Archive for the ‘Architecture and Design – Art Deco to Mid-Century’ Category

We live in an era when designers can knock up a poster design, hit print and have a stack of them within hours. So it’s pretty mind-blowing to take a step back in time and have a go at some traditional printing methods. I did just that today at the Penrith Printing Museum. I participated in their poster making course. For just $75 you can design and print your own letterpress poster. Our instructor for the day was Steve, who had a wealth of knowledge on printing and print processes.

The Museum itself is a nondescript shed on the grounds of the Penrith Paceway, who graciously donate the space for them to use.

They’ve got a range of historical printing machines, and their aim is to use them all and share them with people. Pictured below is the mind blowing ‘Linotype’. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a fully automated machine that allows the operator to make lines of newspaper text for printing. Except it casts those lines from molten lead as you type, using individual moulds for each letter or character, and then recycles the moulds for use again. All self automated. And the molten lead is about 500 degrees.

I was there to use a letterpress though. And for that you need letters. Lots of letters. Thankfully the Museum has heaps of letters. Though we were warned they they didn’t have all the letters for each font, which means sometimes you just had to get creative. This is about a quarter of their letter collection.

The next step was to mock up our design. Using a selection of timber letters I came up with this. Of course it has to be backwards so it prints the right way!

After doing this, you have to fill in all of the gaps! Not just loosely mind you, each gap has to be filled to millimetre precision. There are spacers of both timber and lead to do this.

These close up shots show the spacers, as well as the expanding cams which open to keep everything in place.
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And this is part of the reason why everything needs to be in so tight. Once you have created your design, you need to pick it and move it with nothing falling out! Also everything needs to be held in tight so it doesn’t move in the actual printing process.

Once the letters had been checked to make sure they were flat, it was time for the first test print.

Overall it was okay, but as you can see some of the letters didn’t give a full print. You have to remember some of these letters are around a hundred years old – try getting that lifespan out of your inkjet printer!

The course runs with just two students at a time. Here we see Steve with the other student doing some ‘Moody Blues’ gig posters for a gig he went to years ago. You can see his design is a lot cleaner and more classsical than mine. That’s the cool thing about getting to design your own to your own taste.11

Here we see my run of posters drying out. You’ll notice that most of the letters have printed better than the original pass. To remedy the faults, I had to loosen the locking cams, take out the individual letters and paste a slither of paper to the back to raise the height of the letter. It was pretty amazing to think this machine was so precise, the difference between a bad print and a good one was as fine as adding a piece of paper to the back of a letter! I also swapped a few letters around to make some backwards and some upside down to further enhance that imperfect look. If I wanted something perfect I’d print it from a computer!

All loaded up and ready to come home!

And a final shot before I stick it on the fridge to show off. Down the track I’ll chose one of the better examples and get it framed professionally, as a unique piece of art with a cool story behind it.



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Formally Mitchell Road Auctions, the Mitchell Road Emporium is still a great place to check out for great antiques and collectables. Overall downstairs is a fairly messy collection, the kind of place where it feels a bit like an adventure. Prices are good, but you generally have to make an effort to look for things. One area that has grown since their changes is their selection of pre-loved mid century furniture. Upstairs are the more formal vendors, where everything is laid out much better, but the prices aren’t as cheap. Well worth checking out if you’re in the area. Here’s a few things that caught my eye when we visited a few weeks ago.

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One of the coolest buildings we stumbled across on our recent visit to Melbourne was the Manchester Unity Building. Inspired by the Chicago Tribune building, it was ahead of its time in Australia and the tallest building in Melbourne when it was built in 1932.

To understand, how amazing it was for its time, read this excerpt from www.walkingmelbourne.com (and remember this was 1932):
For those of you who like numbers, 1700 tons of cement were poured around 800 tons of structural steel into nine acres of form-work and braced with 450 tons of reinforcing. The cladding added up to 400 tons of terracotta ‘faience’ work. Some 10,000 panes of glass were fitted into 900 steel window frames, and 33 miles of electric wire conveyed power to 2500 lamps. A stunning 1,900,000 mosaic pieces are in the floors and the lift lobby, and 125 tons of marble were used for decoration. The main body of the building rose to the regulation 132 feet and the tower rose another 78 feet.

Not only did this building contain the first escalators in Melbourne, it also had the first 150 horsepower back-up diesel generator in Australia in case of power failure. As far as I know, it also had the first tower café and roof garden in Melbourne. It was air-conditioned, had double windows on the first five floors for noise reduction, had a suction chute rubbish removal system from every floor, and it came with a self-contained apartment for the resident caretaker.

