TRIPLE-TAKES AND DOUBLE CHOICES

During my ten  years or so as a commercial artist I had spells with two top London artist’s agents. The main and obvious advantage of having an agent was that they went out and got you commissions.  Most artists by definition, tend to be ill equipped, emotionally and attitudinally for the tasks of both finding and especially negotiating with clients. Artist’s agents on the other hand, often with backgrounds in advertising and / or art production have extensive lists of contacts and the wherewithal for exploiting those connections. 

This scene from a street in the Andalusian town of Arcos se la Frontera remains my favourite image from the series…

The big disadvantage in the artist / artist agent relationship however was the near-total lack of control the artist has over the process, from commissioning to payment.  And, it was ultimately the payment issues which trumped the advantages and convinced me to toughen-up and go it alone. My final artist’s agent’s commission was a case in point and also the last straw. What began as an unusually free brief – to paint a series of of 24 poster-style gouache paintings to decorate 12 luxury, first-class cruise liner suites for a seriously good fee, manifested as an exercise in frustration and acrimony. The fact I had to resort to the threat of lawyers against my own agent to extricate partial payment gives a good idea of just how sour things got.

This is a scene from a courtyard restaurant in Granada, right by the Alhambra Palace…

In the normal course of events, I worked directly with the clients, and delivered my work to them myself. For some reason never fully explained, on this occasion I did not get to meet the client and instead dealt exclusively with my agent. What exactly went wrong between the time of me handing over the finished pictures to the agent, and her passing them to the client – or indeed, if she ever handed them to the client, I never discovered. All I did know for sure, was that two months of hard work was never fully paid for.  Fortunately, during my ongoing film-to-digital trawl, I recently came across colour slides of several examples of the artwork from that fateful commission and the original photographic templates.

The delightful “balcon” at Arcos…

If I was ever to receive a similar commission again, apart from making sure to deal with the client on a one-to-one basis, I might also decide to produce Photoshop images (presented on the similar art papers to the original gouaches) rather than paintings. For me the finished results, especially with these highly graphic, minimalist images are at least as good as paintings, and in the awful prospect that I again would not be fully recompensed, would have expended a fraction of the time.

And finally, the Bishop’s palace in Seville.

Presented here (within the text) in triptych form are four of those very images. The photo templates comprise the central images, with the original gouaches on the right, and my new Photoshop treatments on the left. See what you think and don’t be afraid to let me know…

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A MOST PLEASURABLE BUSINESS – scrumpy, apple brandy and a book cover design…

While I would generally agree with the saying that business (or work) and pleasure shouldn’t mix, I’ve been fortunate to successfully buck the adage on several occasions.

In the late 90’s I won two illustration commissions from the British-based Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA). Short of working as a Michelin restaurant inspector, this was as close to a perfect job as I could have wished for, encompassing as it did two of my favourite British passions; beer and pubs, and getting reasonably paid for it into the bargain.

Both commissions were for covers for two of CAMRA’s newer guides: The first; for their guide to Pubs for Families and; the second, for their first ever Good Cider Guide.

Living as we did then in the county of Kent – otherwise known as the Garden of England – surrounded by gorgeous country pubs I barely had to travel more than a few yards from the front door of our cottage to find all the architectural and ale-related inspiration I required for the first commission. Moreover, our close friends and neighbours at the time, together with their two young kids comprised a particularly representative version of the typical pub-visiting English family – perfect models for the cover’s human content. However, the second cover posed more of a logistical challenge.

For those reading this not familiar with the details of English cider or its production there are a couple of things which I should point out. Firstly, unlike so many of its continental and North American cousins, English Cider is strong in alcohol – often seriously strong. Also, there are two basic types of Cider: The massed produced variety; made by half a dozen mostly, multi-national companies; pasteurised, gassy, crystal clear, and ranging from sickly sweet to semi-dry. Then there is the drink CAMRA’s new guide was highlighting: Made by small, often family outfits, to age-old recipes; unpasteurised, still, normally unfiltered; using dozens of local apple varieties with an infinite range of flavours and styles and mostly known these days as “Scrumpy”. These two highly distinct types of Cider have only three things in common: They’re both made from apples; they’re both highly alcoholic, and production of both are concentrated in the two main apple-growing regions of England; the south west – centred around Somerset and Devon, and the west Midlands – centred around Herefordshire.

It seemed to me early on that as the central theme of the Cider guide was “authenticity” I should find some way to express this in my picture for the cover. So, while it would have been so simple to set up a still life with a pint of scrumpy in my cottage studio, I decided I’d get better results by doing some actual research. The fact that this research would entail the odd bit of product sampling would merely help my striving for authenticity!

After some discussion with my very knowledgeable contact at CAMRA and a few phone calls I managed to arrange to visit the illustrious 200-year-old cider maker of Burrow Hill in Somerset (now known as Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Burrow Hill Cider*).

When we arrived, the orchards were draped in an appropriately hazy, golden autumnal light, and cider production was in full swing. As wine makers, Dido and I were used to the heavy pungent odour of crushed fermenting grape across our Spanish finca, but this was nothing compared to the aroma of hundreds of thousands of crushed and fermenting Somerset apples. Burrow Hill boasts some of the oldest and most picturesque apple orchards in England, bearing over forty apple varieties. The visit was intoxicating in every sense; visual and olfactory. Moreover, and to our surprise they not only made delicious ciders, but ten years earlier they’d begun making brandy too. The ones we sampled were every bit as good, if not better than most Calvados.

