Visit to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – May 2018

I am currently holidaying in Amsterdam and today’s activity was a trip to the Van Gogh museum. As you would expect it was quite breath-taking to see all those famous artworks up close. However, there was an exhibition running while we were there, called ‘Van Gogh and Japan’ which celebrated Van Gogh’s love of Japanese art, showcased his extensive collection of Japansese prints and demonstrated just how much Van Gogh’s work was influenced by this form of Japanese art. This was a real bonus for me because I really like Japanese prints and had no idea that Van Gogh’s work was so influenced by them.

The exhibition highlighted the key features of Japanese prints as being:

– Large areas of flat, bright colour

– Bold contour lines,

– Prominent diagonals,

– Subjects cut off the edges of the picture

– Emphasis between the foreground and background

– A high or absent horizon

– Zooming in on details in nature

– Paintings that stood out as being influenced by the Japanese style include:

Small Pear Tree in Blossom – 1888

Almond Blossom 1890

Irises, 1890

Other points of interest from the exhibition were:

Kono Bairei’s album of ‘Drawings of a Hundred Birds’ – a book of printed images of Japanese birds, as well as prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and Hokusai. Interestingly, there was a print of Hokusai’s great wave included in the exhibition. How funny it was that I was able to stand next to it, on my own without a crowd of people jostling me – unlike when I went to see the Hokusai exhibition in London!

There is further information about the exhibition on the Van Gogh Museum’s website, here:



A Visit to the Stedelijk Design Museum Amsterdam – May 2018

On holiday for a few days in Amsterdam, I paid a visit to the Stedelijk Museum. It’s not my first visit here and I always love it. This time was no different and I spent the entire afternoon poring over the exhibits.

A massive highlight for me this year was a new permenant installation at the museum – ‘The Collection Stedelijk Base’. This was a chronological history of art and design from 1880 to the present day.

The exhibition mixes iconic artworks from various art movements with elements of furniture, jewellery etc., showing, not only how styles of art evolved and were influenced by changing politics and culture, but also how art influenced design.

This exhibition resonated so much with me because of all the reading I had been doing around this subject in Part 4 of this course here:

..and in particular my reading of the book ‘Graphic Design A History’ by Stephen J. Eskilson.

Here was an exhibition with approximately 700 pieces of art of design, bringing to life everything I had been reading about. I was also impressed that the museum seemed to have made a real effort to include plenty of works by female artists and designers. It does irk me that iconic artworks from the past only ever seem to have created by men so well done to the Stedelijk for reminding us that women made art too – even in the 1900s!

Had my husband allowed it, I would have gone back to the museum for another day and done it all again. He likes art but not quite that much!

Highlights for me where:

Anna Boch

When I first saw this, I thought it was a Monet. I was very pleasantly surprised when I read the caption to see that it was a woman who had painted it, albeit one I had never heard of!

Jan Toorop – Delft Salad Oil Poster 1894

A beautiful example of the art nouveau style being used in an advertising poster.

Piet Zwart

Examples of how new ideas in design were being employed in typography in the 1920s and 1930s. These works were described as illustrating ‘a dynamic negotiation of geometric forms and starkly angled typography coupled with an unprecedented degree of white space’.

The Cobra Art Movement

Not mentioned in ‘Graphic Design A History’ by Stephen J. Eskilson, the Cobra movement of around 1949 was a style of art ‘rooted in antagonism towards intellectualism and the established order of process-orientated modern life’. The works are described as ‘reclaiming a childlike, expressive and essentially emotional gaze towards reality’ and ‘paintings full of bright colours, naïve figures and abstracted compositions, puncturing the purity of painting with fierce and passionate expression’.

The cobra artists initially were not very popular but went on to revolutionize Dutch modern art.

Willem Sandberg’s posters.

New Objective Portraits


Around 1923, between the two world wars, the ‘New Objectivity’ style was developed in Germany. Often featuring portraits, it was described as ‘an unsentimental, somewhat detached depiction of reality, characterized in painting stark graphic lines, an exacting near-mechanical technique and vivid colours.

In the Netherlands, artists of this style included Charley Troop, John Fernhout and Eva Besnyo.

