Freelance designer

I was very lucky in the first few months of going freelance I was commissioned by Mike Rand to design the front cover of The Sunday Times colour magazine, a coup for me! I also designed my first typeface design for the English Meat Marketing Board which I got through an artwork company called Cream. I took a Stevenson Blake bold slab serif metal typeface as a basis and rounded it all off to made it look really juicy and edible. I did not know a lot at the time of the small intricacies of designing a whole font and using the slab serif as a basis held the design together. I asked Adrian Williams to help me produce the design, unfortunately I cannot find any visual reference to the work.

Tony Forsters poster that I saw at Vogue House

When I first started freelancing I took my portfolio around London there I came across another designer that would be a big influence on my early work. I was showing my portfolio to the art director of Vogue, as I stepped into his studio there on the wall was the most incredible type poster I had ever seen. It showed an amazing selection of lettering in all manner of styles from: Spenserian, copperplate and black letter scripts, neon, wood letter, modern Swiss to contemporary American. I was dumfounded; here was real competition. My interview went well although I never got a freelance job out of Vogue. On the way out I looked at the name on the bottom of the poster, Tony Forster from a place outside Manchester I had never heard of, Tyldesley! I hastily scribbled down the telephone number. I was relieved I still had no direct competition in London but his work still unsettled me, it was so good!

Another big influences was the work I had seen coming out of America, especially New York. I started a regular correspondence with Tony DiSpigna who was working as an assistant to Herb Lubalin. A postscript to one of his letters stated, ‘That a well designed word is worth a thousand pictures’. I have remembered that ever since. One I remember writing to him, ‘A well designed word is a self sufficient image of the message it bears’, or words to that effect. I loved their work and they way they took historical references and made something new them. Tom Carnase was also working there and I found his work outstanding. Later I also found out that Tony Forster was also under Carnase’s spell.

Six months into being freelance and I was overloaded with work when I got a call from Pentagram asking if I could do a logo over the weekend and off course as a freelancer you could never turn a job down from such a well known design company. I decided to phone Tony and asked him if he could help. I remember him picking up the receiver, I told him that I had seen a poster of his at Vogue, he replied, ‘Why did it take you so long to phone me?’ Tony did a whole pile of roughs over the weekend, I did a pile too but unfortunately none of our ideas were used. I asked him to send me an invoice, he said ‘Is 40 quid ok?’. I told him to put a nought on the end or our friendship would end. He said he had never charged 400 quid before and I replied I had got £800 from Pentagram and he deserved his half.

That began a long and lasting friendship. A few months later I went and stayed with Tony outside Manchester. We stayed up most of the nights talking which was also Tony’s work habit, long hours often stretching through the night. If either had a problem we could always phone each other until 2 am and from 7am onwards, we just loved our work, sleep got in the way!

I remember discovering a beautiful copperplate capital R, I used it on a logotype and sent a copy to Tony who immediately stole it and used it on a job he was doing and sent a copy off it back to me and he had improved on what I had done. But generally it was Tony’s work that inspired me. His work was so fluid and yet at the same time well structured. However hard I tried his lettering was always a class above mine. He was the Casanova of lettering!

Tony Forser a4 envelope

Every few weeks we would send each other an a4 envelope containing all our latest work. We would make very elaborate hand written address labels. Here are two I found recently of Tony’s at a mutual friend of ours, Ricardo Rousselot in Barcelona. You can see instantly how beautiful Tony’s work is.

Through Tony I came into contact with a young designer with a passion for letters, Peter Horridge. He was working at A I D, Allied International Designers (a different version from the current company) in Rathbone place. We meet over a pint a few doors up, a Young’s pub as I remember and after a few more meetings he left A I D and came and worked with me at my studio in Kinston-upon-Thames. We spent a couple of very fruitful years together before he set up on his own.

Tony Forser a4 envelope

My work and Tony’s slowly drifted apart. I started to do more graphic design work that eventually led to designing typefaces for Letraset and working with the computer. Tony hated computers and to the day he sadly died he never used one.


More examples of copperplate scripts drawn with a Rapidograph technical pen, filled in with ink on CS10 line board. Each script tries to reflect something of the character of the word, product or person. Chablis is bubbly and fun while Zoe was an elegant women working in fashion that had amazing flowing wavy hair!

Pub sign, client Pentagram

Logo for pen shop in Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London