This is my lightbox, which I made at home in the garage with my Dad’s help one weekend in 1990, when I came home from Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. I’d just started a Visual Communication degree, and needed one for the typographic projects that came thick and fast in the first term (26 briefs in one term, plus seminars and written work – a degree WAS a degree then – yep, controversial…)
Macs existed – there were three in the department – but they could only be booked by second and third years, who even then needed supervising. As first years we were banned from using them. And quite rightly so – our tutors were keen for us to work with real leading – that is, blocks of lead between rows of type – practice kerning on paper, use depth scales to typeset 6pt type with a 0.35 Rotring pen; to understand ems, picas, x-heights and descenders; appreciate ascenders, bowls and serifs; to recognise and avoid orphans and widows and to get the right number of dots in an ellipsis.
I loved it all – typography was very nearly the thing I did especially when Bob The Hunky Viking Typography Tutor told me ‘I could have a career in it’. The poor chap would be rolling his flashing blue eyes at the liberties I take with letterforms now.
But the lightbox was crucial to tracing those first beautiful characters, and I haven’t stopped using it to this day. Made of an old drawer, a spare plug, a strip light from B&Q and a bit of white perspex (from the perspex shop in Digbeth) it traces photographs, enlarges work, creates ‘real life’ layers outside of Photoshop, and many other tasks.
I’ve never replaced any of its parts. Proper workmanship you see: Dad + Garage + daughter’s request + a screwdriver = 23-year warranty…and counting!
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