Wednesday 27 July 2011

R.I.P Alex Steinweiss

Alex Steinweiss, Columbia Records

Despite the fact that I trawl design blogs daily, I seem to have missed the announcement that Alex Steinweiss died earlier this month.

Steinweiss has been dubbed by many as the originator of Album Art. This seems to do him some disservice in my mind. He didn't just come up with the concept of putting images on plain cardboard record sleeves, he produced some very beautiful images that were effectively evocative of the recordings they accompanied. In doing so he spawned an art form in its own right. We can never truly know whether there would have been no Saville, Garrett, Hipgnosis, Bubbles, Oliver et al without Steinweiss, although I think the majority of graphic designers (and music fans) can agree that we owe the man a great debt.

I've mentioned in posts here before that if it wasn't for record sleeves I wouldn't have become a graphic designer. One of the first pieces of artwork I did that I can call 'graphic design' was a mock sleeve for a Clash song in an art O' level class. Then, before doing a degree, what kept my visual creativity going while working in the print trade and through bouts of unemployment was doing artwork for bands I was involved in—cassette sleeves, record sleeves and gig posters became a hobby that I enjoyed more than actually being in a band. I was able to produce something that was tangible, and that had a direct applied link to another form of creativity. This gave me a bigger buzz than standing on a stage shouting at people. Many others have said similar things and I've lost count of the number of interviews I've read with graphic designers who cite record sleeves as their primary inspiration for deciding to pick up a pencil or mouse.

So it is with great sadness to hear the passing of Alex Steinweiss. Not because we won't see anymore of his work, he'd done with the record industry sometime in the 1950s, citing that his imagery didn't work for Rock 'n' Roll. We should mourn his passing because he was an innovator, because he bought us many fantastic record sleeves, and because his influence lives on through others.

Alex Steinweiss website
Interview with Alex Steinweiss, Eye Magazine
NYT obituary

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Printing for all

I haven't been to the Museum of East Anglian Life for a few years so it was a joy to see that they are slowly but surely making lots of improvements for visitors when I was there this weekend. They are even running printing workshops, brilliantly titled Printing For All, in their mock up of an old print shop. This holds several small letterpress machines and a lovely Columbian Press, as seen on the flyer above.

I also found this book in the replica corrugated iron school/chapel. I was immediately taken with the endpapers.

Museum of East Anglian Life Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Atrium studios

Atrium Studios is a new art and design space based at University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich. Although the initial idea was to give graduates from the School of Arts & Humanities a stepping stone into the professional world at an affordable rent, the concept of a creative hub has grown far beyond these early plans and will now also be open to local artists and designers. For a monthly rent, residents will have the choice of desk, office or studio space for a maximum of 12 months with options to extend beyond this if demand allows. Rent is inclusive of Wifi, electricity, access to the UCS library, cafes and arts facilities, with the additional bonuses of UCS Waterfront Gallery membership and priority booking to the Arts & Humanities visiting lecture series.

Although similar ventures have been planned in Ipswich previously, none have seen the light of day. With support from the Arts Council, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council, Atrium Studios is due to open its doors to the first wave of creatives this September.

If you are an artist, designer or writer and would like more information, please send your details to:
Carol Gant, University Campus Suffolk, Waterfront Building, Ipswich, IP4 1QJ

Saturday 16 July 2011


July means the Tour de France in the Dubdog household. Every evening between 7 and 8pm you'll find Claire and I tuned to ITV4's excellent coverage. Or rather you won't, because we won't answer the door or the phone.

Skoda have been sponsoring the Tour for many years now, and this year they've been running a great advert during the coverage. Like much of Skoda's advertising in the last 10 years it is witty, but at the same time cleverly suggests that their vehicles are as tough as the riders taking part in what has to be the hardest sporting event in the world.

The Tour on ITV4

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Rolling news

Much as it maybe painful to look at pictures of Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, there is something strangely comical about seeing their decapitated heads roll around the screen on this Guardian Twitter gauge. Press play on the timeline and image circles bob about, grow, shrink and crash into each other depending on the amount of tweets sent with the #notw hashtag since last week.

It is a great piece of info graphics. Take a look here. Sorry Apple mobile device users, Flash required.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

General non-specific advice

I visited an abandoned church in Ipswich today to see if it might be suitable as a location for a student project. I was taken with this general non-specific advice.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Hacks hacking hacked

The recent and still unfolding events at the News Of The World have bought back memories from 25 years ago as I stood on a picket line in Wapping in support of striking printers and journalists.

The dispute was staged as a protest against Rupert Murdoch moving News International from Fleet Street to a fortified industrial plant at Wapping, along with the introduction of new technologies, working patterns and no-strike clauses. As a printer at the time, I felt it important to show my support.

Despite having lived in Nottinghamshire during the 1984-85 miners strike and attending many demonstrations in solidarity with their cause, Wapping was the first time I saw indiscriminate and heavy handed police tactics. On a nightly basis they ensured The Sun, News Of The World, The Times and Sunday Times left News International on time. In the name of Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher, they were brutal. I can assure you that printers' blood runs red. The irony that the Metropolitan Police are involved in this current scandal isn't lost on me.

Murdoch had good reason to fear his workers. During the '84 miners strike, the unionised workforce refused to print a front page of The Sun where by a casual photograph of the NUM president, Arthur Scargil, was made to look like he was Sieg Heiling. The paper had to run without the offending headline and photo, and instead displayed a statement that introduced the public to the historic vocabulary of print unions, (union branches are called chapels and shop stewards either Father or Mother of the Chapel).

Left: The offending article, right: as it appeared on the news stands. Image courtesy of:

These sort of insidious tactics to discredit political opponents were common place in the pages of The Sun and the News Of The World in the 1980s, and not much has changed in 25 years. Their influence doesn't stop their though, I've always believed that these papers editorial stance influences the public mindset; you only have listen to a pub conversation to realise how the national debate on immigration aligns so closely to that of a right wing press. Successive governments and power hungry opposition parties realise this, which is why they desperately rewrite policies in an effort to keep in touch with a tabliod version of public opinion. No wonder there is so little explicit and intelectual ideology in politics in 2011.

It doesn't stop there either. It is impossible to discuss these papers without mentioning the duplicitous attitude to sex, as scandels appear next to page three 'beauties', and pedophiles are shamed next to half-naked women dressed in school uniforms. Mixed values emerge, and ones that have bought attacks on innocent people after a pedophile naming and shaming exercise by the News Of The World under Rebekah Brooks', (nee Wade), editorial control. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I have ever been able to find that is redeeming about these publications.

Billy Bragg's take on the tabloids

As I remember back to standing on the picket line at Wapping, I could be forgiven for thinking that there is some sort of moral victory in the News Of The World being axed. However, I know this is just game play and while The Sun still stays in circulation, I can not toast the demise of this single despicable cog in a wider power machine that is Rupert Murdoch's empire.