More information can be found at www.manchesterunitybuilding.com.au, which is where we found the pictures below (and there’s a stack more).












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Traditional sign writing is a beautiful art. The imperfections are what make it unique and gives it soul, kind of like an old car. In a world where the focus so often is a quick turn around and maximising profits, something needs to be said for artwork done by hand. Is it worth the extra money? Give me two identical cafes but one has a beautiful hand painted shop front, well that’s the one I’m picking.  It might seem superficial, but it suggests that business has an eye for quality and detail.

Here are some neat short docos looking at traditional sign writing and the artists that create it.


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The city of Melbourne has some amazing architecture. What stood out for me was how well they have managed to preserve so much of their history with a range of their old buildings, while also having the most cutting edge modern buildings you can find in Australia.

Our accommodation for our weekend was Robinsons in the City, which is a B&B that is walking distance to the free city circle tram and Southern Cross train station. Their service and local knowledge was great, not to mention the awesome breakfasts they cook up – well recommended. Robinsons is built in a red brick 1850s Bakery, with the original ovens still in tact in their breakfast room.


A neat old industrial building with great art deco signage. I’d guess the signage is new, but the font works really well.
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One of the best surprises was Oxford Street in Collingwood. In a city like Sydney we seem to be knocking down all of our historic industrial buildings with abandon, so it was amazing to see an entire street of red brick buildings standing proud. They were mostly converted into residential, with some modern commercial space in there too. The Proud Mary Cafe serves a great coffee if you’re a java connoisieur and in the area, but be warned they get super busy on weekends.
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Some of the beautiful old shopping centres we found in the CBD whilst on our walking tour.
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This gorgeous art deco building is the Astor Theatre in St Kilda. In its day it would have been a grand building, and still looks pretty good today. The vintage neon sign is a stand out, it was just a shame when we visited half of it wasn’t working.

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You can usually get a feel for an antique store the moment you walk in. If you’re met with the musty smell of old books, they’re playing classical music on some AM station, and the old dude behind the counter is wearing tweed and peering over his specs at you, chances are you’re in a fairly traditional antique store run for collectors of ‘fine artifacts’. You might find some art deco stuff if you’re lucky, but you’ve got slim to nill chance of finding anything mid century modern! And other times you walk in and they’ve got some funky blues or jazz record playing, the guy behind the counter looks like he might have been a beatnik in his day, and he greets you with a smile, well chances are you’re going to find some great vintage items.

I find the Southern Highlands generally tends to have a lot of the first style of antique store. There are some gorgeous cottages and scenery and it’s a great place for a cruise, however the general vibe with toffs wearing their sweaters draped over their shoulders in their Porsche and BMW SUVs just makes a little vomit come up the back of my throat. However there are some cool things to find if you look hard enough. Here is some stuff which caught our eye last time we were there.

The details on this little boat like the wrap around windscreen, wings and sidetrim just scream 1950s. It was actually off a ride, I’d imagine something like a carousel.
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Old school pokie.
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Golden fleece sheep is apparently cast alloy, and wearing its original paint. Would look great on the shelf.
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This is an original shop display from the ’30s from Ballarat Bitter featuring ‘Ballarat Bertie’.
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Amazing mid century prints from Qantas, from the early ’60s.
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Arcade style shooting game.
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I love architecture. I love the beauty and grace of old buildings like the QVB, to the amazing 1 Blight Street with its full length atrium in the centre ringed by glass lifts. Sometimes I think too often we don’t take the time to appreciate some of the awesome buildings around us everyday. Here’s a random grab bag of architecture which has caught my eye over the last few months – don’t forget to slow down and have a look around you, you never know what you might find.

First up is the Bank Hotel in Newtown. As you can see there are some gorgeous art deco detailing in the building. Even more impressive is their decision to honour the style with appropriate deco signage as well.



Up next is a sign from Sydney’s CBD. I’d walked under this a dozen times and never saw it, and one day I was simply on the other side of the street and there it was. The western vibe of the font is awesome, as is the patina.


Moving a little further afield, this next one is from the ‘burbs of Wagga. I’ve posted some of the great art deco homes of Wagga before, but missed this one complete with ‘Bel-Air’ nameplate. Very cool.


And lastly here’s a bunch of mid century homes from the south coast town of Kiama. If you ever go, make an effort to track down the little blowhole – much more interesting than the big one!

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