I really, really like the somewhat illustrative style of these images!

A Whole Wall of Malevich Paintings!


Martha Rosler – Bowl of Fruit 1966 – 1972, Print 2010.

Another artist that I have learnt about through this course and consequently was very excited to see some of her original artwork.

The museum caption here states ‘Martha Rosler combines images of immaculate American homes with photographs of the Vietnam War to devastating, and polically critical effect in her photomontage series’ House Beautiful: Bring the War Home.’ Roseler also addresses power relationships between men and women by ‘splicing together pictures of naked women from Playboy magazine with photographs of ideal domesticity.

Grayson Perry – Gulf War Dinner Service 1991

I am a big fan of Greyson Perry, so was very happy to find some of his work in the museum.

Brilliant exhibition!

Artists – Emily Jane Bruce

A trip to the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham always leaves me feeling inspired and in awe of the beautiful, thought-provoking works that my fellow humans beings can create.

Today we saw the ‘Rising Stars 2018’ exhibition, an exhibition of  emerging makers from crafts and applied arts programmes across the UK.

One artist that stood out for me was Emily Jane Bruce and her captivating ceramic creatures. These strange little characters were both innocent and endearing to look at but also rather dark and disturbing. There was a sense of the Gothic fairy tale about them. I was fascinated and intrigued by them and felt a strange conflict of mild disgust but also pity for these strange, innocent creatures.

They certainly left an impression!

Part 5 – Research Point: Publishing House Design Styles

It took me a little while to understand what an ‘imprint’ is.. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“An imprint of a publisher is a trade name under which it publishes a work. A single publishing company may have multiple imprints, often using the different names as brands to market works to various demographic consumer segments.”

For example, the publishing house PanMacmillan encompasses the following imprints:

Imprints, particularly those that are smaller and more niche, typically have a particular style of book and cover design.

I collated a selection of book covers for various imprints on Pinterest:

For example Tor publishes science fiction and the book covers all have a very identifiable style, which to me looks a little old fashioned and  ‘cheesy’… you can almost hear how the opening sentence of a book like this reads.. “Z’lot sighed as he stood watching the double setting Zaloovian suns from his 358th floor skypartment..” or something like that. Interestingly, as I was researching these book covers I noticed in the news that a science fiction author whose book was published by Tor, had got into a spat with the Illustrator of his latest book after announcing on Social Media that he thought the cover of his book was ‘Laughably Bad’:

Two Hoots publish children’s books with quirky, modern children’s illustrations with a slightly rebellious feel – I love these! Compare these covers to Virago children’s books whose covers are quite traditional, romantic, innocent, more old-fashioned-looking and to me, rather twee. As a child I don’t think I would have been drawn to the covers of any of these books.

Bello publish young adult fiction and their covers are quite modern, striking simple and graphic.

I can’t quite put my finger on ‘Hodder’s’ cover style, except to say that it looks like what you might find in an airport. Easy holiday reading not requiring too much brain power.

Farenheit Press print crime novels and their covers are dark, broody, quite masculine, with images that are often quite indistinct, hinting at a scene or clue.

Part 4 – Research Point: Legibility

Collect as many newspapers, newsletters, magazines and brochures as you can. Start by going through them and dividing them into the ones that immediately look easy to read and those that don’t. Is this due to the typefaces used, the way the type is laid out – the number of words per line and the column width, or its alignment?

Work out from your examples what the designers have done to make things more legible and readable.

Examples of Printed Material Which is Difficult to Read

Craft & Design Fair Flier

There isn’t much text on this flier but I find the whole page quite difficult to make sense of.  I find the mix of colours quite jarring. The image styles are also incongruous, mixing an illustration with two photographs – these two styles do not work together and for one image I can’t tell what it is (a table top?).

The mix of colours of the fonts also doesn’t work for me. I am also questioning why just the words ‘Christmas Contemporary’ are in a serif font. The text on this flier is printed small and is cramped into the bottom of the page, with all points running one after the next. For me, the design of this flier is so chaotic and jumbled that I don’t have the energy to read the text.

