Design etc

Thirteen (b): Neville Brody/Illustrated London News/April 1988

It is very unusual for a graphic designer to be recognised outside of his profession. It happened to Saul Bass, and it happened to Milton Glaser, but not before they had spent many years at their craft, and their high profiles came with prestigious design work for Hollywood films, international newspapers and supermarket chains. When the Victoria & Albert Museum decides to devote the 20th Century Gallery (formerly the Boiler House) to a graphic designer, then, it is remarkable to find that far from being a posthumous show, the subject has only just seen the other side of 30.

Neville Brody is probably best known as art director of The Face, a magazine that through the mid-1980s has become in America and Europe a byword for style and modernity in design. Brody arrived at a time when magazine design had reached an impasse. As the minor flourish that accompanied punk was settling down, he stepped in to inject new blood into an ailing discipline. His emergence laid the foundations for a change in public perception of design. People started to take notice of a field that had previously left them unmoved. Strange hieroglyphics leapt out of The Face, headlines ran upside down or off the page, offset by symbols that seemed to have strayed from the pages of the Highway Code. As the exhibition, The Graphic Language of Neville Brody will show, he has covered a lot of other ground since and brought the same seriousness of intent to all he has done.

After a fine art foundation course, Brody studied graphics at the London College of Printing, an institution noted for its stringency regarding typography. This provided him with the challenge he was looking for. Everything he wanted to do which flew in the face of prevailing thought had to be forcefully argued. This approach has made him an articulate spokesman for his methods and, like the Dadaists and Constructivists who inspired him, fond of manifestos: “Graphic design is a language, a complete language. Some people are born to it, understand it fluently and can make new sentence structures, or talk slang if necessary. And then there are those who just use phrasebooks—they do not actually understand the words they’re saying, but the phrase solves their questions.”

After leaving the LCP, Brody started to design sleeves for small independent record companies. Working on low budgets, he had to push his techniques and ingenuity to their limits. Looking back now, his trademarks were emerging: his impatience with standard typefaces and clichéd imagery. It was soon after joining Stiff Records that he met Nick Logan, the editor of Smash Hits, who recognised Brody’s talent although it was not appropriate for the pop weekly. Had Brody continued working for independent record labels his influence would have been limited, restricted as it was to a small cult audience. In 1980, however, Logan launched The Face on £7,000 and brought Brody in after 15 issues. With a complete disregard for market research, Logan had avoided the compromise and stifling of ideas that can occur when major publishers plan and launch magazines. He created a “style bible”, read by the bright young things it celebrated, in which Brody’s experiments could run riot, and in so doing change the face of magazine design.

Broken down, the traditional elements of a magazine spread are the article itself, the illustrative material and captions, the headline, the introduction and the credits. Good designers use these elements to create a visual effect that will enhance the sense of the story. This is done through the choice of typeface, which offers clues to the content of the piece by its size and weight, as well as by what it says. Its relation to the pictures brings forth another set of responses from the reader. In this way, the magazine is given pace and structure. Many magazines, however, are designed on a formula basis, applying virtually the same (un)aesthetic reasoning to every type of story, creating at best a characterless whole and at worst an unreadable jumble of images and words.

What separates magazines from other areas of graphic design is haying a regular audience to whom you can communicate ideas and feelings. As familiarity grows, you can use shorthand or prompt readers to look at things differently. The V&A exhibition shows how the appearance of Brody’s magazine developed from issue to issue, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes drastically, until twice or three times a year you held a radically different-looking magazine in your hands. Brody used numerous signs and symbols, expanded and contracted headlines to startling effect, and when typefaces started to limit him, he drew his own. This led to a unique situation: a designer forced to retain a lawyer just to warn imitators of copyright infringement if they became too slavish. It galled Brody that people could glibly pick up and use typefaces he had hand-drawn for a specific use.

