Author: nick2828 (page 43 of 84)

Portrait of my Grandfather. A Heritage in Letters – Nick Garrett

Looking back a the flow of work since 1981 I can’t help but realise that I am incredibly lucky in many ways.  Not least due to the inspiration of others… especially my grandfather.

Francis Baker - Nick Garrett oil on Canvas

Portrait of my Grandfather – The Letter Master

Perhaps most importantly was the influence and encouragement I received from my grandfather, master stone mason, Francis Richard Baker.  This is a personal account of our relationship with regard to letters and art.

Grandad would come over to our place in Half Moon Lane, North Dulwich a few times a week, often arriving in his big old blue Commer work van.  I knew he was a stone mason at a very young age… it was important, important work cutting letters, often in memorial stones and even building traditional stone walls.

I watched him slicing the graceful grooves and applying yellow gilding size.

Above:  Norway House – Large Block lettering Francis Baker, of Fulham 

I must have been six or seven when I went with him one day to Putney Vale cemetery to help him clean some headstones.  After a couple of seconds rubbing the flat cleaning stone along the pitted marble face my arms began to sting…

I looked at my elbow thinking what’s that wierd feeling? .. and quickly sat back on the grass… ”Can’t do that grandad … it hurts!”

”Come here… do it like this…” he said slightly gruffly.

Frabcis Baker oil on panel by Nick Garrett

I watched him slide and skew the wet stone.

”Here..” He said gesturing the creamy rubber toward me.

”I can’t do that grand dad it’s too hard”

Back we headed to their home tucked away behind St. Mary’s school in Gresham Rd.  Nana (Squibbs as he called her) was dishing up her usual wonderful fare: suet pudding and veggies followed up by apple pie and custard… the cloves were the perfect spice in the steaming hot yellow sweet custard.


Above:  Sculptor: Sir Hamo Thornycroft Lettering:  Francis Baker

It was years later that he came into the garden to have a look at my first attempt at signwriting.

At 16 I had my first job in Camberwell Antique market and soon collected my first commission, a tall narrow sign panel.

The black frame I had glossed quite nicely and the panel face in white…

”Ah that’s nice… ” he thumbed his chin.

”Hmm is it?… I’m not sure..” I replied with a bit of self conscious insecurity.

”The thicks and thins are a bit out but it looks quite good… Nick… not a problem really..”


Below: Nice classic Caslon style block lettering again F R Baker.


Francis Baker Letter carver

Above York Stone wall c1971 designed and built FR Baker ( Roehampton Lane London)

Portrait time 1977

He had nurtured me toward my application and acceptance into Camberwell school of Art Foundation year. He went to Camberwell and it was the reason I decided to follow.

During my first year grandad sat for me over a period of 10 portrait sittings.

It was a time of close countenance.  He talked, repeated stories of the First World War, Mermansk, the ocean, the letters.

”I was bloody scared alright… the sea… dangerous… but we had some laughs too… raiding the Ruski’s stores at night!” He chuckled.

And about his work in progress..

”Bloody big letters those were … Norway House… was up there the other day didn’t look too bad.. I remember the surveyor of Westminster came into my workshop said Frank I’ve got a big job for you.. 1500 letters into granite, doya want it Frank?  No I said… I don’t want 1500 bloody letters!… not in granite… so he took off… turned out to be the unknown warrior’s tomb” He chuckled .

”Bloody stupid I was!!… but it’s hard stuff Nick that granite… too hard stone… keep you hands good… don’t work in stone Nick… always look after your wrists and keep the back of your hands warm… remember it’s in your hands Nick”  It was good advice and well heeded, in fact the last sentence has directed my life ever since – the belief that my future and that of my family is the fruition of my hands, and brush.


A Visit to my studio

It was some years later he came into my first sign studio for a look around…

”You did this gold?!  Nick!!”

I felt terrible, he was surely about to tell me my failings.

”It’s the best gilding I have seen in my life!!  You did all this?? … oh my.. bloody marvellous!” I brewed up.


Portrait of my Grandfather 1987 oil on board



”You know Nick it’s not so important the letters… my letters aren’t all that good really… they’re not bad… but my spacing is pretty good.  If your spacing is no good then… your finished”

”Lettering is pretty important grandad!” I smiled.

