Making Things

24.11.2014

People often ask what it is we do, and I struggle to give a coherent answer. If I think about the question in another way – ‘What do you spend your time doing?”- it becomes a lot easier. A fair bit of our time is spent doing the same stuff that everybody does at work. Emailing. Going to meetings. Coming back from meetings. Procrastinating. Staring mindlessly into the internet. But, a decent bit of our time here is still spent making things.

And the thing about making things is, it takes a LONG time.

Take this email we received from The Ministry of Stories, Nick Hornby’s children’s writing charity: “We would like to make a notebook to be given to delegates at a creative writing conference called The Story. The notebook will contain advice on how to write well from the experts at the Ministry of Stories.” The experts were a group of young children, who had provided a sheet of thoughtful answers to questions like “When a story is difficult to write, what are the best things you can do to make it easier?”.

So far, so simple. Design a notebook. Should take about a day… So we did that, and it was awful. It had none of the energy of the children’s contributions, none of the anarchy or disruption. It was charmless and boring. The first dummy with the loose quotes stuffed in it was far more interesting.

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So we decided to replicate it. But once you add eight different colours and seven die cuts to a simple notebook, it isn’t that simple any more.

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Or these recent titles for the film of James Blake’s Hollywood Forever show. Another simple idea, with bars appearing like musical notation, (or beats in Logic) and rotating into letterforms to make each title. We produced a digital animation in about two days. But it didn’t look right. So we did a test using stop frame animation, much preferred it, and before you know it this happens:

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over seven hundred hand drawn letters..

Even what appear to be simple tabletop captions for a Quentin Blake exhibition took hours of drawing, cutting, photographing etc. before we could send them off to be manufactured.

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But for sheer Sisyphean madness, nothing will beat Tulipmania – Creating a huge eye of Sauron for an exhibition about the 17th century Dutch tulip bubble.

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As I wrote at the time: “Our attempt to explore this hysteria and obsession, (by creating a giant, floating, manic, red eye using three thousand tulip petals) achieved its aim before even leaving the studio. Making it drove everybody mad.”

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Which didn’t stop us using the same technique again a few months later, making some unsolicited X’s for the XX (We wanted to do a typographic test and an x is a nice shape – it’s relatively easy to cut and the sharp angles are a good contrast to the organic patterns in the flowers). Another two thousand petals later we ended up here:

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When they were done, I took them along to show Caius, who manages the XX and is a friend of mine. They are four pretty unwieldy and very fragile bits of glass.  “These are nice, Lex. Err, what are they for?”

I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t. All I do know, is that if anyone out there has the perfect project for this agonising technique, please, don’t call.

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