SELLING IDEAS INSTEAD OF ART…

…my brief spell “DESIGNING” JOKES FOR A top GREETINGS CARD COMPAny.

In previous posts I have described the frustrations I often experienced at the hands of unscrupulous greetings cards companies (of which there were a surprisingly large number), who would reject my artwork but then use my jokes and ideas without paying me. As described, I would submit a folio of cards designs; the company would sit on them for several weeks (sometimes months) and then return them with barely an acknowledgement (sometimes none); and then, a month or two later, cards with my jokes and ideas would suddenly appear on the shop-shelves made by different (presumably in-house, and thus far cheaper) artists.

“Love skiing”

I don’t know if things have changed since, but the problem back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, was that, unlike in almost all other areas of commercial art/illustration, there was no formal contract system in place for freelance artists doing work for greetings cards companies. Normally, you sent in your work on “spec”, and took a chance on the integrity, or otherwise of the company.

“Mernaught”

Thus it happened, that around 1990, I found myself with a pile of ideas and jokes, but wary of being stung yet again, I decided to try a different tack.

“Ashes to… ashes” (This could be a touch oblique for non-cricket lovers, however for those in the know, the bowler is of course the one and only Jeff “Thommo” Thomson.)

I telephoned the-then biggest card firm in the UK (they might still be, for all I know now) and asked to speak to their art director. I had never approached them before because I knew they only used in-house artists for their finished cards, but as I’d now reached the point where I would be content with at least earning something for my ideas, I guessed I had nothing much to loose.

I was put straight through to the lady in question, and told her of what I had been put through at the hands of several of her rival companies, and asked her frankly if I would be taking the same risk sending my material in to her for consideration.

When I told her of my “Polar” series of Christmas card designs she said she knew of them, and from then on took me very seriously.

My guess was, perhaps naively, that such a large company would be more straightforward to deal with, for the sake of their professional reputation if not for their innate honesty. However, she explained that they could not enter in contractual arrangements with freelancers as this undermined the morale of their in-house artists. Nevertheless, she offered to put a non-binding assurance in a hand written letter that her firm would definitely pay me a fair price for each and every idea of mine they liked.

(There’s a cereal ad currently on UK TV which tells a similar joke…I wonder?)

Good to her word, the letter arrived a day or two later, containing her assurance, and a request for sketched roughs of my jokes and ideas – about 12 of which I duly dispatched to her, albeit on a wing and a prayer.

“Birdy – no birdie”

After hearing nothing for weeks I began to think the worst, but about two months later I was pleasantly surprised to not only receive back my roughs, but also a cheque for the half-dozen or so ideas they had decided to use.

Wrong ball!

Several of those roughs are displayed here, and I wonder which, if any ring a bell…?

The eternal mystery of how?

or, getting it right and not knowing why…

I began drawing when I was a young boy. Not because I ever enjoyed it, or got any particular satisfaction out of it, but simply because I always could and it helped me get through the many school lessons I found otherwise pointless and boring – specifically maths and French.

Drawing, for all its tediousness was a survival strategy for me at school in a way similar to reading the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) had been for me in Synagogue – the main difference being that I actually found elements of reading the Bible genuinely thrilling (see my previous post).

I rarely got into serious disciplinary trouble at school, but the little opprobrium I did attract from my teachers was normally because of my drawing in class. Fortunately I suppose, my maths and French teachers regarded me as a hopeless cause, and often liked my sketches, and so they generally left me to get on with it undisturbed. I remember one episode in particular, when I must have been 12 years old, my maths teacher did finally loose her patience with me during an algebra class. She marched up to my desk at the end of the hour-long lesson intending to scold me until she saw what I had drawn… an epic depiction of French cavalry assailing the British infantry squares at the Battle of Waterloo. Instead, she simply leaned over my shoulder and marvelled at my felt-tip representation Napoleonic military mayhem.

Of the thousands of drawings I did, over nearly forty years, this is one of a handful which I feel is accomplished. It’s a pen sketch of an art school friend, and I like everything about it, including the foreshortening, the sense or weight and the hands. It’s something to do with instinctive decision making, but sadly, unlike the greats, from Da Vinci to Watteau, I never learned to bottle “it”, whatever “it” is.

Ultimately my drawing led me to the art room in senior school, where I learned the rudiments of painting, and which in turn led on to a foundation degree and then to a BA. It was all an oddly thoughtless and ill considered career path which was never really planned, but rather just happened to me.

Thus it is, that the vast majority of the thousands of drawings I did over the best part of 40 years are of distinctly average quality, and perhaps more interestingly, that I cannot begin to explain the hows or the whys of the half-dozen or so decent sketches I did manage to pull off.

All I can offer as a theory, is that practise really does make perfect, very occasionally.