Success does breed imitation though, and at a certain point, The Face design became the perfect phrasebook for entry into the financially attractive world of youth and style. It was used indiscriminately by magazines and advertisers, desperate to appeal to and tap the resources of the youth market. They often missed the fact that although The Face was a guide to this culture, it was also questioning it constantly. The biggest drawback of being so influential was that every move made, every change was examined and criticised and usually, in the end, exploited. As the imitations went from bad to worse, The Face began to look more classical. The hand-drawn faces became more elegant and Baskerville, a doyen of British typography, was used extensively.

By now, Neville Brody was the most talked-about magazine designer in the country. His high profile led to approaches from other magazines. He redesigned the London listings magazine City Limits and then the New Socialist, in-house magazine of the Labour Party. Even politics could not deny the importance of design (and nor should it, Brody would argue). Both these projects were successful outlets for his ideas, but less happy were his ventures into the Condé Nast empire. New York’s Mademoiselle, influenced for some time by The Face, imported Brody to revamp its appearance. His efforts hit a brick wall in the shape of Alexander Liberman, the group’s overall design director. Although he originally approved the choice of Brody, Lieberman rejected the look he had created as not feminine or “pastel” enough. When he went on to condemn the hand-drawn headline face as “pretentious”, Brody caught the next flight back to London.

On accepting the challenge of becoming art director of Tatler, Brody had to work within the hierarchy of an established magazine. This episode was equally short-lived, as parts of the design he implemented were not printed and features were moved out of their allotted places without consultation. Having been indulged at The Face, Brody found the interference unacceptable and swiftly resigned. He returned to Logan’s patronage to design Arena – Nick Logan’s magazine for men, and has managed to keep ahead of his most slavish imitators, although he is amused by the first mimics of its, in his words, “deliberately boring design”.

As design moves increasingly into public awareness, it is essential that a designer who is serious about his work has an exhibition – heaven knows, enough kettles, frocks and carrier bags have been put on display. Design has now assumed what amounts to a stranglehold on the manufacturing and service industries, and Brody is not impressed. He considers that design “has gone off the beam. Ten years ago ‘designer’ was a dirty word because most design was anonymous, and now ‘Design’ is a dirty word to me because everything is designed.”

He sees the rise of the large design consultancies resulting in creations such as the new Midland Bank in Oxford Street. “A marriage of money and design, the perfect church for the 80s.” This adaptation of design as the crucial selling element is nothing more than “manipulation by flattery” in Brody’s words. He views the immediate future as a battle between the major design groups who “hoover up college graduates” and pander to market research-led ideas of communication graphics, and the independent designers and commercial artists.

Brody has always kept his operation basic – usually one assistant working from a small office, eschewing ambitions of becoming Neville Brody Associates Ltd. When asked what design he saw around him that was in any way inspirational, he looked outside his field: “Furniture design, which seems to be much more about craft – Tom Dixon, Ron Arad and Philippe Starck. It’s OK to be expressive, whereas it isn’t in graphics at the moment.” The only magazine I could elicit was the jazz and new music title, The Wire. The exhibition will surprise people who know only The Face. The breadth of Brody’s work shows that he has a very “classical” eye for one so associated with the cutting edge of modern design. The temptation now must be to rest on his laurels, recycling the type of work that people have liked him for in the past. But that isn’t Brody’s style. He will always question what he is doing and why he is doing it – and that’s rare.

Design etc, Illustration

Thirteen (a): Neville Brody/Blueprint/May 1985

When I worked on Blueprint, an A3-sized Design and Architecture magazine, launched by a collective of designers and writers, I was mainly a designer. I assisted Simon Esterson, learning an enormous amount about how to put magazines together. I had occasionally written for other magazines that I was designing, but I was especially happy to be asked to interview Neville Brody, as a big fan of his illustrative and idiosyncratic approach to design. He made it very easy, being both incredibly personable and quotable. I interviewed him again a few years later, for The Illustrated London News, and I’ll post that here soon.

