Elf Corner: The Wonderful Berenice Smith

How did you get involved in Ink Pantry?

Many years ago on a rogue unmoderated chat forum called First Class, I met Deborah Edgeley. We were studying the same Open University degree, A210, and battling through gender on the agenda and other weighty subjects. During our intense study chats (yes, really!) we pondered the idea of starting Ink Pantry. We roped in many wonderful students who are still friends and after lots of highs and lows, two anthologies were published and the website you see today, was founded. I am no longer hands on with Ink Pantry, and was very honoured when Deborah asked me to write a few words about what Ive been up to since I graduated from the Open University with my English Literature degree.

What happened after you graduated?

In my IP capacity I think its fair to say I was the designery(!) one. Its my first degree and now proud to say my Masters degree too. After being made redundant in February 2012, I spent the funds on establishing a freelance business and successfully applying to study a Masters degree in graphic design and typography at the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University.

Its not easy, however, balancing a Masters with freelance. When youre studying you think you should be working or finding work, its very stressful. When my former manager headhunted me for the University Press in Cambridge just after I started the Masters, I took the job and spent two years studying part-time and working with them, establishing the design for the print, web, eBooks and branding of a publication list for their UK Schools section. If you have GCSE children in your life and theyve brought home a Cambridge University Press English Literature study book for Frankenstein with a scalpel wielding surgeon on the front, my apologies.

What did you study?

During my Masters degree, I have studied the typography of an Elizabethan surveyor, Thomas Langdon, the work of John Peters who designed the font Castellar, worked on several social design projects including Everyday Hero highlighting the challenges of hidden disabilities which gained best in show at the graduation exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery.

How does a Masters in graphic design benefit you and your clients?

The Masters does teach you how to speak to designers, but with twenty years practical creative experience in leading publishing houses and creative agencies, I felt it added new depths. In a short sentence, a Masters in graphic design and typography brings a greater level of the social and political impact of design through research and study. It also helps with predicting trends and incorporating history. For example, the craze for women with their back to the viewer on book covers, what will happen now thats over? Will design be influenced by film or photography, or will the trend in typography led covers continue? In this climate, I think politics will play huge part and I can see a return to the Atelier Populaire culture of 1968.

What project are you most proud of?

During my time with the Open University, I was also going through IVF. I suspect I was trying to get my brain to succeed where my body was not. Sadly the 6 cycles I went through were unsuccessful and we are coming to terms with a life without a child. Yet I am often told I could just adoptor try surrogacywhen there should be no such flippancy. It make me realise that there is an ignorance around infertility treatment because its just not talked about.

The Masters degree helped to work through the losses and find a route into educating people about this period of my life that was (as it is for everyone who goes through it) the single most hardest and painful experience. Forming part of a module on collaboration, I consulted extensively by holding workshops and talking online with a wonderful support group called Gateway Women. I had three months to pull this together and the notes are extensive but essentially it became a non-gender design piece to showcase the challenges that those who are involuntarily childless face on a daily basis. The website that was established continues today and provides a challenging, educational and confidential way for those who cannot have children not by choice, to talk about their feelings, situations and challenges. Its now grown to include social media channels on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Since one in 4 women face infertility and 1 in ten will fall in the category of involuntary childless, Id say its essential reading for everyone. Ive also been interviewed about my story and Walk In Our Shoes by a national newspaper and hope to see my name in print over the summer.

What’s next for you?

I have just started working three days a week at the University Press in order to grow my practice in design. I am busy giving talks about design, working with charities on their branding and occasionally books for self publishers – I offer a complete package that includes setting up an author website, to the entire book production and book launch material. I have many expert contacts in the field and love to see a book through the entire publication cycle. Im coaching a team at the moment and weve just reached the manuscript submission stage!

Im also writing again after a long break. Im developing Walk In Our Shoes into a book based on accounts from the website. Its aimed at those who are journeying from loss to recovery without a child, their friends, family and colleagues. I have found that books like this are very rare. The media put so much focus on the happy ending of adoption or miracle babies which for many men and women simply isnt true. Its about time we were heard. I have two fantastic counsellors working on this with me.

In June, Im holding my first solo exhibition on the life and work of John Peters at the museum at Cambridge University Press.

Do you have time for any other interests?

I do now! I love print making, Ive been taking short courses at the Curwen Print Study Centre in printmaking including lino prints. I do have heady ambitions to own an Albion Press and return to metal type as my husband trained in hot metal setting. I have a huge respect for his skills but that may mean a winning lottery ticket.

Im blessed to live in Cambridge, just streets from Anglia Ruskin and love the culture here. Theres always something to do and see, its changed so much and has a lively arts scene. If there isnt then I can always walk or train my rescue dog Molly who was, along with good friends, my husband and the OU, central to my recovery.
Berenice is offering 30% off her design fees for Ink Pantry followers, just let her know youve read about her work on Ink Pantry.

Find out more about her work at www.hellolovely.org.uk Walk In Our Shoes can be found at http://www.walkinourshoes.org.uk

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