Restaurant Menu

The front cover of this restaurant takeaway menu is too busy with too much information crammed onto it. There is some consistency with most of the text being in different weights of the same font but the different colours, font weights and sizes, images and decorative backgrounds all make the page look too busy. Information is broken up over a series of centre justified lines but I think  the lines of text are too close to each other. I find that my eyes wander over this page without actually taking anything in.

Veterinary Financial Information Page

This document provides a lot of quite technical information. Text is broken up with bold headings and bullet points, and the most important information is in red which makes it stand out. My main difficulty with this document is that the text is too small. This combined with the fact that the paragraphs are quite long just make this document feel like a chore to read. It doesn’t help that I know that financial information is already going to be a dry read.

Fortnum and Mason Christmas Flier

The main message on this flier is illegible!It is printed in reflective gold foil and the very cursive typeface used is printed directly over a really busy background illustration. Its a beautiful document but it would have been better without the ‘Together we’re merrier’ (or is that ‘terrier’?) printed on it.

Examples of Printed Material That is Easy to Read

Financial Marketing Brochure

There is a lot of text on this page, the subject matter is quite dry and the body text font size is very small but, despite that,  I do find this document quite legible. Even though there is a lot of text, it is broken up into short paragraphs with a generous line break between them. The information is broken up into sections with bold headings and the text is further broken up into three columns, so the lines of text are quite short. This all makes the text much less daunting to read. Only two typefaces are used and the colours on the page are a harmonious dark and light blue and shades of grey so that the graphics don’t distract.

Craft Fair Flier

The key informaton on this flier is printed in large font sizes and is centre justified. There are only two images on this page which are quite large but they are positioned symetrically which makes the design feel balanced. There are quite a few colours being used but they work well together and more importantly, there is a logic to their use. The two events on this flier are being differentiated by the use of colour with one in gold and one in purple. Because the colours are harmonious and the layout balanced, I am much more inclined to read the text.. I didn’t even notice the single use of the serif font at the top of the page!

Waitrose Magazine Article

Interestingly, I find it is the image here which is really contributing to the legibility of this article! I like the illustration and am intrigued by it which is making me want to invest the effort into reading the article.

There is quite a lot of small sized text on this page but text only fills the bottom third of the page. The text is split into short paragraphs, there is no line break between them but the first line of each paragraph is indented. The text is further split over two columns making it more manageable. Key pieces of information in the text are in bold.

The title of the article is printed in a large font and is easier to read, and serves as a good introduction to the text. The line drawing, white space and tiny hints of colour give this page a calm and balanced feel.


Based on my analysis of various documents, text on a page is more likely to be legible if:

Text does not require effort to read. It is not an issue if the text size is small  but breaking the text up into short paragraphs which are easily discernible and splitting larger blocks of body text across columns, so that the length of the line that the eye needs to scan is shorter, all help .

Images add to rather than distract from the text. I am more likely to invest the effort into reading text if I am not being distracted by confusing images with jarring colours. It also helps if the image placement on the page is balanced.

White space is used to allow text to ‘breathe’. Rather than cram text onto a page, text is more readable if it is broken up and de-cluttered with white space.

There is a logic or harmony to the use of typefaces and fonts. I was more comfortable reading documents where the use of fonts had a clear purpose, such as a sans serif font for headings and a serif font for body text. More chaotic or unstructured use of type was confusing and more challenging to read.

Text is not overlaid on a busy background. Text on plain backgrounds (with good contrast between the background and the text colours) was easier to read.

Part 4 – Research Point: Modernist Typography

The opening chapter of the book ‘Type & Typography’ by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam, includes the following statement:

“These theories form the basis of what is known as structuralism. The belief that meaning could be constructed by the transmitter of language was a natural extension of Saussure’s analysis. Through speech and writing, the architect of meaning was the author.

Saussure’s ideas, and those of his structuralist followers, influenced the development of modernism and have been embraced by practitioners of architecture, industrial design, graphic design and type design. What appealed to modernist thinkers was the belief that authors or designers could transmit fixed meanings through constructed forms.”

I didn’t understand a word of that, so I decided to use this as a basis for some research. I specifically wanted to find out:

  1. What is structuralism?
  2. What is modernism?
  3. How did structuralism influence modernism?
  4. How did modernism influence type design?