Thanks to Nico Macdonald for this scan


When it becomes time to produce an 80s volume of Pioneers of Modern Typography the British section may be a one-man show. Write “B for Brody”, large. Virtually every magazine that pretends to be at the leading edge suffers from Brody fall-out, a situation that leaves its instigator wondering where he can turn for inspiration, where he can say “I wish I’d done that.”

Neville Brody has made typography a subject that is discussed in the non-rarified air of the real world, not just amongst art directors and students, for which he’s had to pay the price of Italian TV interviews and coachloads of Swedes descending on his cubicle of a studio at The Face offices as if it were a shrine. Quite where all of this started seems simple enough, but hindsight always makes the best ideas seem obvious.

A Man with all the Reasons
When Neville Brody went to the London College of Printing, it was rumoured to turn out people who could hand-draw a page of text so that it looked as if it were printed by machine. He arrived there as an illustrator who had decided to go to the most serious design course extant because it would have the strictest discipline. “If you’re going to rebel, you have to rebel against the strongest opposition. When I fought, I had to put so much into it, so that nothing I did could be faulted on quality. Since I had to effectively give up illustration, I put all my energy into type — so I use type as illustration.”

On leaving college, Brody started his journey from the rebellious underground to the overground. As the end of the fifties threw up Elvis and the sixties subsumed him into Hollywood and the mainstream, so the hippies and radicals at the end of the sixties suffered the big chill and became the junior executives of the seventies,

This “end of the decade” cycle continued — the late seventies in England bought, in the first throes of punk, the independent record boom. Neville got a job designing record covers: “I did a lot that had my own illustrations on — I’d carve wood for a record cover, use clay and plaster, photographed and re-photographed, I was also using the PMT machine lying halftone on halftone, building up something. Then there was a shift. The independents were running out of money and thought, hang on a minute — we’re appealing to 20,000 people here. What do we have to do to appeal to 200,000 or 1,200,000? And they started to ape the major record labels. At the same time, the majors began to ape the styles of the small labels.” Now, says Neville, it’s all flattened out, and companies have reverted to the direct marketing of a photo of the artiste on the cover.

Facing the Nation
Joining Nick Logan’s shoestring operation, The Face, at the end of its first year provided the vehicle for Neville’s influential encounter with the public. At The Face he is reflecting “the modern visual mentality, which is centred, I think, around a technological solution to things. It is based on what I’d call a unit design: everything in a unit and that unit can be squashed or shrunk, and there are x units on a page.” The Face’s longevity (five years this month) now places it amongst the magazine establishment. “The anniversary issue is the celebration of a new establishment: we’ve become the new yardstick.” Its acceptance and widespread influence mean that it has moved overground in a way that, say, i-D never has.

In talking about how he’s used photography, Brody explains some of the reasons for the magazine’s success. “One of the reasons we use photography is because of the technological feel of it — it’s a news story, and people are used to watching the news, getting a very fast flash of images.” Is that to say that The Face is disposable? “Oh, completely … and immensely collectable because of it. We’re dealing with a very disposable subject matter, and the modern mentality has learnt the value of disposablity. Sixties stuff is extremely valuable now, and it’s to do with these places like the V&A — instant collectors. They’ve learnt the lessons that the Tate is still learning, which is to buy at the time, instead of paying a fortune for it in twenty years. So effectively we’re moving into a time where institutions ‘sponsor’ the modern lifestyle, as a kind of investment for the future. In a sense, The Face does the same. We’re an immediate museum, a museum in everyone’s home!” This last is said with a grin, as Neville recounts stories of people buying two copies of The Face — one to keep and the other to cut up and pin-up.

