Real Art : Special Collections

Sometimes you just come across something and find it completely inspirational. The power of the a real object is irreplaceable even by all the advantages of the internet functions and accessibility to information. This is about provoking feelings. In the same way ‘print isn’t dead’,  to actually see close up, feel and hold original artwork is, as I found last Friday, really is something else.

Visiting the MMU special collection I felt incredibly lucky to be able to delve into some of the original pieces, rough sketches, and more structured diaries and sketchbooks of Barnett Freedman and to start with Paul Hogarth.

Seeing how very loose sketches from all corners of the world were transformed into fine illustrations for Graham Green, along with detailed diary entries recording the tiniest details was incredibly insightful. Having started to look at Modernism and working our way forwards, I found it interesting to see more up to date work, and probably significantly work from my lifetime.

I loved seeing the stepwise development of the idea – The ‘Its a Battlefield’ cover illustration I saw develop through sketchbook entries and rough notes transformed to a rough sketch, layout and then the final piece, actually there, in front of me.

1971 Penguin Books It's a Battlefield by Graham Greene

His architectural drawings and the detail involved was great to see – seeing the workings out along with the final stamps, but particularly liked the Alexandra Palace item. It got me thinking how we rely heavily on the internet for defence images currently, whereas the photography that he would have relied on was more time-consuming, expensive, and unpredictable (bearing in mind mis takes (i.e. double/ over/ under/ exposures) processing fees, times and film costs ) but maybe more honest? I didn’t have time to look through his source photograph collection.


Looking at Barnett Freedman – examples of earlier work with book covers, advertising and underground posters. From a printmaking perspective it was lovely to see the detailed makings on the posters made with lithography, as well as the overall effect. Some of the detail on the post office items was lovely to see close up, including the delicately handwritten signature in his own hand.

Equally I particularly amazed by the detail on Barnett Freedman’s Post office signs, and McDonalds Biscuits packaging.


You could see and feel each letter that had been cut out and stuck down, carefully arranged and minor alterations made. Knowing that designer has spent time carefully arranging this, pre- computer piece. I wondered how he might have taken any criticisms and how he responded to this – were some of the boards later revisions?

I am a great fan of typography  so loved seeing the book covers where Freedman relies heavily on the text and composition – as well as the advertising signs – his individual letter design, shapes and the variations he tried to decide on the final piece was insightful.

edwrard lear

Taking it back to the design process that we cycle around today – made me think even with all the advances – were not all that different, now, and it reinforces how important the process of design is – we probably apply it a lot without thinking but I see now its always worth referring back to for a little reminder.




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