Letterspace project
First explorations
When I was allocated the letter U, I will admit to being a bit stumped. I couldn't really think of many words beginning with U - and certainly not many places.
The first proper idea I had came during the lecture. During my found alphabet project I'd found a new love for looking at architecture in different ways. I was especially enamoured with the stained glass I'd come across in the John Rylands Library.
I thought about the ways I could make this work on the page - perhaps a gold colour for the frames, and then transparent or grey or blue for the panes? However I think this would be difficult to square with the "two colours" requirement of the brief, as stained glass is usually known for its huge range of colours depicting various scenes. Furthermore, I don't have any particular personal connection to or link with stained glass; I'm not religious, I don't go to church, there isn't really a good story behind my choice of letter.
In the lecture, I had a quick glimpse of the U produced for the Letterspace project. I thought it looked very interesting.
U from the Letterspace Project

by Lawrence Alcock
Alcock is a former MSoA student who based his design for the Letterspace project on Whitworth Park.
Out of all the Letterspace submissions, this is perhaps one of the simplest but also one of my favourites. It's definitely one of the most intriguing and interesting designs.
The story behind it is the ironwork on the fences of Whitworth Park, and the archway which forms the shape of the U. Regrettably, this has had to be upside down in this letter for obvious practical reasons.
The colours are nice, with the cream background and the different thicknesses of black print over the top. It reminds me of old architectural drawings and plans, which links to the theme quite well.
In the studio session afterwards, we went through a few other letters and I drew out some ideas I had for those. And whilst those are obviously not applicable for my U, they encouraged me to think a bit less literally and to broaden my horizons.
I also drew out a few more Us. I thought about the basic constructions of the letter - a circular bottom, extended in one direction by a rectangle. I thought of this idea, which looks a bit like a venn diagram.
Architectural Alphabet

by Johann David Steingruber
Steingruber was an architect and illustrator in 18th century Germany.
In the series Architectural Alphabet, he created imaginary palaces where the floorplans made letters of the alphabet. He then accompanied these with impressions of how a palace with such a layout could look. They are delightful in how they protray some of the eccentricities of the way we write letters.
There is an element of humour to the drawings; buildings would not naturally take the shapes of the letterforms he has drawn, therefore some of the palaces he has drawn have their own little quirks.
I think the idea is very advanced for its time, it has a playfulness that I'm not sure would've been expected at that time. My favourite letterform has to be the N, which is such a beautiful and unconventional shape and yet makes an elegant palace.
I was struggling for ideas. I thought about more ways to draw a U, with serifs pointing different ways. But none of these really made a good letterform, and lacked any sort of story or personal connection.
Blackdora Typographic Kit

by Minhua Huang
Huang has taken three typefaces of differing styles and distilled them down to the basic parts that make up each letter. She has then produced physical pieces that fit together to allow people to make new letterforms using bits of other fonts.
I think it's a great idea. It looks like something I'd love to have a play about with. The playfulness is inherent in the design; encouraging the mixing of different sorts of fonts to create new letters.
It is an educational item as well: Huang produced it as part of a MA degree, and it helps to teach people about the history of typography through the three fonts it blends - Blackletter, Bodoni, and Futura.
I love the physicality, the tangibility of it. We see typefaces everywhere, on screens, in print. Huang's work helps to explore how the letters we recognise are made up of different pieces that can be combined in new ways.
In my tutor group, we had a discussion about what other ideas I could have. Their suggestions included: underwater, understanding, underground, and umbrella. I also thought about just presenting a mirror as my final piece, and saying that it represents "you". I sketched out a few of these, seeing where I could take them.
They were all OK ideas, but none of them really had any sort of special meaning or personal connection to me.
90° Typography Book