“America’s a completely different story”
Soon the magazine world was awash with or ersatz Brody-isms, mostly of a lamentable nature, but the most substantial piece of flattery-by-imitation came from that home of the terminally hip, New York. Mademoiselle had been using a design ‘inspired’ by Brody’s work for some time and decided one day to bring in ’original’ designer, as it were. It’s the sort of thing that American magazines love to do, the big splash, the smell of money burning. I’m sure that if you looked at the masthead of Mademoiselle, you would find that their Art Department staff probably outnumbered the entire workforce of a comparable British magazine, what with their fetish for Consultative/Associate/Design Director titles. But Brody found that they support people whose creative input seems to consist of the power of rejection. 

Neville was offered the job, accepted, and was flown into the heat of a New York August. “I did a great job,” he says with assurance. Mademoiselle loved it, and Alexander Libermạn rejected it. Alexander Liberman is the man who oversees the Condé Nast group’s worldwide Art Direction, and he considered the design too masculine, too bold, even though he had seen and approved all the roughs. Lieberman felt that something more ‘feminine and pastel’ was required.’ This did not strike Neville as “the woman of today.” “Obviously, the guy had had a bad morning,” was all Neville would say. “I wanted to design them a new typeface, for exclusive use, and he rejected it because he thought it was pretentious. This man is a weekend painter!” Being asked to re-think, Neville turned the power of rejection on them and headed back to London.

A future for the fluent
Having fitted in two months in New York between issues of The Face, and having re-designed City Limits shortly before would have drained the creativity of most people, but Brody finds that other pressures are more of a hindrance to progress. To be honest, the work that I’m doing now is not as good as the work I did two years ago — not as innovative. Because it is more public now, and people are copying it, I think that any mark I make will appear somewhere else, so if I get a great idea I tend to hold it back!”

“At the root of it, Graphic Design is a complete language, like French, and some people are born to it and understand it fluently, can talk slang if necessary. Then some just use phrasebooks and don’t understand the words they’re saying, but the phrase solves their question. At the moment, something like The Face design is the perfect phrasebook to a lot of designers. They understand the surface of what they’re doing, but they don’t understand the reasoning. I’ll think why should a headline be overpowering? The eye has to be drawn to a headline, but that can be done with white space or can be done using a shape, whatever, so I’ll come up with a solution where the headline is 8pt, with a half-page of white space around it, and it’s just as readable. Someone will look at it and say Ah, 8pt headline and they’ll only use 8pt headlines with a double page of copy.”

It’s good to have Neville Brody around to remind us that Good Design and Taste can be exciting. A lot of people miss the humour in his work, and a lot of people have seen the imitators first, but when he says that in ten years he feels he might be as stuffy as Saatchi and Saatchi, take it with a pinch of salt. He grins when he says serious words like “I want someone to challenge me, and I hope it doesn’t have to be myself!”

Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Lucinda Rogers’ New York project

In a “30 years ago” frame of mind, here’s a brief post in the hope that some readers of Adventures in Commissioning would be interested to see (or support) Lucinda Rogers’ wonderful drawings of New York over the last three decades.

“In my career as an illustrator I’ve worked for many different companies, publications, and organisations including the New Yorker, New York Magazine, the Guardian, Times and Telegraph; the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bloomberg and publishers Penguin, Bloomsbury and Little, Brown. This often means being sent out to draw people, places and things: the practice known as ‘reportage’. But the New York drawings were not commissioned by anyone. They are my own project…”

Beautifully designed by Simon Esterson, there are 8 days to go to fund the last £10,000 needed for the project to become a reality.

Find the Kickstarter page here.


Twelve (7): The Observer, 1988

The final three illustrators I either couldn’t trace or didn’t respond to the Q&A. But here are their illustrations; left to right, Mathilda Harrison, Tony McSweeney and Steve Way.


I found all of the responses interesting and illuminating, and a pretty good portrait of that time in design and illustration. And I want to stress that it was very much a team effort by all – John Tennant, Shem Law, Dave Ashmore, Cath Caldwell, Marcel Ashby and Alan Ashby. John was an inspirational, enthusiastic leader, and tremendously exciting to work for. And great thanks to all the talented illustrators who took part, remembering their earlier selves from thirty years previously.


