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.