by Iwona Przybyla
Przybyla has threaded cotton through pages of a book to create a unique typographical experiment. Each letter is contained between two perpendicular pages; opening and closing them reveals the letter from different angles.
I really like it, what a brilliant idea. I'm in awe of how much planning and experimentation needed to be done, trying to get all the angles right so that it would look good at different stages. It's almost like an optical illusion, different ways of seeing the same threads as differing forms depending on the way you look at it and how far the pages are open.
The letters themselves are very nice, the technical constraints of needing certain angles and verticals means that the font looks almost Blackletter in places, which is a very nice effect.
The colour scheme is great too, using the two colours of thread makes it look like a ribbon has been twisted and two sides are showing, in light and in shade.
I then thought more about the letter U, and what it can refer to. I thought about the phrase 'u-turn'; it's usually seen as a bad thing, an admission of failure. In politics, it's the phrase used when a politician realises a policy is unpopular and backtracks. On a road, a u-turn is recognising that the direction you were heading in was the wrong one.
This metaphor characterises such a movement as a negative one - I'm not sure I entirely agree. There are two parts to every u-turn: the beginning, and the ending. But the ending is where it remains afterwards, going off in the other direction. Accepting failure, yes. But turning round and making it right again - that's more important, I believe.
I considered some of the U-turns I have been on in life. Perhaps the biggest is coming to university; a School of Art no less. But I'm not the sort of person who's always liked 'art', not at school, not particularly much out of school either.
Story time
I used to hate 'art'. That might be a bit of a shock, a student on a graphic design course admitting they're not artistic in the slightest. But it's true.
* * *
One of the first lessons I had at secondary school was Art. Me, a nervous eleven year old, uniform all crumpled from the rush to get to the next class after an utterly terrifying PE lesson (I don't have much time for sport, either, to be honest). My teacher, terror in a blue jumper, wanting to take out his rage on whomever had the misfortune to be in his next class. "Sit in silence", he said. "And copy this", pointing to one of Van Gogh's vase paintings he'd put up on the overhead projector.
For the purposes of this, I'll refer to him as Mr Brown. I'll leave you to decide whether that's a pseudonym or not.
It completely bewilders me how someone with such an apparent hatred for children could get a job as a teacher. An art teacher, no less - a subject that's all about inspiration and creativity. He managed to take all the fun out of it.
There were a few incidents where he ripped up the work of the pupils who'd made a mistake, and made them do it again. It's difficult to do a good painting when you've only got half an hour, the rest of the lesson being devoted to tidying and washing up. Twice, usually, at Mr Brown's insistence.
I was a hopeless painter. Still am. A lot of that is down to my dyspraxia; my co-ordination's terrible, and my hands are anything but steady. I tried to tell him this, see if he'd let me use the thicker paintbrushes that I could get a better grip on. Only after getting my form tutor involved did he finally relent, begrudgingly. I recently found a doctor's letter from around this time, referring to the "usual issues" that kids in my predicament had with teachers who refused to understand.
* * *
I didn't always hate art. At primary school I always liked cutting and sticking and drawing activities. I liked to draw floorplans and little sketches of buildings. The stuff I made was never neat, but I enjoyed it.
* * *
It was in the hours after school that I still "made stuff". On the computer mostly. I was lucky that, from the age of about 5, my parents accepted that I wasn't going to spend hours playing football with the other boys out on the street, and so they just left me on the computer, messing about with Microsoft Office.
I suppose it was me discovering PowerPoint that brought a love of graphic design, and to where I am today. Specifically, the templates included in PowerPoint:
I never really considered there to be much of a link between all the stuff I did on the computer, and "art" lessons at school. I'd not come across "graphic design" as a thing before, even though I realise now I was intensely interested in it.
* * *
This brings me on to the topic for my piece. My own 'u-turn', from having such a bad experience of art in that year 7 classroom, to now doing a degree in the thing.
A u-turn isn't necessarily negative. In fact, I think this experience proves that it can be an entirely rewarding experience.
My idea
The very first iteration of my idea was this simple thing. Very literal.
But then I tried to think about ways to express the story underlying my piece - how to show the 'u-turn' in a clear graphical manner.
There are two parts to every u-turn: the direction you were travelling initially, and the direction you turn towards. For my project, it makes sense to express these as a sort of classical/digital pairing, showing the transition I've been on with my attitude to art, realising that making stuff on the computer is equally as valid an expression of creativity as painting an old master.
I feel like the obvious way to express this is a transition between a painted stroke and a crisp, clean line.
I made a decision that the terminus of the line should have an arrow - showing the continuation of my journey.
In the studio session a few days later, I shared my ideas with Katie, who suggested I lose the arrow - the story is strong enough to show through without needing the figure to be too literal. I have to say I agree.
Developing my idea
To be true to the process, a true u-turn between paint and digital, I wanted to use physical paint. So I did.
I really enjoyed it actually. Being able to paint, for once without having Mr Brown towering over me and saying "that's not good enough".
The People's Bench

by Anonymous (Felix Ng, Germaine Hong, Chloe Seet)
The People's Bench is a typographical installation based on the Chinese character 人, which means 'people'. It is designed to be sat on, rather than just being for show.
I like the thematic link between the character ('people') and the sense of community spirit exhibited by providing a bench for people to use.
It has made me appreciate that typography doesn't necessarily have to be in print or digital or even 2D. It's out there in the world, somwehere where people can "reflect on their thoughts".
The design is said to be "inspired by Confucianism", and was a challenge to create as wood is difficult to bend into such tight curves. The wooden finish contrasts well with the location; the incongruence means that it is easier to perceive as a letter as well as just being a sun lounger.
I scanned them into the computer and had a play about with them, converting them to greyscale to allow me to properly compare and decide which is the best to go with.
Using Illustrator, I used the Image Trace function to vectorise one of the swooshes.
I made a rough drawing with the Pen tool of how I'd like to take it.
I decided to look again at all the paint strokes I'd scanned, and decided to pick a different one for my final piece.
I again used the Image Trace function here, but experimented with the settings a bit to try and get a different effect.
I went with the fourth option, which I felt looked the best and would also be the simplest to work with.
I then started hacking away at the swoosh, adding a second half to the design and removing bits. I got rid of the beginning bit, to make the stroke look rougher, as if it had been done in more of a rush and with a bit less effort. I don't want it to look too perfect.
Making my final piece
I have finished the shape of the U that I'm designing.
But the difficult bit of this project has always been the right hand half of the U. I don't want to leave it blank, so I've made a few variations.
I'm glad to have been able to make a range of ideas and explore a lot of the different thoughts I had. I produced an animation of the different variations.
I printed the Composite variation and stuck it to the wall for the pin-up crit, alongside a little card telling the story of my design.