Posted by shane

Before I became a theatre historian, I was a professional graphic designer, having designed children’s books, marketing materials, and quite a few snarky t-shirts for myself. It has been five years since my last design job, so I was thrilled when the editors asked me if I would mind designing a Harry Watkins t-shirt for our staff. I knew immediately that I would feature a piece of Harry’s writing to show off his (not always) elegant script which might show a bit of who he is as a person.

As those of us who are fortunate enough to work on transcribing, proofreading, and XML coding his diary know, Harry has a strong personality. Whether he is reporting on the weather, the receipts from his show the night before, or offering his opinion about the acting abilities of Junius Brutus Booth (he’s not a fan), Harry does so in such a unique voice that he has made all of us fall for him (and this is not hyperbole).

So my first step in conceptualizing a design was to think about what text of Harry’s to use for the shirt. Would it be “House Full”? Or perhaps his complaints about “Women! Women! Women!”? Or better yet his frustration with the weather, “Wet, drizzly, disagreeable day”? Then I remembered a word from the very first page of his diary, one that all of us working with Harry have since taken to using when something major happens in our own worlds. That is Bustification. You should give it a try. It’s a great word, yet it is absent from the OED (perhaps that is a project for another time). When it occurred to me as a possible option for the shirt, I was well into later sections of his diary and could not remember what his writing of Bustification looked like. Everyone on the diary agreed that this would be the best option, so I hoped it would work aesthetically. Luckily for us, it turned out to be perfect. Not only was it in an elegant script with lots of flourishes, it was also clean and therefore easy to convert to the digital art required for printing.

While spending so much time concerned about Harry’s handwriting for our shirts may seem like I was reverting too far back to my old career, I realized that his script is actually part of his charm and definitely contributes, at times, to establishing his tone. Working on the diary allows us privileged access to his hand, or perhaps more accurately, his hand in motion. It seems that when he reports, “House so-so,” the slant tilts a bit as if caught in the act of moping off the page. Or we can tell how scandalous or embarrassing he considered some of his entries by the nearly-violent tenacity with which he scratched his words out, resulting in a great many <gap reason=“illegible”/> XML tags in our files. Harry may have lived and worked in the middle of the 19th century, but he is alive and well in the 21st century in a bustification of sorts—a collision of his lovely and telling script being converted into digital bits, computer languages, critical commentary, and yes, t-shirt art.