About the project

In 2017, UTA worked in collaboration with Norwich graphic designer Darren Leader (Darren Leader Studio) to create ‘New Impressions: Redesigning Norwich’s Renaissance books’: a creative research project and exhibition which featured the work of graphic designers, print makers and artists based in East Anglia.

Together, this group took inspiration from the Renaissance books collection held at the Norfolk Heritage Centre, to create a range of contemporary design responses, discovering a hitherto hidden resource of historic book design that dates back to the beginning of print technology.

‘[The designers’] investigations into the Renaissance books inspired new ideas and the opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries of their own practice’ – Darren Leader (Darren Leader Studio).

The new design works and the Renaissance books themselves appeared together at a day-long drop in discovery event at the Norfolk Heritage Centre in November 2017. Members of the public were able to talk to the designers about their work, while also handling the Renaissance books which had inspired them and learning more about the collection by talking to UEA academics and graduate students. We were delighted to welcome an unprecedented number of visitors to the Heritage Centre, with over 260 people attending the event across the course of the day, many of whom commented that they saw the Renaissance books in new and unexpected ways thanks to the vision of the project’s designers.

‘By providing a modern context to the importance of these books, this exhibition has been far more relatable and interesting in its comparison’ – New Impressions visitor feedback.

Following the success of our initial event, New Impressions was invited to exhibit at The Crypt Gallery in Norwich, where the designers’ works were displayed alongside photographic reproductions of the Renaissance books in a free public exhibition from 26 January to 10 February 2018.

Now, you can follow in the footsteps of our designers and make your own creative responses to East Anglia’s beautiful early-modern books as part of our interactive digital resource, Discover Historic Books! Have fun exploring the range of family-friendly creative activities you’ll find there, which have been made by some of the designers, artists and makers who took part in New Impressions for you to enjoy today at home.

Our Sponsors

The New Impressions project was supported by the generous and expert support and guidance of printer Page Bros and paper supplier Fedrigoni UK.

The Judges

We were delighted to welcome the internationally renowned designer Sean Perkins (North Design) and Professor Fiona Lettice (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at UEA) to a private view of New Impressions at the Forum, where they selected three of their favourite works from the project. 

‘I think it was inspired to bring together a group of contemporary designers to explore the Renaissance book collection.  It was fascinating to see how the designers were motivated by single books or the whole collection and then used modern design techniques to connect the past with the present’ – Fiona Lettice

Sean and Fiona chose the three works which they felt succeeded particularly well in ‘communicating the existence of this incredible treasure trove to the general public – getting them intrigued, unlocking an interest and celebrating these priceless books’.

The three pieces they selected were created by:

Mark Fuller, Nicer Than Nice; Scott Poulson, Special Design Studio; Andrew Johnson, Johnson Design.

‘New Impressions is a fantastic idea, beautifully executed and brought to life’ – Sean Perkins

Photography: Andy Crouch

Mark Fuller

Nicer than Nice

Inspired by a seventeenth-century map of Norfolk, Mark’s design investigates the changing spelling of Norfolk coastal place names, from the Renaissance to the present day. His typographic map of the Norfolk coastline features familiar places alongside others which have now been claimed by the sea, lending new meanings to the blank spaces of the early printed page.

Renaissance book reference:
John Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (London, 1612)

Alfie & Edward Maddison

Maddison Graphic

Alfie and Edward were inspired by the engraving and etching techniques evident in many frontispieces of renaissance titles and have created abstracted, architectural elements.

Renaissance book reference:
Michel de Montaigne, Essayes, trans. John Florio (London, 1632)

Antwerp Polyglot Bible (Antwerp, 1568-1573)

Andrew Johnson

Johnson Design

Which are the most popular books at the Forum library? Andrew requested a list of their most borrowed books. These contemporary titles were then re-created and re-imagined as Renaissance title pages, but from a contemporary viewpoint.