What is Structuralism?

Ferdinand de Saussure developed structural linguistic theory in the early 20th century. This theory put forward the idea of the ‘signifier’ – the sound or written letters that represent something, and the ‘signified’, the thing being represented. Meaning does not come simply from the ‘sign’ but in its relationship with other signs. Meaning is generated from the collective groupings of signs, i.e. it is the structure of language that conveys meaning.


the word branch on its own is ambiguous

‘Your local branch’ makes it clearer that we are not talking about a tree..

‘Your local branch of Sainbury’s’ – clearer still..

‘Your order will be delivered to your local branch of Sainsbury’s’ – now the meaning is clear.

Similarly, superfluous or unnecessary words will confuse or detract from the meaning.

‘Structuralism’ became the belief that meaning was constructed by the author, i.e. the graphic designer had control of the meaning of the message and could communicate a fixed meaning through a constructed form.

What is Modernism?

Modernism is a general and loosely applied term that encompasses various overlapping art movements from approximately 1905 to 1960. It broadly reflects two general art movement trends:

  • the abstract and non-geometrical style of expressionism, dadaism and surrealism
  • the more functional, geometrical styles of cubism, futurism, purism, suprematism, constructivism, de stijl and Bauhaus.

A Brief History of Moderism

1890 – 1905 Art Nouveau

Towards the end of the 19th Century, a number of artists and designers felt that Industrialisation had left the urban world without beauty. The Art Nouveau style emerged in response. Often used in relation with entertainment and the arts, the style was ornate and decorative. Modernist art movements emerged in response to this overly ornate style by simplifying their designs.

1905 – Sachplakat (Germany)

The move towards modernism began partly as a result of Art Nouveau simply starting to go out of fashion,  other industries wanting to use more deliberate design to communicate with their consumers and the impact of WW1.

In 1905, Lucian Bernhard developed a very simplified advertising poster design for matches that removed all non-essential elements and left simply the company name and the image of two matches. The focus was on the product and on the clarity of the message. This simplified style of communication became known as ‘Sachplakat’ (“Object Poster”).

Continuing this trend in 1914 and the outbreak of WW1, posters were designed to be simple with very clear messages.

1916 – Dada

The Dada movement was started in Switzerland by a group of artists that used art as a protest against the war. The Dada style was surreal and ridiculous and challenged how Europeans could claim to be rational and enlightened when so many of them were being slaughtered in the war.

1908 – 1912 – Cubism

Picasso and Braque work together to develop a new art style called cubism which reduced and abstracted a subject to a series of geometric ‘cubes’. Gradually the cubist influences made their way into graphic design with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire creating poems where the visual structure of the text was designed to complement the words.

Designers who incorporated the stylistic elements of cubism and other related art movements into their work were known as modernists because of the way they integrated modern art into their work. Initially, there was not much call for these new styles of working but one of the first outlets for modernist designers was the London Underground.

1909 – Futurism

A group of Italian poets, musicians and painters got together, called themselves ‘Futurists’ and called for Italian society to move any from its classical history. The Futurists were interested in influencing wider society and so developed experimental typography and graphic design.

1920 – Purism

Towards the end of WW1, the style of Purism emerged which aimed to harmonise the past and the future. Purism saw the emergence of the ‘machine aesthetic’ – a style that is influenced by the smooth, polished shapes of machines and an admiration for industrialised society.

1920 – Art Deco

Art Deco was a general term used for designs of geometric abstraction which played on the styles of cubism, futurism and purism into a fashionable style used for general consumer goods.

1917 – De Stijl

A Dutch art movement that brought together artists and architects to develop a style of reductive goemetric abstraction influenced by the concept of universal harmony and the machine aesthetic. The general belief was that limited elements could represent abstract ideas.

1915 – Supramatism (Russia)

In 1915, Kasimir Malevich developed a style of art which he called ‘Supramatism’  because it represented ‘the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art’. The style is a form of reductive geometric abstraction influenced by cubism and the machine aesthetic.

