In this ongoing Q&A series, 12 simple questions are posed to people across different industries to reveal what it means to be creative, whatever your vocation.
Answering the questions this time is author and typographic enquirer, David Jury.
C O N C I O U S N E S S
In a nutshell, what do you do?
‘In a nutshell’ I write, print and publish.
I write about printing and the various kind of people who have used print, both commercially and creatively. This material is in book form (which I invariably also design) and also appears as articles/papers for inclusion in magazines. I also have a studio in which I print my own limited edition books by hand under the name Fox Ash Press, and undertake commissions for ‘fine art printing’, creating limited edition prints for artists attached to art galleries such as Flowers and the V&A.
What’s your creative process; how do you get stuff done?
Nothing I do occurs in isolation. Things happen because of something seen or said. The prime reason I still teach (one day a week teaching ‘Typographic Enquiry’ on the MA Typography course at Cambridge) is for the contact I get with students. I realise that this is a selfish activity, but it is one that also benefits the students. Indeed, seeking ideas and knowledge makes you a far more interesting person for the student to communicate with.
How I do things: I have a studio that is separate from my house. The smell of ink on entering immediately puts me in a different frame of mind. I print using letterpress equipment – essentially metal and wood type and a proofing press. It is often an apparently ‘messy’ space but seeing tools and papers on surfaces – usually ‘work in progress’ and often rejected sheets on the floor – is always a huge visual stimulus on entry. Indeed, seeing work in progress is often the spark that ignites the next project. However, I do tidy the studio when a major project is finished and a new one must begin.
Digital technology only encroaches into my ‘limited edition’ print work in a peripheral way: laser cut large wood letters and, of course, as a standard means of communication. However, for writing and work for mainstream publishers my laptop computer is essential and is with me at all times. I write in the morning until around mid-day and then work on printing projects in the afternoon. Evenings are usually reading and writing. If I am commissioned to write a book I always insist that I design it too. The two should be inextricably linked – and all the better for it.
Everyone works differently. When did you become aware that your creative process is your own?
I’m not at all sure that my way of doing things is ‘my own’, but I am aware that the equipment I have (and particularly my proofing press) has forced me to seek out projects that I would not have done if it had continued working as it should! In other words, I have adapted my projects and my working processes to suit my tools and materials. But I think this is a pretty natural way to progress. The range of work I undertake is broad: mainstream publishing, to fine press books, to fine art printing – and I want this to continue because each supports and invigorates the other.
When are you most creative?
See ‘What’s your creative process’.
Can you be creative in a vacuum or do you need outside influences to help?
Instead of ‘influence’ I would say ‘stimuli’. Art galleries and cinema play a huge role as well as books (lots of them) and television (not so much). But yes, outside stimuli is vital – not as a crutch (as the question ‘…to help’ suggests) but to keep ideas developing. I imagine a ‘fine artist’ being able to work quite independent of the world around them (although all the artists I have met have been avid foragers of information and other people’s ideas) but if you are interested in mass communication, as I am, you are sure to be eager to meet and greet whatever is going on around you.
E X I S T E N T I A L I S M
Did you seek being a creative or did creativity find you?
I have always been creative, never worried about having different opinions and was always drawn to others who sought alternative routes. Going to art school was the easiest and most natural decision of my life.
Do you think your background has had an effect on your creativity?
Yes, but I’m not sure how. Having a working class background made going to art school quite a leap of faith for my parents, but never once suggested they had any doubts in my decision. But once in I made very sure I was ‘successful’.
Have you ever struggled with creativity?
No – at least not in the sense that it ever crossed my mind that creativity was anything other than a wonderful and positive activity. I feel lucky and privileged to have been able to spend too much time involved in it. Struggling to find the right way of saying something – in words or visually – is often difficult. And, by the way, ‘writing’ and ‘visualising’ are remarkably close activities although, finally, I find writing to be the more difficult.
D I S R U P T I O N
Is there any one person, thought or thing that’s changed the way you think?
Camus’ The Outsider – beware, other people’s perception of what you are doing can be quite different from your own. I’m also pretty sure I got onto my BA course in graphic design (in 1968) because I talked to the interview panel about Camus’ idea of reality and how it impacted on the evils of mass communication! I wanted to be a troublemaker when I was 18 and they obviously thought it would be fun to have me along.
Do you have one piece of advice for anyone starting out as a creative?
Be flexible in thinking, stoic in making.
R E F L E C T I O N
Do you think creativity has defined you?
Yes, it surely has (and does) because it’s the way I define myself.
What would you like to do if you weren’t doing what you do now?
Where I am now is genuinely where I have always wanted to be. Lucky? Certainly focused.