Lastly, here’s something I found the other day, The Observer Magazine from 12 January, 1986, just as we were starting on the project of revamping it. Carolyn Gowdy illustrating Sue Arnold.


Twelve (6): The Observer, 1988: Dolores Fairman/Phelps


Dolores Fairman (now Phelps)

Dolores Fairman

1 I had graduated from Kingston in 1982, with a varied portfolio that included magazine design, animation and illustration, in a generally punk style. I had no idea what part of the industry I wanted to join; I thought I wanted to be like Malcolm Garrett. But after the usual period of idealistic unemployment eventually found myself working as a layout artist/art assistant in magazine publishing, changed jobs a few times, ending up at Haymarket [Press, publisher of trade magazines] with Swiss typographer Roland Schenk as my cranky, infuriating – but supremely talented and highly principled – boss. My partner Kieren Phelps was illustrating full time for various clients such as the Radio Times and The Listener, and never went out on weekends – always working! I decided I must change my 9 to 5+ drudgery and that if I could get just three black and white illustration commissions a month, I would be earning the same as I was at Haymarket. I was lucky enough to be living in what they called a ‘short term let’ in Limehouse, a council flat with less than perfect amenities, so I had been able to save £1300 with which to launch my freelance career.

I stopped work, spent six weeks putting together an illustration style (I had two styles at first actually) and a portfolio of speculative work. I then raided Kieren’s list of contacts, made notes from the mastheads of magazines in WHSmiths and spent time on the phone getting names of art editors from reception staff of various publishing companies. The first jobs came from the Nursing Times, from a very lovely art director, Hussein Mohamed, who had given Kieren a lot of work and who often had black and white pages that needed livening up with illustrations. Being a weekly, deadlines were short, and it was a great practice ground. My big break came when I got a chance to see Martin, John and Shem at the Observer. I got the Sue Arnold series in June 1986, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life! One of the images is still in a frame in my house.

By 1988 I guess I was quite established though – in a meteoric rise kind of way. I had an agent (Sharp Practice) and was earning high wages doing advertising and corporate work. I was regularly working for The Observer, Radio Times, Sunday Times and many women’s magazines. The cracks were starting to show in the economy by the late 80s, and I didn’t know it, but my meteoric rise was headed for an equally meteoric crash!

2 I can’t give a proper answer to the first part as I wasn’t allowed to join the Illustration stream at Kingston. Brian Love (I love you, Brian, but I won’t forgive you for this!) the Illustration head, said: “I see you more as a designer…” I was allowed to do a couple of the drawing modules in the second year at Kingston, though for my third year I decided to pursue animation as a middle way that allowed me more scope for my music-orientated focus. For the second part of this question, see above!

3 Living and working in London, being able to walk into all sorts of glamorous offices with familiarity as if I had a right to be there. The Observer, the Sunday Times, the Radio Times, National Magazine House, IPC tower! Being young and wearing Vivienne Westwood clothes, the feeling of being a part of a generation that had questioned and upturned the depressing, oppressive 1970s and broken through so many social barriers. I guess I was lucky, and to some extent living in a London bubble, but it was very relevant to me and my experience of social mobility, having left a Hastings comprehensive school at 15 with 5 ‘O’ levels, mum on benefits, no support structure except from the State. Where is the support structure now?

4 I don’t work as a commercial illustrator any more, I do personal and research projects and collaborative work, but I am an illustration educator and am in close contact with many practitioners. So my experience is relevant, but no longer first hand!

Form, content, and platform:
Form. I do think that one of the roles of illustration has always been to provide dynamic, graphic interest on the page (or screen) for mainstream publications, that can’t always rely on avant-garde typography or fantastic photography. Neville Brody famously didn’t use illustration, but in a magazine full of huge letterforms, geometric shapes and outlandish fashion, there was no need for it. This hasn’t changed, and the new generation of illustrators seem even more keenly aware of the power of graphic impact, helped by the amazing tools they now have at their disposal, and encouraged by pioneers such as Blexbolex and Nobrow Publishing.

