Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Words on Walkabout

I am a word collector. As a writer by profession they are ‘the tools of my trade’ of course, but words are SO much more than that to me. It’s about the typography, the shapes and shadows, the forms. It’s about the colour – the same word written in red, blue or green suggests very different things; it’s about the location – a common word transported out of its usual context draws me up short - who put it there, why, what were they intending for me to take from it. And I love a quirky unexpected partnership of words. I get inspiration from them all.
I adore signs. They potentially contain a wealth of humour and an insight into a culture; and billboards for their ability to take words on a gargantuan journey. And then there are the old signs, the old typography – no longer fashionable yet still clinging to the timber and brick facades of the older parts of towns and cities. They tell another whole set of stories with their curly, worn letters – intimate tales of old-fashioned businesses like shoemakers, bookbinders, tailors: good gutsy trades that no longer hold the sway they once had (more’s the pity). The peeling paint, the fading letters, all suggestive of the inherent layers of time and history stacked up between the ‘ms’ and ‘es’ and ‘ys.’
All these things become graphic souvenirs for me. I take photographs, I note down words, phrases, unexpected couplings, I take rubbings, I admire, I gather, I hoard. I have books filled with words. I have handmade books dedicated to ‘word play’ – little typography collages that trigger something deep within my creative processes. Other books are dedicated to ‘words for short stories’, to the fiction-writing processes that for me, often require a very visual starting point and a sustained ‘visual gorging’ to bring an idea to life. That ‘visual research’ is absolutely intrinsic to my creative processes.
And since I’m giving away all my collecting/hoarding secrets, I may as well confess to also collecting old type. Wooden type blocks just DO something to me. I can’t go past them. One of the best birthday presents anyone ever gave me, was a little handmade box with a lid covered in Japanese paper machine-stitched with the letter A (for Adrienne) and inside the box? A collection of wooden A’s. (Thanks Marianne!). I have wooden type ‘prancing’ all around my house – over walls, on mantelpieces, on sideboards. I have old type cases that have been transformed into miniature display cases. And I have a whole set of old lead type – never quite as pretty – which sits quietly in my bedroom corner – chiefly because I can’t lift the box without all the letters spilling out. So there it sits, in the shadows under the old Singer sewing machine that acts as a bedside table, weaving its own silent stories.
Suffice to say, I am surrounded by words and the products they make, advertise and direct – books, signs, type, posters, bookmarks, product boxes, cards, photographs - you name, I’ve probably got it. It goes without saying that this makes for an unusual domestic interior but I’m happy with that. I may have written extensively about expensive contemporary design and architecture but I have no yearnings to live in a glitzy, soulless box that says nothing about its owners and everything about the architect who created it – dwellings where everything is perfect and nothing is out of place. I’m much happier with floor-to-ceiling visual stimuli, in a place of visual chaos in fact, where my eyes can spontaneously come to rest on a giant word roaming across the top of a door frame, or on a quirky shop sign that is so out of place in my kitchen as to be comical. For me, inspiration can come from anywhere; everything communicates; words sing!

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