”Yep of course… s’pose your right… y’always bloody right!”  He chuckled slurping hot tea.


I have been very lucky.  My grandfather, his father and his grandfather all created great letters… carved in stone.

I still have his gold leaf in my kit and his guidance in my hands and heart.



Nick Garrett



Near death exp of Signwriter – Issey Miyake 1983, Arch David Chipperfield

It should come as no surprise that the city hosting the first major retrospective of David Chipperfield’s work, Idea e Realita, is Padua. The mayor, Flavio Zanonato, opened the show in the Palazzo della Ragione, the architectural heart of the city, at the weekend. Models, drawings and photographs of 38 of the English architect’s chaste, thoughtful and thoroughly urban designs sit serenely under the vast roof of this Italian medieval public palace, framed by stupendous astrological and religious allegories painted, after the originals by Giotto were destroyed by fire, by Nicolo’ Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara between 1425 and 1440.

Chipperfield – though you would never know it from his work, or, in Britain, his lack of it – is a prolific architect whose love of public buildings and of working in European city centres, or in US cities wanting new centres, has blossomed into a flowering of handsome new museums, galleries, law courts, social housing and even a public cemetery. He is among the world’s best architects, although he is never exactly in fashion, nor ever quite out of it. He does not believe in style for style’s sake, yet his designs are rarely less than elegant. He has little time for wilful shapes, quirkiness or humour in architecture, but he is a powerful form-giver. More importantly, he is a designer of humane buildings intended to work within the grain of old cities, or else to create (or re-create) streets and squares and the life that goes with them, especially where these have been frittered away in favour of car-centric, shopping-mall suburbia.

Chipperfield has built in Britain, but very little, considering his international reputation. Most recently, there has been the purposeful north London studio for the sculptor Antony Gormley. He also designed the acclaimed National Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames and a house for Nick Knight, the fashion photographer. At the beginning of his solo career in the mid-1980s, he created a shop for Issey Miyake on London’s Sloane Street, which set the tone for lesser imitations during the shoulder-padded “designer boom”. This was when Chipperfield left Foster Associates and set up his own practice, in an office of his own design, in Camden. This is where we meet, after a break of two or three years.

David Chipperfield’s first substantial project was the long demolished shop designed for Issey Miyake in Sloane Street in 1983. With its veined white marble, generously proportioned timber floor boards, and an intricate palette for the supporting cast of materials it might seem a little rich for the Chipperfield of today, but it remains a sophisticated exercise in place-making, and in its intentions and ambitions is not so far from what he would be doing now. Even then Chipperfield was ready to say that it was important not to do too much. All that a shop might need would be a really beautiful floor. That introduction to Issey Miyake was to take him to Japan, where he was one of the early arrivals in the wave of Western architects sucked into the Tokyo of the Bubble Economy. He built two substantial buildings – an art gallery and an office building. It was enough to keep his office in London afloat, though he built very little in Britain at that time: a house for the photographer Nick Knight, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, and a little office building in Camden.

The Sloan St Shop Sign Writing Brief 1983

Signwrite on glass set ‘Issey Miyake’ running vertically:  Helvetica Black in Ultramarine blue

New kit:  New pallet dippers and fresh signwriting enamel colours by Keeps of Clerkenwell. New ground sheet, top quality twill canvas.


Colour test – David Copperfield Architect, Issey Miyake and admin design coordinator

Set out pallet and mixed vibrant blue

Applied colour to glass – Chipperfield approved it, issye smiled ”A lovely blue”, others fawned

New dipper leaked – blue tinted turpentine cascaded onto £150.000 lime stone steps…


Design coordinator screamed

Issey Miyake turned whiteish

Chipperfield’s mouth hung wide open and motionless


Action required

Swiftly set pallet down on newspaper

Rolled canvas sheet onto area – stood on it … prayed

Pretended everything was totally cool… told the three that everything would be just fine…

They were still staring with all three now not breathing for some time… mouths open.

Thought seriously about running away very quickly (I was 22 yrs old and quite fit)

Realised I had to move at some point – so did they…

Stepped off… with faux confidence, removed the dust sheet and to my complete astonishment the stain had completely gone.

Painted the sign.


Never trusted new kit from that day on,

Now use large coffee jar lids taped in place on pallet.

Ground sheets

Stay cool







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