PADUA – Stone and Water

Padua is most famous in the anglophone world at least for being the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but its true importance lies in its role as one of the oldest and most important university cities in the world.

Arguably, the home of modern western medicine – indisputably the cradle of modern pathology – with strong associations to the likes of Galileo and Copernicus it’s legacy as a historic centre of scientific learning is only surpassed by Cambridge. (This is particularly interesting when one realises that Padua University emerged from Bologna University in a way very similar to the way Cambridge emerged from Oxford – at about the same time.)

However, as a warning to the prospective visitor to Padua, it should be noted that for all it’s academic glories (and a couple of fabulous artworks by Giotto and Donatello) it falls far short of most of its city neighbours so far as things like charm and gastronomy are concerned. Nevertheless, like all Italian towns, it finds a way to smile back when one points a camera at it.

Presented here are a series of enhanced photographic images through which I make an attempt to transmit the feeling of a stroll through Padua’s  cobbled streets and along her narrow waterways…

PHOTO-CURIOS

I’ve been making greetings card designs and images for decades now – initially doing freelance work for greetings card companies and poster publishers and more recently producing images for my own Moody By Nature label. Over the years I’ve done everything from cartoon smut (professionally referred to as “erotic humour”) to soppy Christmas and birthday penguins and polar bears (yes, you can probably blame me for the proliferation of penguin cards from the 90’s onward). Lately though, I’ve been busy with more photographic based themes and images.

Here is a small selection from a series I somewhat blandly titled curiosities, for obvious reasons.

“Bolt Masala” is from a photo I took in a metal engineering factory reception office in Coimbatore in southern India – hence the “masala” connotation.

Bolt Massala

I spotted the old boots suspended by their laces for “Good Use” in the delightful artists village of Ein Hod on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It’s proven popular both as a retirement and as an anniversary card…

Good Use

…as has “Growing Old Together Gracefully” (as an anniversary card that is!) which displays two venerable phone boxes in Hampstead.

 

Growing Old Together Gracefully

“Pond Life” was snapped in the exquisite Alcazar gardens in Seville.

 

Pond Life

I was struck by the image of “The Blue Cup” in the unlikely setting of Sherwood Forrest – more famous for hosting the “merry men” in Lincoln Green.

The Blue Cup

Finally, I saw the yellow balloon languishing in a puddle on the Regent’s Canal  towpath (north London) on “New Years Day” 2011 – having lost my dear mother barely three months before it seemed like a poignant metaphor for the past year…

New Years day

 

 

 

MY POSTER PHASE…(1)

For a while during the late 1980’s and early 90’s there was a resurgence of classic poster design in British commercial illustration. For about ten years add agencies got a nostalgia pang for the poster images of the early half of the century—especially the great travel posters of companies like Cunard and P&O.

Photo-sourced images, distilled into simple, screen-print-like blocks of colour were once again all the rage which meant for me, as a keen exponent of the form, a fairly regular stream of commissions.

One of these days, when I’ve completed the transfer of all my old work copy onto a digital platform I’ll put up one or two gallery posts showing the sort of stuff I did for the likes of Thomas Cook and Legal & General.

For now, here is a small gallery of highly disparate images I made for my own pleasure and exhibition.

They comprise a truly odd bunch, including as they do some kind of anti-communist poster (can’t recall if it’s aimed at Russia or China?) and a slightly weird self-portrait of me looking very miserable (suffering with heat-stroke) at a bus stop in Israel. Somewhere, I have dozens of colour slides of many more, less quirky; mostly travel related images which are now all happily sold. They too await digital conversion.

Meanwhile, these are fun—I think!

 

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IF KING SAUL HAD EMPLOYED A COURT ARTIST…

Sadly, of all the Near-Eastern kingdoms of the late 11th early 10th centuries BCE, one of the few to shun the services of visual artists were those of Israel and Judah. Even during their later years, when they had established dynasties under the likes of Omri, and Ahab, so far as we know, they never went in for recording themselves and their deeds other than by the written word.

So, when I came to illustrate my book on King Saul – the very first king of All-Israel (Israel and Judah), the only thing I had to go on for authentic pictorial reference was from the neighbouring contemporary empires and kingdoms from around 1020 BCE. The closest geographically and in time were the friezes of the Egyptian Pharaohs of the 21st Dynasty and the Kings of the early Neo-Assyrian empire. Then, I tried to imagine myself as King Saul’s court artist, working in their style and with their kind of materials.