Content. Illustration is about providing a visual solution for a (usually text-based) problem. It’s up to the illustrator to point out where their particular brand of problem-solving will be most effective, and this location is a shifting one. When art directors (and that sometimes, has to be the illustrators themselves) see that illustration will solve that problem, a job is born. But it takes a talented individual to find that niche!

Platform. Illustration commissioning is now so much more international, which gives art directors more choice and makes the industry more competitive. The print magazine and book publishing industry is being financially squeezed (my London Book Fair experience bears this out) and books are possibly becoming less popular as Generation Rent need to be more mobile and can’t lug too many books around with them. This said, the applications for illustration are enormous. Illustration as part of the ‘image-world’ has to compete with any other image, fine art, archival/retro/historical images, photography, textile design. So it’s incredibly competitive and can have a lot to do with entrepreneurial talent and skilled social media use. Then there is social art, street art, zines, clothing, film and TV concepts, production design…

5 Well, I guess it has to be the ‘My Name Is Aurelia’ project, which is 450 or so images visually describing the text my mother left me when she died. She narrates her memories of being a refugee from Spain in 1937, part of the 4,000 other children who arrived at Southampton from Bilbao to escape the Spanish Civil War. For a little over a year up to December 2018, I produced a daily image using various types of rubber stamps and ink-transferred shapes.

From my professional career, I would like to mention the anti-fur charity Lynx, for which I had the pleasure and honour to have designed several T-shirts and other products. The high point of the campaign was a photo I have of Paul McCartney wearing one of my T-shirts!

[Optional!] Visual problem-solver rides crest of new wave into neoclassical modernist doldrums! Or, “It was acceptable in the 80s; it was acceptable at the time…” (Calvin Harris)

As you can tell from her answers, Dolores is smart and perceptive, which is why she’s an excellent communicator and educator. She teaches part time on the undergraduate Illustration course at the University of Gloucestershire. Her Aurelia project is a really wonderful piece of work.




Twelve (5): The Observer, 1988: Paul Cox


Paul Cox

Paul Cox

1 Having left the RCA six years previously, I had become reasonably established as an Illustrator, mainly working in editorial for newspapers and magazines and for several book publishers. It was the year following my marriage and the year before moving out of London to Norfolk.

2 I came through some very intensive and disciplined drawing teaching at Camberwell, where the involvement in printmaking and producing one’s own books using litho and letterpress gave you a good grounding in the craft. Illustration was an option within the Graphics department, which also ran printmaking, so there was plenty of opportunities to explore those mediums. The college had a very dominant Fine Art department, so the drawing discipline permeated extensively throughout the college, though we in Graphics were regarded as the lowest of the low, having sold out our integrity as ‘real artists’. Illustration was the only department where drawing was regarded as an end in itself, whereas in Fine Art, it was always seen as the means to the ‘great work’.

I did a three year MA at the RCA with Quentin Blake as professor and Peter Brookes as my personal tutor. Though being a more professionally aligned course, there wasn’t a lot of teaching, and you felt you had to find your own way. Linda Kitson had introduced me to reportage drawing, and I spent a lot of time working outside all around London. The annual Folio Society competition was the only time we actually grappled with any sequential illustration – that eventually led me to finding my own path into illustration and some of my first commissioned work.

3 I remember being very excited to see my work in print, particularly in the newspapers when I had only done the drawing the day before. There was a buzz in Fleet Street when the whole production was in-house from the Linotype setters in the basement to the editor’s office on the top floor. I felt fortunate to have emerged from college into what has become affectionately referred to as a golden age of illustration. There was so much commissioned work around from brochures to colour supplements, all with a rich variety of work you would see from week to week. It was a time when you could cut your teeth and learn on the job, however much time you spent at college; there was no way of preparing you for the real challenges of working to tight deadlines and demanding briefs. Even so, the printed pages were full of illustration, and you could recognise the unique styles of your peers straight away. We thought those days would never end.

