Ultrabold, St Brides Foundation

Awhile back I attended the Design of Understanding at the St Bride Library. The conference focuses on how the design of ideas can make them more understandable. The conference organiser made a very good choice as St Bride is one of the world’s best printing and graphic arts library. 

Unfortunately, the St Bride Foundation struggles to maintain funding and support, so I signed up to become a Friend of St Bride. All friends receive a copy of Ultrabold, the journal of St Bride Library. If you are anyway interested in Graphic Design, then it’s worth getting your hands on a copy. 

St Bride Library
Bride Lane, Fleet Street

London EC4Y 8EE

Phone: +44(0)2073534660

Simon Loxley explains his love for St Bride Library and how the Ultrabold magazine came to life

We have worked with print designer Simon Loxley to produce Ultrabold magazine for the St Bride Library for many years. Here he explains what drew him to start the publication for ‘The world’s foremost printing and graphic arts library.’ Over to you Simon….

I first started visiting St Bride Library about ten years ago, when I was researching what was to become Type: the Secret History of Letters. I went to an AGM of the Friends of St Bride Library in 2005 when a big change in financial circumstances was afoot, with the Corporation of London withdrawing its funding for the Library. The Friends had been started in the 90s in response to an earlier crisis, really as a petition of support with a once-only subscription payment. With the switch to a yearly subscription, take-up from the existing database had been disappointing. ‘The problem is,’ Friends chairman Rob Banham told me, ‘that we have nothing really to offer as an incentive to join or stay.’ When I asked if they had ever thought of having a journal, his response was: ‘Sure, many times. But the problem is a) finance and b) time – we’re all sitting on about five committees each as it is. But if you’d like to find some sponsorship for the journal, and get it designed and edited, we’d be interested to see what you come up with.’

Having worked on loads of magazines in a design capacity in the past, maybe there was a part of me which fancied the idea of putting one together myself. I thought that with the Friends of St Bride Library's various conferences and lectures there could be a steady fund of material, if I could persuade speakers to donate their words and pictures. And a distribution system was already in place. But sponsorship to produce it?

Here I got lucky; I approached printers I’d used over the previous few years, offering advertising space and a front cover plug in exchange for printing what I hoped would be an attractive item that would reach a key audience. Principal Colour said yes. So the journal, soon to be christened Ultrabold, leaped dramatically from a dream to a live project.

I’m always amazed by the number of people working in the design business who have never been to St Bride Library, sometimes never even heard of it.  It’s one of London’s hidden treasures that should be much less hidden. Ultrabold is part of that objective, a friendly face for the St Bride Library, wherever in the world you might be, echoing the tone of the excellent events programmes – there is room for both the scholarly and the frivolous, as long as it falls within the St Bride Library’s broad areas of interest: visual communication and the graphic arts. 

It seems to be working. Membership is up – although new members are always very welcome – as is awareness of the journal. People even buy complete sets of back issues from the St Bride Library’s online shop. And Principal Colour are still supporting us and making Ultrabold a reality. We’ve recently produced issue 10, possibly my favourite so far. As well as the excellence of their printing, all the personnel at Principal Colour are unfailing enthusiastic in what they do, and good-humoured with it. And we still give them, as part of the original deal outlined by Richard McCombie, a ‘crate of Guinness’ – or something less full-bodied in summer.

Simon Loxley (The Designer and Writer)

Week 10:

     I have no trouble with design when it comes to illustrative assignments, but typographical  assignments? that’s a whole different story. I’ve said it once, and I dare say it again, I’m no good when it comes to Typography. At a glance, I would think that it’s not so hard, but I’m proven wrong every single time. When I try to treat type as i do with illustration, I feel ashamed at the outcome. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to try focusing more on Typographic oriented designs. And to start it off, I present this week’s topic, Simon Lowley.

     Simon Loxley is a freelance graphic designer and writer. He has published the book Type: the secret history of letters, the one mentioned in my book, in 2004 and Printer’s Devil: the life and work of Frederic Warde in 2013. He is the designer and Editor of the journal of St Bride Library named Ultrabold. He has also done some articles in several magazines like Design Week, Smashing Magazine, Parenthesis, and Frederic Warde. 

     In his Typographical works, the hierarchy is clear and the type is readable. His choice of color, typefaces, and composition complement rather than trying to upstage one another. These choices all fit the over all theme of the books and/or magazines they are representing. They do not feel ill fitting nor do they take away all the attention, they attract the readers and compel them to explore what the book or magazine has to offer. And that is but one small part of what Typography can really do.

An interview with graphic designer Simon Loxley, creator of the Ultrabold magazine for St Bride Library

Designer Simon Loxley is a multi-talented print designer and writer who has worked on some fantastic projects over the years, including the creation of the beautiful Ultrabold magazine for the St Bride Library, printed byPrincipal Colour. Following the highly successful Critical Tensions conference last week we decided to check in with him and find out a bit more about his career. You can read about how Ultrabold first came to life in our previous blog here.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your career as a designer and some of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on?

