Things we did: Ladybird by Design at The De La Warr Pavilion


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A very serious contemporary reader of the Ladybird ‘What to Look for’ series.

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex (UK) is currently hosting a gorgeous exhibition showing the illustrations and design of the Ladybird book series popular in Britain for 100 years, and especially a part of the childhood of many in the 1960s and 1970s. This amazing exhibition features over 200 original illustrations stretching from the 1950s to the 1970s. I love the way these have been framed so that you can see the edges of the images – the parts that you won’t see in a finished book, the mark-up that told the printer what was needed well before the advent of desktop publishing.

This was a double bout of nostalgia for me – I remember clearly so many images from the books that had engraved themselves on my childhood mind in the 1970s. Titles such as “What to Look for in Summer‘ and the ‘How it Works‘ Series.

What to look for in Summer ©Ladybird Books 1960
A spread from ‘What to look for in Summer’ ©Ladybird Books 1960

The Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme (how many of us actually did learn to read), and the fairytales such as ‘Rapunzel‘ and ‘Cinderella‘ with their amazing fantasy ball gowns and beautiful heroines.

Rapunzel ©Ladybird Books 1968
Rapunzel cover design ©Ladybird Books 1968
Cinderella ©Ladybird Books 1964
Cinderella cover design ©Ladybird Books 1964

The second part of this nostalgia is from the time when I started working for a publisher called Eddison Sadd Editions in London in the early 1990s as a book designer and learned the trade after training as a general graphic designer in the 1980s. This was a time before the widespread use of Apple Mac computers to lay out the design. Illustrations had to be marked up, transparencies labelled, and text pasted onto pages and sent to the repro house. The text had to be marked up for the repro house to style it on Linotronic printers which printed out onto waxy paper that was cut and pasted page by page and sent to be made as camera-ready artwork. Any corrections had to be marked up at each stage – an the cost of each correction meant that we kept to only three main stages – there was no intermediate stage where a designer and editor would sit of hours tweaking a page on a screen doing real-time corrections. Everything had to be marked up using ‘typographic mark-up language’ that the repro house would understand clearly, the proofs sent back and checked, and a final proof made before going to ‘CRC’ (camera-ready-artwork). We had a waxing machine to apply sticky wax to the back of the sheets of type, and scalpels to cut the lines into strips every time we had to paste around an image. At one time in my student years I worked for Dorling Kindersley and had to actually cut round the edge of images to make them have a white background. We didn’t have Adobe Photoshop, or Quark XPress, or Adobe InDesign then. The Ladybird exhibition clearly shows some of these layout techniques with marking up around the edges of the images and covers with text overlays which reminded me so much of my early years in publishing.

Things we do.cvr ©Ladybird Books 1964
Things we do – cover design ©Ladybird Books 1964
Things we do. sprd ©Ladybird Books 1964
Things we do – spread design ©Ladybird Books 1964

It really was like this in our childhoods – wasn’t it? Please excuse the state of the scans – these are from the original books, some are a bit grubby. Sadly, my Ladybird collection from my childhood has been dispersed a long time ago, my mum is a very good de-clutterer! I have had to repurchase my favourite titles from eBay so I can experience them and share them with my 9-year-old daughter. AbeBooks are another seller of collectable books and worth looking at for all sorts of titles. Can’t wait for my copy of ‘Shopping with Mother’ to arrive!

Go to De La Warr Pavilion’s website http://www.dlwp.com/event/ladybird-by-design for more details and how to get there. Really worth seeing even just so you can point at the titles lined up and say “I had that one!”.

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