Making an ABC

How to start

First form a group, or work with an existing one ­ such as Parish Mappers, neighbourhood group, civic or local history society, parish or town council.

Decide who and what the ABC is for. Is it for local interest, initiation for newcomers, for tourists, an agenda for local action, use in public participation, or all of these?

It could take many forms, but imagine a goal of creating a poster to be printed. Discuss the print run and how many you need to cover your costs or to ensure that everyone gets one.

An ABC may be pictorial or simply words. Photography is easy because most people have a camera, some may have old snaps of the place and the people. Take simple portraits of buildings or details of chimneys, people and their houses, trees, local breeds of animals, local dishes, festival days.

Of the ABCs that have already been made, one (by Somerset County Council) is made entirely from photographs, whilst others include illustrations, linocuts, engravings or a mixture. Some have been drawn by one artist, others have included artwork by a number of people (17 illustrators contributed to Common Ground's A ­ Z of Local Distinctiveness; in Sarratt 6 illustrators worked with two designers). Much will depend on the skills of the people within your group, but ideally it would be good to involve as many people with artistic abilities as possible.

Choose an 'art director' to help organise who illustrates what, and to what scale. A good art director can make the most of visual material of varied quality and create an overall design to hold everything together as well as getting the artwork ready for the printer.

Lettering: The alphabet could vary too and consist of different type faces or draw on styles of lettering to be found in the locality. Look at the lettercutting on the gravestones, the lettering used on milestones, street signs, manhole covers, sign posts, shops etc.

On our example, looking in Shaftesbury and in Covent Garden for inspiration, the O came from Portwine & Son (lettering above the butchers shop), X came from a London taxi cab sign, the H from the yellow hydrant sign and so on. Some of these may be specific to the street or region, others may be found anywhere in Britain. Local distinctiveness is about all of these things that make the place.

(image: from Common Ground's A-Z of Local Distinctiveness)

Gathering Information
Getting your ABC printed
How to use your ABC
An ABC of Shaftesbury
An ABC of Bicester

Lea Valley Allotments ABC
ABCs from Cumbria
Hampshire ABC