1921 – Constructivism (Russia)

Constructavism developed along side the growth of communism and featured a rejection of self-expression combined with a commitment to industrial materials. Works were created to serve a practical purpose and included practical goods such as propaganda posters. Graphic designers became more important. Photomontage became an important technique for constructavists.

This research needs to be completed

How did structuralism influence modernism?

How did modernism influence type design?


Research and Reflection – Photomontage

Some notes on Photomontage and prominent photomontage artists..

Photomontage was borne out of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1916. Dada was started in Zurich Switzerland where a small group of artists and activists had gathered during the first world war. They used their creativity to to protest against the war, using irony, satire and improvisation to shock the public into recognising the contradictions of ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ Europeans slaughtering each other in war. Dada art typically shows contempt for the established order and is often called ‘anti-art’.

Berlin dadaists were more politically orientated and had revolutionary social change in Germany as one of their main goals. John Heartfield (originally called Helmut Herzfelde) created one of the first photomontages for the cover of catalog for the ‘First International Dada Fair’. Photomontage was subsequently used a lot by Dada artists.

Photomontage was also used a lot by Russian Constructivists. The Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate in 1917 due to failures during the first world war. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, took control in late 1917. Russian civil war followed from 1918 – 1920, between the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) and allied governments supported Whites. The Whites ultimately failed and the Bolsheviks established a communist state (maintained through the suppression of dissent by violence and intimidation).

The Bolsheviks used propoganda posters to ‘sell’ communism to the people. New artistic styles were required for the new utopian society. Constructivism built on the previous abstract style of Suprematism. (Suprematism was devised around 1915 by Kasimir Malevich and used blocks of colour a ‘non-objective’ style of baring no representational relationship to the natural world. The term suprematism relates to “supremacy of pure feeling in creative art”).

The Constructavist style tied art to the industrial world, rejected self-expression and therefore fitted well with revolutionary propaganda. Graphic designers became artistic leaders.

Constructavists such as Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko produced propaganda posters, designs for workers clothes and designs for government buildings.

In Russia, photography was revered because of its ability to produce depersonalized images which married well with communist collective ideals. Photomontage was therefore a natural tool for the Constructavist artists.


John Heartfield

One of the Berlin Dadaists but best known for his later political art photomontages created from 1930 to 1938 exposing facism and the Third Reich.



Hannah Hoch

Hannah Hoch was another Berlin Dadaists who used Photomontage. Höch explored the concepts of gender and the ‘New Woman’ in Germany society, presenting complex discussions around gender and identity.

Hannah Höch. German, 1889-1978
Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands). 1919-1920
Photomontage and collage with watercolor, 44 7/8 x 35 7/16” (114 x 90 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2006 Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin,
© 2006 Hannah Höch / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: Jörg P. Anders, Berlin

Marlene (1920)

Alexander Rodchenko

A Russian Constructivist of the 1920s who used photomontage.

An advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House sometimes titled “Books”, which features a young woman with a cupped hand shouting “книги по всем отраслям знания” (Books in all branches of knowledge), printed in modernist typography.

Varvara Stepanova

A Russian Constructavist.

On the lower left of her poster, under the phrase “through red glasses” (i.e. the world as seen by Bolsheviks), she drew three figures dressed in her prozodezhda (workers) costumes. The gender of the central, female figure is discernible only by the rounded line of her jaw and the slight fullness of her short hair. Their four anti-revolutionary white counterparts appear on the right side, dressed in upper-class clothes. Here the lone woman is strongly differentiated from the men, with round breasts, a tiny waist and wide hips. The female icon of those who see through red glasses is a productive worker no longer confined by conventional signs of femininity.

Later photomontage was adopted by surrealists who brought together disparate images to reflect the workings of the subconcious mind.


Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Annagret Soltau

– Mutter/Tochter – mit Großmutter und Urgroßmutter

“In these pictures I unite four generations of the female line of my family, who represent a female chain. I began with my daughter and ended with her great-grandmother. As a contrast to the patriarchal system of inheritance, I wanted to show the matrilineal connection and the interaction between the generations: the young girl already has the old body, and the old woman still has the young body inside her. The aim is to ensure that this painful process remains visible.”