Edwin Pickstone has been a tutor and technician at The Glasgow School of Art for over ten years, starting out as an artist in residence at the school in 2005. The job sees him care for the university’s precious collection of letterpress printing equipment, a dream job for many. Edwin’s own work sits comfortably within the academic, artistic and design worlds, where he often uses letterpress equipment to demonstrate his passion for typography, graphic design, print and books.
A few of the It’s Nice That team met Edwin during Graphic Design Festival Scotland in September, and straightaway he seemed like a natural fit for Bookshelf. Here, Edwin shares a cornucopia of beautiful tomes including a novel that uses layout to communicate the story, a compact edition of The Oxford English Dictionary and series of type specimens from the 1930s.
Alasdair Gray: 1982 Janine
Gray wrote of his book: “This already dated novel [published 1984] is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations who is tippling in the bedroom of a small Scottish hotel.” 1982 Janine was the first book I read where the writer really used the layout of the text as a device with which to more fully communicate the story. These typographical deviances climax with the narrator’s voice splitting into three parts on the page as he suffers a nervous breakdown. This book set a lot of cogs in motion for me.
Robert Hooke: Micrographia
My late father worked in medical history and tipped me off to this one, published in 1665. Hooke used microscope technology to reveal a whole world of detail that was previously unknown. By contrasting the most intricate examples of natural creation (the compound eye of a fly and the body of a flea), which look amazing, with those of human creation (the full stop, razor’s edge and needle point), which look crap, Hooke sets up a pretty convincing proof of Biblical creation.
The idea of uncovering new ways of seeing the world of print, underpinned by this proof of God, inspired me to experiment with modern microscope technology, looking at the physical nature of print, in an exploration of perceived authenticity. Eventually, this led to the use of an electron microscope to produce strange cosmic images of the last full stop in The Periodic Table, a book by the Italian author Primo Levi.
Oxford University Press: The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
Reducing all 22,000 pages of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary into 2,424 pages, this micro-printed record of the English Language is fascinating. In 2012, while working on a project about the physical nature of books, I contacted Richard Hollick who had worked at Oxford University Press to ask about the book’s production. He provided a tonne of great detail, which allowed me to work out how much ink was in the book. I then cut a block of 1,212 sheets of bible paper and precisely weighed out the same amount of ink used to print the text onto the top of the paper in a big, black blob. At this time there was much talk of the value of books as physical objects. If the contents are available online or ‘in the cloud’ then is the physical book really just the sum of its constituent parts?
S.C.W.S. Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society: Poster Type Specimens
I have the luxury of not needing to include The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces (which I use daily), with that volume having already been discussed by at least one contributor to this column. Instead, I get to show an example of this wonderful undated collection of typefaces that was available from the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society at some point post-1930. It combines a great range of type styles with a lovely, easy-going layout, and because it was produced by the type supplier, using brand new woodtype, the printing is super crisp, which can be rare with these vernacular typefaces.
Virginia Woolf: Orlando: A Biography
This is one of my favourite novels. Who doesn’t want a story from 1928 whose hero lives for at least 300 years without noticeably ageing and changes sex halfway through the book? Five teardrop asterisks illustrate the section break and transition from male to female. In Richard Kennedy’s A Boy at the Hogarth Press, he recounts watching Virginia Woolf in her office packing the first edition into boxes. It is nice to think she briefly had her hands on each copy. Incidentally, the story also involves a love interest called Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire. Winner.
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