Book covers were generally my most fun jobs as a commercial artist and illustrator, and I think it shows in much of the work that resulted. The main reason for the success of these commissions was the fact that I was employed by art directors, who were often artists themselves, and who thus gave good, clear briefs.
I’ve already discussed my successful partnership with George Sharp for Pan Picador in relation to my cover for the novel Billy Bathgate, but that was just one of several enjoyable collaborations. In fact, my first ever professional commercial art commission (soon after I joined the Virgil Pomfret Agency in late 1989), was for another Picador publication, called The Fruit Palace by the noted travel author, Charles Nicholl. In this case, George simply wanted me to copy the author’s own photograph of a Bogota street corner, in my classic poster style. It was an easy, dream first commission.
However, things got even better a few years later, when I tried my hand at freelancing, and found that I could target publishers and companies that appealed to me and my personal travel and epicurean related enthusiasms. Hence, for a period of about two years I became something of a go-to artist for those wanting hand-conceived images for the covers of travel guides and the like.
Book covers, as opposed to general illustrations (of which I also did plenty) were well paid and particularly gratifying. Short of seeing one’s own book in the window of your local book store, spying one’s own cover comes a very close second. The fact that I was often stimulated by the subject matter also didn’t hurt.
Of all the photos in my extensive archive of old camera film, there few that still excite me as much as those I took in the Atacama Desert in 1991. Regular visitors to this site will know that I have something of a passion for deserts and wildernesses.
Rather than try explain in words what it is exactly that gets my juices going (and to be honest, I’m not even sure I fully understand myself) here are a set of images from that trip. I made a series of mostly huge canvases together with a complementary set of small gouaches from these pictures, and they were the basis of two of my last one-man shows as a fine artist – one held at the Chilean Embassy in 1992. The first picture presented here (91 Chile Atacama) was the basis of the super-large canvas that eventually found it’s way to an architect’s studio in Seattle, as payment for the designs for our house in Spain.
The original images were taken on my then-antique Nikon FE using Agfa chrome slide film, and one day I hope to have a scanner with sufficient power to faithfully reproduce the pictures digitally — or better still, pay the Atacama a return visit with my current camera. Nevertheless, I think that with these pictures I’ve managed to reproduce some of the magic of Chile’s genuinely awesome “Mars on Earth”…
Typical! My first ever visit to the States and as I was about to take my first shot of the trip the shutter jammed on my old Nikon FE . I know! Nikon FE’s don’t (or didn’t at least) jam – yet somehow mine did, and the only thing I could afford as back-up was a disposable Kodak. To add to my irritation, it turned out I had inadvertently purchased a wide-angle disposable Kodak. Never having used any kind of disposable camera I was ignorant of the fact that there was a choice of lens configurations and had just picked up the first one I saw on the shelf of the corner shop. Looking at theses images now however, more than 20 years later, I think that it was a happy set of accidental circumstances. There’s something appealingly technicolor and fresh about this basic Kodak film, and the wide views of fabulous Seattle and its environs have an almost Robert Burks-like cinematographic quality (Burks created the look of most of Alfred Hitchcock’s American-made movies). Ultimately I think they capture a sense of vivid “Americana” which I’ve struggled to repeat on all my subsequent visits to the US, with far superior cameras…