UCLan graphic designer creates 60 characters using only letter type shared through the musings of his alter ego
When University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) graphic design lecturer Andy Bainbridge creatively mixed up letters and numbers and turned them into drawings as a way to entertain his kids, he didn’t anticipate it would lead him to writing a book and inventing an alter ego – long forgotten relative, great-great-grandfather Reverend Jackson Whitehead.
Andy’s musings have now been turned into a book, Typographic Specimens: A Natural History of Letterforms. Showing 60 illustrated animals created using only letters, numbers and punctuation marks, from the fictional dingbat to the disgruntled bird of paradise, they are all credited to the 19th century explorer who supposedly illustrated the characters while sailing on HMS Pica in 1831 as the ship’s resident chaplain.
Graphic designer Andy, who has worked at the University for the last 18 years, said: “I liked the idea of having a pen name and the idea grew from there. I did in fact have a Victorian relative by the name of Jackson Whitehead and some of the artefacts associated with him and his epic journey are also from my Cumbrian family home so it is a true blend of fact and fiction."
I did in fact have a Victorian relative by the name of Jackson Whitehead and some of the artefacts associated with him and his epic journey are also from my Cumbrian family home so it is a true blend of fact and fiction.
“The idea behind Reverend Jackson’s story is that he served as the chaplain aboard the sister ship to HMS Beagle, which Charles Darwin famously sailed with. As Reverend Jackson realises that most of the ship’s crew are atheists and his spiritual guidance isn’t needed, he instead busies himself by creating a whole series of characters made up solely of letter type. It’s been really great fun coming up with his back story and we even launched the book with an exhibition showcasing the work and life of the Reverend.”
Artefacts ‘recovered’ from Jackon’s fictional Jacobean Manor house include medicines, maps, scissors, hymn books and board games.
“They are items that my mother has saved from long-lost relatives so it’s fantastic to re-use them to share this story” said Andy. “I even borrowed Victorian clothing to dress up as Jackson for the book’s photography so he certainly became my alter ego. This back story has now got a life of it’s own and I am working on the story of his voyage for perhaps another volume?”
In addition to the detailed images of various typefaces and weights, Andy has also included in the book exerts from Reverend Jackson’s fictitious journal and each creature’s typographic makeup, detailing what letters, numbers and punctuation marks have been included to create each one. Some, like the bee, simply uses the letter ‘b’ and nothing else, while others, such as the mythical lesser-spotted startle, uses many letter forms.
Typography is a passion of mine as it’s very versatile and involves quite a lot of creative thinking to get the composition right. I probably used up to 700 letterforms.
Andy added: “Typography is a passion of mine as it’s very versatile and involves quite a lot of creative thinking to get the composition right. I probably used up to 700 letterforms. I photocopied them from old books, created master style sheets and then began to create the animals.
“Most were done at Fulwood or West View leisure Centres; as I waited for my son during his swim training I was sat creating the menagerie. All of this essentially came through play and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”
Typographic Specimens: A Natural History of Letterforms is now available online and through Waterstones and Ammonite press.
View images from the book and Andy’s exhibition on Reverend Jackson on the UCLan Flickr gallery.