I suppose I’ve always approached working in design as a fan; I love music, books, films, magazines, museums and art galleries, so have always tried to seek out work in areas I personally feel very connected to. 

I did a lot of work in the past, and still some now (St Bride obviously), for London’s cultural institutions: the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of London, Geffrye Museum, the Maritime Museum, the London Library, and a long spell for Dulwich Picture Gallery. Their logo was my design, and I created a cut-out model of the Gallery’s famous John Soane-designed central tower/founders’ mausoleum for their shop which was lot of fun to do. There was a postcard set for the National Portrait Gallery that a Financial Times review called the best small present of the year, which was nice of them.

More recently I‘ve been doing lots of book covers for the publisher Boydell & Brewer: non fiction stuff, history, music and Hispanic studies. I’ve put some of my favourites on my website, www.simonloxley.com. Although but no means do I do all their books – it’s a large umbrella organisation with several imprints – I do enough to hope I’ve managed to create something of a Boydell style or ‘feel’ for them.

My distinguishing feature is arguably that as someone who can both design and write I’m relatively unusual; I enjoyed researching and writing both my two books,Type: The Secret History of Letters, and Printers Devil: The Life and Work of Frederic Warde. And of course Ultrabold would be right up there at the top of the tree for me: a chance to design, edit and write. Perfect really. Ten issues feels like something of an achievement. It would be good to be offered, or to create, other projects where I could be involved with the content as well as the design.

What is the production schedule like for each issue of Ultrabold and how long does it take to put together?

Ultrabold comes out twice a year; I think it would kill me to do more, unless I had a team of assistants focused solely on the task, which I don’t. Although if it were financially viable for me, ie a job rather than essentially a labour of love, it might be quite good to do more. Time? Tricky to quantify, as I’m always thinking of possibilities for the next issue, noting them down so I don’t forget them; so the planning goes on all the time, in the back of my mind. I suppose if the journal was laid out and proofread all in one go, you might be looking at 2, maybe 3 days. But then there’s reading and editing the copy, surely another days’ worth, and then a day to go down to Principal Colour and pass the pages on press. But a lot of the design and editing gets done in little corners of the day concurrent with and fitting around other things I’m working on.

What kind of paper do you use and why? and what kind of special production techniques or specifications do you have, if any?

A very undesignerly answer, but as Ultrabold was, and still is, done on a miniscule budget, I was prepared for it to be printed on whatever we could get at low cost. Fennerdonated the paper for many of the early issues, so we would get whatever Justin Hobson wanted to try out for his own promotional purposes. Which is why the stock has sometimes changed from issue to issue. But I quite like that. For Fenner’s purposes there were some short extra runs of some issues on other stock; there is a (very rare, collectors of the future!) grey version of no 5, for example.

For the last two issues we’ve used Brand X FSC 135gsm coated, which Fenner have given at a special rate. I like it; it’s a good bright white, and the pictures seem to perform well on it, good tonal ranges, fresh colours, that kind of thing.

Did you have a previous relationship with Principal Colour and what is the best part of working with the company?

My relationship with Principal Colour came about through Richard MCombie, whom I have known for years, since he had a place with his brother near Brixton tube station. I’ve sort of followed him around over the years wherever he’s worked. Principal Colour is the best though. I always have the feeling I’m working with really committed craftsmen, which is not a sensation you always get with printers. I noticed on the pinboard in their boardroom an email from a PA for Bryan Ferry which said: ‘Bryan was very happy with the printing. And believe me, that’s rare.’ Quite a tribute I think.

Why do you think it’s so important to preserve our printing heritage, as epitomised by the work of the St Bride Library?

If you want to look at, say, the 1499 Cologne Chronicle, you can just walk in off the street and ask, and they’ll bring it out for you. I recently wanted, in connection with a job in hand, to look at the type specimen book of the eighteenth century Glasgow typefounder Andrew Wilson, and the librarian Nigel brought it out for me to look through as if it was nothing unusual – which at St Bride Library it isn’t. But when you stop and think about it, it’s amazing. Where else could you do that, and so easily? But it’s not just about the preservation of this heritage, the thousands of items in the archives. The Library is the focal point around which St Bride’s great programme of talks, events, exhibitions and conferences revolve, which provide inspiration, food for thought and a relaxed social setting in which to meet, for today’s designers, printers and movers and shakers, and I hope tomorrow’s too. But if the Library is not supported then one day the collection will be broken up and disappear into the hands of private collectors. And we’ll never get it back, or see its like in this country again.

Wise words indeed. You can support St Bride Library by becoming a friend right here.