I ended up with the ten plates you see here, in their original “mosaic” form. I thought the mosaic effect added somehow to their feeling of authenticity however, my editor at Lutterworth did not agree, and went with the “smooth” versions. See what you think…

ANOTHER NEARLY-BUT-NOT-QUITE…

In the late 1980’s when I was still doing a great deal of cartooning and comic art, someone – but I can’t recall who – suggested that I send in some of my politcal cartoons to the broadsheet newspapers to see if they were interested. However, as I was well aware, most newspapers had long-established relationships with their main leader cartoon artists, so I knew that the chances of dislodging any of them were very slim.

But there were two factors that gave me a little hope.

I knew that the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs had failed to replace Nicholas Garland with another  leader cartoonist since his leaving the paper in 1986 and I also had the moral backing of the ex-Thatcher home secretary, Kenneth Baker, whom it so happened was /is an avid collector of political cartoons, and who’d seen and very much liked my work, and expressed as much in writing.

So I decided to give myself a project of doing a leader-style cartoon for the main news story of each day of a single week and then send them in to the Telegraph.

Sadly, nothing came of the enterprise. The Telegraph people were very polite and told me that they had just given the post to a new artist on a permanent basis, but that I should try again, should the position ever become vacant in the future. As rejections went, it was one of the better ones I ever experienced in all my creative incarnations, but I never did get around to re-submitting news-cartoon artwork to the Telegraph, or any other publication.

Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced four of the seven cartoons I did that week (it might be that I sent them to Kenneth Baker as a thank you, but I’m not certain), so I can only reproduce three of them here.

If anyone can remember the stories or the period I was covering with these I’d be most grateful for a reminder. For what it’s worth, looking at them now, I think I did a mean Leon Brittan – and not many people can say that!

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…

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

As an illustrator my most lucrative commissions, pro-rata, were for advertising agencies. I rarely earned less than the equivalent of £500 per day  and often considerably more than that, and this was back in the 1980’s. But there was a catch; a burdensome and irritating trade-off, which was having to deal with the agencies themselves and especially the members of the “creative-teams”. These “creatives”, often genuinely brilliant and yes, creative, young people were, more often than not, hampered by their competing egos, their manufactured passion for the job at hand and their -oh-so-cool agency “patois” made them highly ineffective givers of briefs.

Briefs were generally muddled and unclear, and always – but always – the artwork was required yesterday at the latest. I can honestly say that in the dozen or so jobs I did for agencies I can’t recall ever being entirely sure of what I was supposed to be doing, and nearly always having to do it through the night to have it ready for the courier the next day.

By contrast, although book covers could also pay very handsomely, for most book illustration work one earned peanuts – On one particular job for Cassell Illustrated I had to do a finely drawn and coloured pen and ink reconstruction of a Templar castle. The research, acquiring of photo-reference material and actual making of the picture took me the best part of three weeks. I was paid the grand total of £150! But despite this I nearly always enjoyed the work. Most publishing house art directors were – or had been – illustrators and artists themselves and had had an instinctive knowledge of how to give clear and lucid briefs. Similarly, time was never a major issue, being determined more by the scale of the illustration job itself rather than purely commercial considerations.

One such job in the summer of 1998, which turned out to be my final excursion into illustration, was something of an epic. I was commissioned, again by Cassell Illustrated to make a series of 16 gouache colour plates to front each chapter of a book called “Mythical Lovers”. The author, Sarah Bartlett, was/is a well-known astrologer who had compiled and written a coffee-table history based around 16 ancient and iconic love myths from around the world.

After the job was completed and I had been paid I left illustration for good, and rarely gave Mythical Lovers another thought. And because I no longer required a portfolio  it was the only job for which I never received or asked for finished copy.

Then the other day, I was going through the drawers of my old plan-chest here in Spain and I came across my original gouache plates – all sixteen of them, and in a state of perfect preservation, and thought what a curious subject they would make for my next “gallery” post.

I’m showing them in two groups of eight and I’d be interested to know what people think of them. For me, it’s a reminder of just how versatile one had to be as a commercial illustrator – the “session musicians” of the visual art world…

HOMERTON GIRLS

One of my first girlfriends, more years ago than I care to remember, got into Homerton College, Cambridge about the same time I started at Saint Martin’s in London.

Sadly, our relationship did not survive long into our enforced “academic” separation, but I was privileged to visit her once during her first term at Homerton, and very enjoyable it was too. Not only did my girlfriend manage to sneak me into her all-girls halls of residence, but I was also able to stay the night.

Obviously, everything was above board, and we were the models of decorum and virtuous behaviour, but I can’t deny that I found the company of her and her equally clever and gifted and pretty friends hugely stimulating. And, as was often the case for me in those days, I would channel my stimulation through my drawing and painting.

So, when looking at these extremely modest pastel sketches it’s important to remember that they were done by a young man in his late teens while in a highly “stimulated state”. Whatever their quality (and I have no illusions about that, I assure you), they remain a treasured memory…