Andy Campbell

The Renaissance books in the Norfolk Heritage Centre collection have been preserved throughout several centuries, surviving events such as fire, as well as natural deterioration. Andy was inspired by the play of sunlight emerging through pin-holes in the pages of this sixteenth-century work of English history: the result of hungry bookworms’ journey through the paper and a testament to the book’s own material passage through time.

Renaissance book reference:
Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia (Basle, 1534)

Bobby Burrage

The Click

Bobby proposes a book, titled an A–Z of Norwich and invites wider collaboration across the creative industries.

Daniel Crawford

Type and Numbers

In our digital age, so much information and content competes for our attention, which results in speed-searching and reading. However, amid this communication noise, ink and paper still fascinates and engages us. But do we have the time?

Darren Leader

Darren Leader Studio

Darren was inspired by the words and terms created by the Renaissance writer, Thomas Browne. Here, Browne’s system of challenging common, vulgar errors are utilised for the enquiry of our own troubled and puzzling 21st century.

Renaissance book reference:
Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica & Religio Medici (1672)
Thomas Browne, Christian Morals (1716)

Jason Hyde & Darren Leader

Darren Leader Studio

Another vulgar error explored, but using 20th century Letraset rubdown lettering… and strong and stable comic timing.

Renaissance book reference:
Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica & Religio Medici (1672)

Jo Stafford

Print to the People

Who were the Strangers community of Norwich? What difference did they make to our city’s identity and society? Via Jo’s specialism of letter-press and screen-printing, she delivers some surprising answers.

Renaissance book reference:
Belijdenisse (Norwich, 1568)

Jordan Blyth

Inspired by the impressive typography found within John Speed’s innovative work of national history, Jordan explores the potential of a complete decorative drop-cap alphabet.

Renaissance book reference:

John Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (London, 1612)

Louise Richardson & Andy Campbell

Based on John Speed’s transformative work of cartographical history, this innovative art object features die-cut pages to form a ragged and eroding coastline, highlighting the shared fragility of both book and landscape.

Renaissance book reference:
John Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (London, 1612)

Oliver Milner Smith

Northfolke / Norfolke / Norfolk / Norwiche / Norwich.

Oliver explores the potential of the decorative drop-cap from a modernist viewpoint.

Paul Wolterink

For New Impressions, Paul investigated Norwich’s first printed book. Its Dutch title Belijdenisse ende is a translation of the Latin, Confessio Helvetica, a statement of Protestant faith from sixteenth-century Switzerland. Paul also applied Colman Mustard as a yellow ink for screen-printing, in response to the fact that this book forms part of the Colman Collection.

Renaissance book reference:
Belijdenisse (Norwich, 1568)

Rob Wilkes

Creative Giant

Renaissance books were often a validation of status, suggesting their owners’ wealth and standing in the community. Does social media validate our status in modern day society? Rob explores how the donation of a book to a library, alongside Renaissance practices of annotation, might reveal a reader’s methods of self-presentation, and connects this to modern-day attempts to achieve status (or notoriety) online.

Scott Poulson

Special Design Studio

Renaissance books encouraged interactivity, with readers annotating and often drawing their own decorative drop-cap letters. Scott re-imagines Instagram during the renaissance era and follows the progress of @samuelclark1680 as he works late into the night.

Renaissance book reference:
Nuremberg Chronicle (Nuremberg, 1493)

Steve Kirkendall

A Fine Studio

Like many of the New Impressions designers, Steve was surprised by the unusual Renaissance practice of setting columns within columns: a typographical innovation which showcases how the visual character of the Renaissance page is closely connected to the changing nature of Biblical commentaries and textual engagement with Scripture in the Renaissance. His design response features hypnotic, repetitive, concentric patterns.

Renaissance book reference:
Bible with glosses by Nicholas of Lyra (Nuremberg, 1491)
Antwerp Polyglot Bible (Antwerp, 1568-1573)