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In 2020, for the first time in the Royal Academy of Arts 252 year history, Varnishing Day couldn’t happen due to Covid-19, and the Summer Exhibition was delayed. As a result, 100 Royal Academicians collaborated on a unique piece of work; ‘Varnishing Day: a Moment in Time’, to commemorate this historic moment, support the RA and thank the Friends of the Royal Academy for their ongoing support. It is a unique portfolio of never-seen-before work by some of the world's most illustrious artists. It represents the first time in history that the RA’s community of Royal Academicians have collaborated on one piece of work – a taking of the temperature of British art at a crucial time, documenting what our RAs were doing, thinking and making on 1 June 2020.


Designing the packaging for these works to be housed in was a huge honour and a massive challenge. Because I didn't want to elevate any one art form, choose a single piece from the collaboration or create anything graphic that felt like an additional 'work' to go on the box I decided I needed to come up with a concept that felt organic and natural and played with the concept of 'a moment in time'. Thusly the final design focusses on an action, a moment, something both kinetic and haptic - like an artist has just split the varnish intended for their work across the box. The splatter then becomes a deliberate graphic motif throughout the box which along with the use of colour, texture and materiality is both playful and considered.  The use of colour was also vital and the pairing of the bold and contemporary Marrs Green with the heavenly powdery hue of Lavender is intended to be simultaneously joyful and whimsical, serious and surprising - reflecting the breadth of emotion and intention the work holds. 

I wanted this package to be truly luxurious, a really special 'thank you' to the Friends of the RA and with a design that relied so heavily on materiality it needed to be created using the best materials and makers available. The package made up of a telescopic box covered in Colorplan dapple emboss Marrs Green, lined with colorplan Lavender with silk screened type with the splatter created using a UV spot varnish. The contents comprises 100 works of art (printed on Mohawk Superfine), and introductory literature including a preface letter from HRH Duchess of Cornwall. Top and tailing the 100 works of art is 4pp introduction of duplexed Colorplan by GF Smith. At the base, there is another duplexed sheet and the entire pack is held together by a belly band foil stamped with the RA monogram, in a Folico foil, which is then placed in the box and can be lifted out using a colour matched grosgrain ribbon. 


The typography is also carefully considered, the package uses two Commercial Type faces throughout (Schnyder and Canela), that are both elegant and contemporary. 

All sales of the portfolio support the RA and help ensure that the RA is here for everyone – long into the future. 

It was produced and co-published for the RA by Hurtwood.

All images courtesy of Hurtwood Press

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