Process: The Working Practices of Barney Bubbles

Currently showing at the Chelsea Space in London is an exhibition exploring the working practice of the late, great Barney Bubbles. The show gives an insight into the imaginative mind of Bubbles, featuring letters, sketches and artwork proposals, alongside finished works.

Barney Bubbles’ unused paste-up design for Ian Dury & The Music Students’ album 4000 Weeks Holiday, from 1983

Currently showing at the Chelsea Space in London is an exhibition exploring the working practice of the late, great Barney Bubbles. The show gives an insight into the imaginative mind of Bubbles, featuring letters, sketches and artwork proposals, alongside finished works.


Bubbles’ contribution to graphic design has been increasingly recognised of late, especially since the publication of Paul Gorman’s monograph, Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life & Work of Barney Bubbles. Gorman has also curated the exhibition at Chelsea Space, and the show includes many items never seen in public before, including Bubbles’ student notebooks and sketchbooks, as well as artwork proposals for bands including Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and The Damned. There are also numerous examples of finished work by Bubbles, demonstrating the prolific nature of his talent. Included are record sleeves and artworks for bands, as well as advertising campaigns for the music press and videos.


Paste-up artwork by Barney Bubbles

Selection of photography working proofs by Bubbles. Photo: Donald Smith

Bubbles began working as a graphic designer in the mid-60s, and died in 1983, which, as Gorman points out in the notes accompanying the exhibition, was just two months before the introduction of the Apple Mac computer. Alongside being a record of Bubbles’ work, the show is therefore also a fascinating insight into the graphic design process in the pre-digital age. An in-depth text (by an unattributed colleague of Bubbles) on display in the exhibition describes the production methods that Bubbles and other graphic designers of the time used, and the show includes a number of PMTs (photo mechanical transfers) by Bubbles, created for preparatory artwork as well as a selection of working proofs, some of which include corrections.


Proof of sleeve for Punch The Clock by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1983 (not released in this version). Photo: Donald Smith

Poster included in Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1980 (Paul Gorman’s Vote Labour sticker featured bottom left)

The text by Bubbles’ colleague also highlights the designer’s playful approach towards the rigid production processes of the time. “As well as working within its limitations, Barney liked playing with the printing process,” it states. “He enjoyed turning convention on its head by creating imperfections and being open to serendipity. The sleeve of Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ Get Happy!! bore deliberate wear scuffs, and there is a paw smudge on Rockpile’s Seconds Of Pleasure where a cat jumped onto the wet painting.”


Installation shot of finished artworks in the exhibition

Limited edition version of Damned Damned Damned by The Damned, 1977. Photo: Donald Smith

Bubbles’ sense of humour arises elsewhere too, particularly in a limited edition version of The Damned’s album Damned Damned Damned, which came complete with a deliberate printing error and an ‘erratum’ sticker stating: “Due to Record Company error, a picture of Island recording artists Eddie & the Hot Rods has been printed instead of The Damned. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and the correct picture will be substituted on future copies.”


Self-portrait in cap, from sketchbook, 1964-8

Letter and drawing by Bubbles

The complexities of Bubbles’ character are also revealed within the examples of sketchbooks and letters that are displayed at the exhibition. These include self-portraits, lists and both personal and professional correspondence, as well as photographs and concert tickets designed by Bubbles in the 1960s.


Letter from Uwe Tessow, Line Records, 1983, and Kern & Co equipment case

Display of finished artworks and music press ads

Bubbles has been cited as an influence on designers from Neville Brody to Peter Saville, and his inventive approach created some of the most striking imagery in 1970s and early 80s pop music. The show at Chelsea Space celebrates this work, while giving an excellent lesson on the practice of graphic design before the arrival of the Mac.

Process is on at the Chelsea Space until October 23. More info is at

  • When I started I was on a drawing board, Cow Gum, wax paste up, Agfa camera in a tiny darkroom in July August, PMT… blah blah blah…

    It was all fields back then…

  • Just fucking BRILLIANT. Why can’t we have artwork we just want to steal now?

  • Lets not get into old versus new processes. The work is great and we should admire it for its creativity not what it was made with. Grant

  • aaah….cow gum.
    memories… open a tin, blow cigarette smoke into the can, replace the lid and turn the can upside down… wait five minutes and open the can… magic.

  • Ah yes, spray mount and fags – CS10 board, masking tape and scalpels. The trusty Agfa Gevaert Mk3, gallons of Instant coffee for the all nighter and the thankless client.
    All changed now – hey, wait a minute . . .
    ps David M. – the odd field, still to be seen up here!

  • bip

    stunning stuff and insight into the design mind… we love it.

  • John

    Cow gum – 10A Blades – Swann morten scalpel with masking tape for better grip – rotring pens – windsor and newton ink – Daler – mmmmmmmmm

  • letraset pens…letraset pens…

  • Devilgate

    Don’t let anyone at mother see this, they’ll think they discovered the ultra retro feel. [deleted by moderator]

  • Great stuff I got to handle Barney’s artwork when I worked for Jake Riviera at Demon Records. Not only was the design superb but his artwork was immaculate! Could blow up logos on the PMT camera to large sizes and it was still sharp. Wonderful to see BB getting kudos at last. Can we have a Design Museum exhibition soon?

  • Really nice artwork and nice to see people appreciating the quality of graphic design Barney produced. Fantastic designer, thanks for sharing CR.