Derek Birdsall obituary


The graphic designer, typographer and artwork director Derek Birdsall, who has died aged 89, was one of many career’s “outdated guard”, a survivor from the pre-digital age. His work, extremely regarded by his friends, reached a different public over greater than 5 many years. The “new lady” of the Sixties was provided trend with consciousness-raising articles within the month-to-month Nova, which Birdsall art-directed for a time; Macmillan-era never-had-it-so-good lecturers purchased the Penguin Training collection, attracted by the wit of his ingenious covers.

Within the half century that adopted, gallery goers and artwork historians had been grateful for the cautious ordering, elegant format and typographic detailing of just about 100 catalogues and artwork books that he designed, memorably for the exhibition of George Stubbs’s celebrated work of horses on the Tate Gallery in 1984, the blockbusting Treasure Homes of Britain for the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork in Washington the next 12 months, and Rembrandt and His Workshop for the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in 1991.

However his finest identified, most generally circulated design in Britain was Widespread Worship, the Church of England service guide, revealed in 2000.

Born in Knottingley, West Yorkshire, Derek was the son of Hilda (nee Smith) and Frederick Birdsall, a labourer. After leaving King’s faculty, Wakefield, he went to Wakefield School of Artwork, the place he already owned a small Adana press.

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Derek Birdsall’s look had one thing of the movie director John Huston – however with a roll-up rather than a cigar

A scholarship took him to the Central College of Arts and Crafts, London. There fashionable ideas of typography had been disseminated, largely by means of the printer-designer Anthony Froshaug, whose disciplined aesthetic bewitched a technology, and Birdsall gained a Nationwide Diploma in Design (1955).

Two years of nationwide service within the Ordnance Corps, drawing maps for its printing unit in Cyprus, offered a manner of extending his skilled schooling, and in 1959 he co-founded one of many first design teams, in Bloomsbury Place, a stone’s throw from the Central College.

BDMW was a partnership with George Daulby, George Mayhew and Peter Wildbur. All 4 supported their earnings by part-time educating: for Birdsall this was within the design division of the London College of Printing and Graphic Arts in Clerkenwell, now the London School of Communication, the place I first met him.

Dedicated to his work, Derek made it a behavior within the 50s to position a kind of completed design on the finish of the mattress, in order that it was the very first thing he noticed within the morning, to be judged with recent eyes.

European modernism – he had a big assortment of Swiss posters – and an curiosity in geometry and the historical past of kind design gave Derek a lot of his typographic fashion and experience; his inventiveness was fed by American examples of younger New York designers, earlier than these comparable to Bob Gill and Robert Brownjohn got here to work in London. His biggest admiration was for his pal, the veteran American designer Paul Rand.

Enjoying chess and poker sharpened his reasoning and focus. Lengthy pub lunches – a part of his day by day routine – developed his abilities in persuasion and anecdote. In 1964 he moved to workplaces in King Avenue, Covent Backyard, the place the full-size snooker desk took extra space than the work surfaces. The studio was the location of full of life events, bringing collectively designer colleagues, a number of purchasers and his many associates.

He introduced in Derek Forsyth, the promoting supervisor at Pirelli, and launched editorial and manufacturing consultants. The last decade gave Birdsall alternatives that suited his chief curiosity: discovering a exact graphic or typographic type for the content material. He was one in every of a number of artwork administrators within the 10-year lifetime of Nova, starting in 1965, and gave his studio the title Omnific.

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Pages from Widespread Worship, the Church of England’s service guide, designed by Derek Birdsall and revealed in 2000

His business design included publicity for Lotus vehicles and point-of-sale shows and a brand for Dorothy Grey cosmetics. American purchasers sought him out. For a number of years Birdsall was a advisor to IBM Europe, art-directed Mobil oil firm’s journal Pegasus and designed catalogues for exhibitions sponsored by the worldwide conglomerate United Applied sciences, whose pursuits ran from plane to industrial merchandise. He designed a prospectus for the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Structure summer season faculty in Italy, and taught on a course there.

He was additionally co-author of two books on chess, Fischer v Spassky Reykjavik 1972, revealed that 12 months, and A Ebook of Chess, from the next one, and designed and edited The Know-how of Man: A Visible Historical past (1979). In addition to covers for Penguin’s Training collection, he designed a big quantity on its fiction checklist. Within the late 80s, he returned to artwork directing for the Impartial journal (1989-93), adopted by designs for a brand new Sunday Telegraph journal (1995).

A speciality of Derek’s was the design of catalogues raisonnés – complete displays of works by a selected artist. Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas was a quantity that weighed 5 kilos. This was adopted by Georgia O’Keeffe (1,200 pages in two volumes, 1999); George Stubbs, constructing on the Tate catalogue, with textual content by Judy Egerton (2007); and Frank Auerbach, with textual content by William Feaver (2009). In these he took specific care to respect the relative dimension of authentic work and was keen on together with judiciously chosen full-size particulars.

Birdsall was beneficiant within the encouragement he gave to college students. When a former scholar got here to repay a mortgage, Derek refused the cash, suggesting that sooner or later it’d in flip be handed on to a equally hardup scholar.

At all times eager to share his expertise, Derek would usually gently pat your forearm with a conspiratorial intimacy, and start, “You recognize, and I do know, that …”

However in addition to in search of settlement on some piece of pre-digital typographer’s lore he was simply as more likely to confide the tackle of the one typewriter restore store in attain of his Islington studio-home.

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A Derek Birdsall cowl for the Impartial journal, 1989

He loved repeating purchasers’ feedback, such because the Bishop of Salisbury’s description of the color of the Prayer Ebook’s rubrics as Sarum Pink, a specification Derek adopted. In describing one typeface’s “scrumptious ampersand”, he was being passionate slightly than treasured.

At a Buckingham Palace reception he rebuked a Design Council official who had knowledgeable Queen Elizabeth II of the fiscal worth of the design business. “Your Majesty, design will not be an business,” he stated. Derek believed it to be a craft.

Critical and genial, he could possibly be flamboyant. With a big black fedora, his look had one thing of the movie director John Huston – however with a roll-up rather than a cigar.

His public lectures – down-to-earth revelations and tales {of professional} life – had been welcomed by college students. And though it led to a conversational brawl with the belligerent rector, Jocelyn Stevens, he loved his time as visiting professor on the Royal School of Artwork (1987-88).

Birdsall was made a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, appointed a Royal Designer for Trade (1982), and gained the gold medal of the New York Artwork Administrators Membership (1987) and the Prince Philip Designers prize (2005).

Notes on Ebook Design (2004), detailing his half century of expertise, spells out virtually every little thing he needed to train and illustrates his huge vary as a guide designer.

In 1954 he married Shirley Thompson. She and his daughter Elsa, each fellow employees in his studio, survive him, as do his sons, Christopher, Simon and Jesse, seven grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.


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