy and self- reflection that Miss Havisham is experiencing as she speaks the words imagined by Carol Ann Duffy. Decades after the event, her image of the past is distorted alongside her image of her surroundings and self.