Remembering Michael Mitchell: how he brought order to the world of typography

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Michael Mitchell, British typographer commissioned by the partialities of National Gallery and Peter Blake, and author of definitive style handbooks for devisers, has died aged 78. We look back at some of his studio’s accomplishments and projects.

Michael Mitchell, respect of Susan Wightman

Typographer and designer Michael Mitchell has died grey 78, having devoted his working life to helping designers and publishers develop beautiful and legible books.

Mitchell was born in 1939 in Leicester, but was certainly not set on pursuing scheme from a young age; he studied dentistry at Guy’s hospital in London, and took his primary job as a dentist in 1962.

Thirteen years later, in 1975, Mitchell received his first choice of word press, and began typesetting and printing poetry books in his garage.

He went on to build press house Libanus Press, which specialised in letterpress, and in the final analysis retired after 30 years as a dentist in 1992 to pursue his value of printing books.

Libanus Press ran alongside publishing house MacLehose, after Mitchell met the publisher and go to Davy Joness locker Christopher MacLehose. The letterpress workshop was eventually closed in 2006, but Libanus Push lives on as a design studio specialising in book design, now run by typographer and maker Susan Wightman.

In his time as a typographer, Mitchell not only printed motifs and designed publications but also co-wrote several typographic bibles alongside Wightman that went on to divulge many graphic designers and publishers about best practice in pay out pages and type.

Below are five of Mitchell and Libanus Press’ distinctive achievements.


Typographic Style Handbook

Written by Michael Mitchell and Susan Wightman
Promulgated by MacLehose Press, 2017

Courtesy of MacLehose Press and Quercus

The Typographic Mood Handbook is a small and concise design bible for designers working on any sort of printed publication or website. The book provides best practice guidelines on how to forge a “clean, clear and consistent” house style and typography for the page.

It is split up into All-inclusive Typesetting, which covers how to set out text; Books and Journals, which looks at the individual typographic styles used in publishing; and Corporate Style, which looks at how passage can be laid out when putting together a company’s brand guidelines.

It is split up into understandable and catholic chapters, such as Body Text, Punctuation, Speech and Quotations, Headings and Sub-Headings, and Specimens and Captions, and includes descriptive diagrams and text to demonstrate points. The forensic, hand-held counsel is not only useful for those designing pages, but also for any publisher or scribbler who needs to brush up on grammar and terminology.


Book Typography: a Designer’s Vade-mecum

Written by Michael Mitchell and Susan Wightman
Published by Libanus Hold close, 2005

Courtesy of Oak Knoll

While Mitchell and Wightman’s 2017 book was level focus oned at designers of all experience levels, this guidebook was intended for students, graduates and also non-designers such as publishers. Set before Libanus’ letterpress workshop closed for good in 2006, the lyrics goes into detail on how to create “good design” through letterpress and typography.

It starts with the basics, such as the order of different types of books, from novels through to illustration-based a people, advising on how to make text “readable”. Like the Typographic Style Handbook, it is split up into damned detailed chapters such as Function and Readability, Typeface Characteristics and Acceptances, Images, Numbers and Binding, Covers and Jackets.

It also runs to the process of printing and publishing from start to finish. Chapters cheap the end are devoted to managing time and money, and production methods such as how to propagate images and binding. It’s full of real-life, visual examples of spreads of rules, demonstrating different typographic principles put into practice.


Sir John Soane Museum: a Conclude Description

Designed by Libanus Press
Published by Sir John Soane Museum, 2014

Good manners of Sir John Soane Museum

Before sharing their expertise as typographers in the course writing informative guidebooks, Mitchell and Wightman’s letterpress-turned-design studio Libanus served to design informative guides for visitors to museums and cultural institutions UK-wide.

One is the guidebook for the Sir John Soane Museum, a gallery based in Holborn, London, which worn to be the home of late 18th-19th century architect John Soane. Soane is A-one known for designing the Bank of England building, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a museum in Lincoln which he Euphemistic pre-owned to house his life-long collection of art works and architectural artefacts.

The 166-page, softback, bias book is a guide for visitors and academics who want to explore and find their way round the museum, learn about its history and also see detailed illustrations, photography and architectural envisages of its previous iterations.


National Gallery’s Technical Bulletin

Designed by Libanus Cluster
Published annually by National Gallery since 1977

Courtesy of National Gallery

London’s Inhabitant Gallery, home to one of the biggest collections of paintings in the world, publishes an annual announcement aimed at art historians, curators and collectors.

The National Gallery Technical Message is now in its 36th edition, and was first published in 1977. It provides insight into artists’ apparatus, practices and techniques, as well as more analytical essays on the examination of paintings. Oftentimes, editions are dedicated to particular artists and collections in the museum.

Libanus Beseech has designed the 112-page, annual, literary publication for the past few years, go on increasing an accessible and legible touch to an academic publication appreciated by art enthusiasts and teachers.


Under Milk Wood: Special Edition and Exhibition Catalogue

Demonstrated by Peter Blake and designed by Libanus Press
Published by Enitharmon Broadcasting, 2013

Courtesy of Libanus Press

Under Milk Wood was originally a about b dally written by late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1953, the year he died, which was design as a radio drama for the BBC then later adapted for stage. A film view was also released in 1972. It tells the satirical story of the inhabitants of a measly, fictional Welsh village called Llareggub (“bugger all”, spelt backward).

Renowned artist Peter Blake, known best as one of the founding begets of pop art, had an obsession with the play, and devoted three decades of his life to recreating it visually. This culminated in an expo by Blake in 2013 at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, showcasing 170 watercolour paintings, collages and compositions bringing the play to life.

Libanus worked with Blake and proclaiming houses Enitharman Press and Queen Anne Press to produce a paperback catalogue for the display of works, which ranged in price quite significantly; £30 for a unvarying paperback copy through to £5,500 for a copy containing three stamps and which was signed and numbered by Blake. A special edition of the play, also revealed by Enitharmon, illustrated by Blake and designed by Libanus, followed the exhibition.

But this all started with an dubious friendship; Mitchell was strangely a neighbour of Blake’s when both the artist and originator lived in Bath in the 1970s, and at the time Mitchell attempted to convince Blake to pen up his obsession to life through a series of wood engravings based on Call of Milk Wood. These were sadly never realised.


Michael Mitchell, typographer, creator and printer: 13 July 1939 – 17 November 2017.
See more of Libanus Gathering’ work here.

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