Gill Sans Shadows & Colours

Of course the recent Very British Types event was founded in part on last years’ series of public talks called Fonts@The Font, in which I asked the question ‘how does one do British typography?

wot is Brit typo

(with apologies to those expecting to actually read the Greek or Cyrillic). This of course was about typesetting with Gill Sans and detailed a couple of er, industrial techniques gained from my time in the publishing industry.

One of the things Mark Ovenden remarked on was the apparently recent expansion of the Gill Sans family in Gill Sans Nova to include the display variations, Gill Sans Titling, Shadow, Extra Bold Condensed etc ; but the shadow variants for GS have been with us all along – they existed in metal and were digitised in the ‘80s rush to convert the Monotype library to postscript type 1 format. So not all that nova at all really…
However, the fact that the shadow face can be converted to paths and its components coloured or tinted independently was something I had used last year for a local client.

In a splendid example of synchronicity, Mark subsequently hinted that there would be a requirement for some display typesetting featuring the variations of Gill Sans in a national context, and I decided to experiment further with that shadow style, beyond flat colours;

Britain tricolourSo far, so tricolour – a clash between the high street and the fairground, both jolly and deadly serious – and ‘very Sir Peter Blake’ if I say so myself.
But this kind of visual jingoism is something that troubles me very much, because it’s rooted in nostalgia. Post-brexit, the British visual identity (whatever that is or may be), appears all too likely to succumb to such simple, crowd-pleasing tricks. Maybe that’s its appeal?

Johnston & Gill: Very British Types

We had a wonderful time with Mark Ovenden at Leicester Print Workshop on Tuesday evening. Despite the rain it was well-attended and Mark gave a highly-detailed talk about the genesis and evolution of both Johnston and Gill Sans.

In fact, Mark packed more than a century’s worth of seminal British typo-history into a hundred minutes of illustrated exposition without skipping a beat!

Mark’s book Johnston & Gill: Very British Types is well-researched (including the article at typotheque), and amply illustrated, but there was a wealth of material in the talk that I hadn’t noticed in the book.

The audience graciously gave their consent to be filmed for the event, and were rewarded with book signings, goody bags and limited edition posters. As photographer David Weight remarked, these were good subjects in an ideal setting – everyone was great to work with.

Big thanks to Serena, Lucy, Katharine, Grace, Theo, Peter, Sarah and everone at LPW. Our thanks also to Tony, Kezia, and the DMU Cultural EXchanges Festival organisation.

The question I wanted to ask the audience (but didn’t) is a simple one and it’s this;
if Cultural EXchanges is a festival of ideas, and the original idea for both Johnston and Gill Sans was a relentless and optimistic British modernism, what is the prevalent idea in contemporary (post-brexit) British visual culture?

If you missed out on this event and want to see more of the same, drop us a line and watch this space…



The other thing that made me happy was the response to our limited edition Very British Types A2 poster, which looks like this;