John R Biggs, illustrator
Derby-born John Biggs was an educator and prolific illustrator and author, writing more than twenty books on various aspects of illustration, lettering, typography and calligraphy. He was Head of Graphic Design at Brighton from 1951 to 1974.
Biggs studied at the Derby School of Art (1929-31), developing a keen interest in printing and teaching himself wood engraving. He went on to study at the Central School of Art and Design (1931-33). His self-authored, illustrated and printed Sinfin Songs and other Poems was published through his private press, The Hampden Press, in 1932. Robert Gibbings, founder of the Society of Wood Engravers, gave an Biggs important commission in 1938 for wood engraved illustrations for the Penguin Illustrated Classic edition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; Biggs later designed the covers for the first King Penguins.
During the 1930s Biggs was also employed by companies such as the highly design conscious Orient Line run by Kenneth Anderson. In the 1940s he became art editor of the SCM Press (1943-49) and the production manager of Country Life Books (1949-50). During the Second World War he had been appointed to a lectureship in design at the London College of Printing (1939-1946), the first of a series of academic appointments, and became Head of the Graphic Design Department in the Brighton School of Art/Brighton Polytechnic from 1951 to 1974. He was responsible for setting up a new typographic workshop with a specialist tutor, Don Warner, supported by two technicians, and was also the key figure in the design and implementation of the new Diploma in Art and Design in Graphic Design.
Along with other members of staff including Raymond Watkinson and Ronald Horton he became deeply interested in Russia, a British Council grant awarded for the study of the Cyrillic alphabet supporting travel there. He also exhibited his wood engravings in Moscow, Leningrad and Tashkent. Other appointments included heading a Book Production course for the Jamaican Ministry of Education and becoming Training Advisor to the Government Printer in Hong Kong (1977-78). In 1982 he was elected a Master of the Art-Workers’ Guild.
Biggs’ many books include An Approach to Type, Blandford (1949), Illustration and Reproduction, Blandford (1950), Craft of Woodcuts, Blandford (1963), Basic Typography, Faber & Faber (1968), Story of the Alphabet, Oxford University Press (1968), and Cognition, Development and Instruction, (with John R Kirby) Academic Press (1980).