In our long experience of visiting wine makers, from the most prestigious chateaus in Bordeaux, to the most remote and humble boutique winery in the middle of the Negev Desert, we’ve always had warm and cordial welcomes. Yet, none to surpass the friendliness and helpfulness displayed that day by the people at Burrow Hill, who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me get the material I required. It remains an apple infused, golden memory as I think the pictures shown here attest…

 

*For those of you interested in learning more about the story of Burrow Hill and its delicious range of apple-related liquids you can visit their website here: https://www.somersetciderbrandy.com/

 

LOVE AND MARRIAGE – and a few laughs

With Valentine’s Day less than a month away and in light of the favourable response to my two recent greetings cards posts, here are some of the more successful designs I made back in the 1990’s with a romantic theme. While some were done specifically for the feast of said Valentinus, most were commissioned to cover the themes of wedding and / or non-specific anniversaries of a romantic nature.

The more conventional designs were for the UK market with the more quirky, and risqué images proving popular with Scandinavian, Dutch and German clients — although how they translated the captions, I have no idea.

My particular favourite — albeit retrospectively — is “You’re Just My Skype”, which originally bore the caption “Think of Me Always”. Given that the card was published in 1998, a full five years before Skype was launched I’m struggling to remember what influenced the design? Maybe it was just my “Jules Verne” moment…

CHRISTMAS CARDS – THE BI-POLAR SERIES

Of all the people I ever dealt with in the various branches of the art world – “fine” and commercial – by far the most disreputable (and this includes gallery owners, art dealers, advertising bods, and even agents!!) were the greetings cards companies.

A good example of what I mean is represented by the set of cards displayed below. Around 1990 I had the idea of doing humerous cards based on Arctic/Antarctic/Polar themes. I was particularly pleased with the way the dark blue starry skies and snowy landscapes threw the subject matter into sharp relief. They just looked great and I knew they worked and I knew they would sell well.

Anyhow, that Spring I arranged a meeting at the offices of one of the UK’s leading card companies to see what they thought of the designs. After a brief discussion the lady who interviewed me asked if she could keep the pictures for a week or so to enable the “production team” to give them full consideration…

Stupidly, I agreed to this, without even so much as a signed receipt from her proving that she had taken temporary possession of the designs.

About a week later, the lady met me in a cafe behind Selfridges in London and returned the artwork to me, saying that “the team” had decided that the designs were not for them after all.

To my dumb and ingenuous horror, my designs, redrawn by different artists appeared in the shops later that year. After speaking with a top London copyright lawyer I realised that my position was probably hopeless as I had no sure way of proving that the company had had possession of my designs, or that my designs predated those now being printed and sold – in their thousands! Moreover, he told me, even if I did win a legal case – back in those days at least – I would still most likely have ended up out of pocket.

It was an exceptionally painful lesson which contributed significantly to my decision to turn away from art.

Nevertheless, presented here, for the first time is that series of original designs. I think you’ll enjoy them – even if you’ve seen them before – sort of…

MY “DON’T” SERIES – (of greetings cards)

Can’t recall if I already mentioned that for a while I made a modest crust designing greetings cards and I also can’t  recall what on earth the concept was behind this “DON’T” series?  I cannot think of many occasions when one would either present, or wish to be presented with the sort of messages displayed here. Perhaps I actually intended them as posters for a psychiatrist’s waiting room? Who knows?

They were done using sheets of coloured acetates with drawn-then-stenciled figures positioned beneath. In the pre-digital age, this was a tried and tested method for artists on low budgets (without access to things like lithography or screen printing) to achieve clean blocks of solid colour and sharp edges.

Whatever, the images seem reasonably affecting looking at them now.

STOCKHOLM’S INDIAN SUMMER

I get the feeling that a warm, sunny September in Stockholm is rarer than a hen’s tooth, and judging by the way the locals were eagerly soaking up the precious UV, like squirrels frantically collecting nuts for winter, this was an extremely welcome climactic anomaly.

In any event, the low-slung solar disc  was a tremendous bonus for me as it cast a magical golden light and long shadows on a city even more handsome than its inhabitants. In the images presented here I’ve tried to encapsulate the experience of  seeing colourful Stockholm bathed in that extraordinary light and contrast.

Mind you, rarely have I gone anywhere for a first visit with more preconceptions, and the sight of so many impossibly good-looking, blonde, bronzed sun-worshipers fulfilled two of those on a very long list. (The rest of that list, in regards to preconceptions both confirmed and shattered is a definite subject for a future post).  Enough to mention here that something I wasn’t expecting was the apparent identification many men of a certain age in Stockholm seem to share with Jeremy Clarkson – I’ve never seen so many men, in one town, of 50+ years of age, in white shirt, sports or leather jackets and tight jeans…

 

 

 

 

LOVERS & ROMANCES FROM MYTHOLOGIES OF THE WORLD (Part II)

Here are the second batch of illustrations.

And yes…as one or two of you who know us have noticed, Dido and I (plus a girlfriend of Dido’s) were the models for most of the characters portrayed. Much hilarity was had by all during the photography and as for the photos themselves – well, they’re indescribable! But that’s another story…