Today is the 83rd birthday of one of my design heroes.
If you’re a designer reading this post, the chances are you already know about David Gentleman. If his name isn’t immediately familiar, it is very likely you will have come into contact with his masterful work at some time. Although known primarily as an illustrator of books and stamps, David has also produced fine work as a graphic designer.
With exceptional skill across many disciplines, his work celebrates the value of craft in design. He expresses the need to spend time sketching, experimenting and drawing out the details to get to the essence of what something is about.
His enviable portfolio has been published across several books, including a favourite of mine, Artwork. In this book he speaks about the term ‘artwork’ and how it describes the unity of work and art and how they combine to define a service. By removing the pretensions often associated with the creative arts, the word communicates something done for a client – a job. A message especially pertinent today, considering the Government’s recently proposed (and subsequently abandoned) Ebacc exams.
British Steel Logo
The logo for British Steel was created by David in 1969 is deservedly regarded as one of the finest corporate marks ever produced. Due to a powerful combination of immediate distinction and timeless simplicity, it is one of those rare examples of a logo that would never date or fall out of style.
Read more about the identity design in in this great article by Eye Magazine, where David talks in detail about the project.
David has also created many other brand identities for companies and institutions such as the beautiful symbol for the Bodleian Library. A simplification of a sixteen century pencil drawing, he created the symbol in 1982 and it is still being used today, albeit with some minor adaptions added by David in 2002. Here is the design along with some of his other logo and graphic design work.
Charing Cross Mural
This wonderful mural was made from blown up woodblock prints for the London Underground in 1978.
It must have looked spectacular running along the tube. I’m delighted to have been corrected that the mural is still there.
Using the power of design as a force for good has been something of undoubted importance to David Gentleman. Creating images of dissent against injustice by governments and corporations, such as his 1987 book A Special Relationship, his work for Greenpeace’s campaign against Esso and the Stop the War Coalition. Risking his professional status in this way must have taken a great deal of courage, something many a designer of similar prominence might have avoided as a threat to future commissions.
Books and Stamps
Here is just a small selection of David’s much celebrated work on book covers and stamps.
In 2012, he released a book of sketches, drawings and paintings of his beloved London entitled London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year.
Brilliant and meaningful work, along with clear and honest summing up, make David Gentleman a true great of the creative arts. He should by now have been formally recognised for his lifelong contribution. Happy Birthday David.
It is hard to summarise the career of such a prolific artist and design as David Gentleman, so here are some references to follow.