When I was ten I bought a book on the American Wild West at a school jumble sale. It was not so much the exciting stories about the James Gang or Billy the Kid that fascinated me, but the typefaces used on the wanted posters that were illustrated throughout the book. I tried to make up the whole alphabet from the few letters in the posters. Much later I found a book on American wood type by Rob Roy Kelly and learnt that they all had very exotic names; Antique Tuscan Expanded, French Clarendon Triple X Expanded and Full Face Grecians, all named after their serif shapes. Some were very fat and bold, others ultra condensed but all had that rugged character characteristic of late ninetenth American century display types.
Another image has always stayed with me is that of a nineteenth century office calendar that hung in the hall of my grandparents house. The clean, beautiful and unadorned numbers printed simply onto a role of canvas that are turned by hand everyday. As a piece of pure design it never dates, it never breaks and is always reliable unless I forget to turn it last thing at night.
When I was 14 my art teacher asked me to stay behind for a few minutes after school to discuss my future. He told me he had talked with the other teachers about my work and performance at school and although l always tried my best, in his very words, ‘I was hopeless’. He then went on to say that I could also draw like a dream. I told him I wanted to be a commercial artist, which he was going to suggest had I not thought of it myself. He said he would discuss the matter with the other teachers. An appointment was made with the headmaster, along with my art teacher my mother and I. It was agreed that the following spring the art teacher would arrange an interview for me at Sidcup College of Art & Design, where he had contact with the Principal of the school. It was also agreed with the headmaster that I would spend the next year working almost entirely in the art department, only doing the legal minimum requirement of three one hourly lessons a week, mathematics, English and one other subject of my choice, I chose history. That was it, schooling over, from then I led a blessed life tucked away in the art department separated from the main building by a railway bridge and allotments.
I slowly prepared a folder of work and the following spring I was accepted at Sidcup College of Art & Design. I think one of the main reasons being the poster I had done which showed an illustration of St Basil’s church in Red Square, done in fine pen and ink. I had drawn the word Russia in capitals underneath in Bodoni, with the fine serifs matching perfectly the pen illustation above. But what really impressed the Principal was that the letter ‘R’ was in reverse. I got the idea from the front cover of a Russian newspaper I had seen. The letter R appears in the cyrillic alphabet backwards. I was euphoric, and started there the following September.