By the end of the ’80s with the recession and the print moving out eastwards, marketing and cost efficiency seemed to have got the upper hand! I look back and see it as a time when art directors held more sway in how they commissioned, and with that more trust in us illustrators to deliver. It was at this time I began doing more work in the US, so our departure from London at the end of the 80s coincided with these changes. The arrival of the fax machine was an incredibly liberating tool as before we had to rely on constant dispatch riders taking sketches and artwork to and from clients; I didn’t miss the stress of all that. Sending faxes to clients in London and New York, sometimes cut into strips with instructions to piece them together at the other end, was an amazing revolution. You could be on the phone to a client discussing a drawing that only minutes before was being formed on your desk. The rudimentary fax has been way surpassed by the ease of transmitting images digitally now, but at the time this was an extraordinary and wonderful device!

4 I think that the editorial commitment to the use of illustrative elements has undoubtedly diminished. Whether this is due to a lack of confidence in the publications will to assert their unique identity, or just a lack of imagination or courage their part. It’s probably more due to the elevated powers of the marketing departments to tightly budget their productions, giving less scope for the art directors to be as adventurous. I think the role of illustration has shifted somewhat with more emphasis on sharper, graphic conceptual images, looking bright on the page though slightly ubiquitous and less personal when viewed overall.

Digitally generating images has changed the craft in such a way that has bypassed the hand made physical object of the artwork. It has allowed the image to be more pliable to suit the client’s needs and flexible in how the illustrator can be more adaptable. It has also become apparent how little drawing is now taught in the colleges at present; perhaps the digital revolution has enabled students to step beyond it. Learning how to interpret and reflect on the world around us through the honest accountability of drawing is such a true way of forming your identity as an artist and developing your own unique approach.

5 There have been many, though one of my earliest assignments was being sent to southern Spain by John Tennant for the Sunday Times Magazine. It was to illustrate Norman Lewis’s stories set in the late ’40s just north of Barcelona. I went for a week with £900 expenses (riches!), trying to cope with the Spanish Motorways in a little left-hand drive Seat, only having recently passed my driving test. The towns and people I drew had to reflect the period and the subject of the stories which were drawn on location. The challenge of location drawing is directing the elements you see around you into an image that reflects the experience of being in that place at that time. So it’s not just a record that a photograph will adequately capture. In this assignment, the degree of manipulation and adjustment to suit the stories taught me that you could incorporate imagined elements that were not present at the time, in this case making the images more relevant to Norman’s stories.

[Optional!] I was fortunate to have found my feet at that particular time in something in I love doing; the rest is stamina and hard work!

You can see how thoughtful Paul is from the insight of his answers. His inimitable style has never gone out of fashion, and he has worked extensively for most of the UK National press as well as having a long association with Vanity Fair in the USA. He was one of the founders of Blueprint, the A3 architecture and design magazine that started publishing in the ’80s. His work can be seen here.



Twelve (4): The Observer, 1988: Claudio Muñoz and Christopher Corr


Claudio Muñoz

Claudio Munoz

1 Thirty years ago…! Jill and I were living in her lovely converted Victorian end of terrace shop near Highbury Fields, Islington. We were both 41 and had been together for close to ten years. Our children were 15, 6 and four years old. I was busy and earning a reasonable living. My work was appearing in many publications, helped by the exposure given to it by a very nice and brilliant art director called Martin Colyer that I had accosted at The Listener and then The Observer magazine. (I’m looking right now at a brief of February 1988 to produce a map and a series of drawings for an internal brochure on the occasion of the move to the Marco Polo building). We were able that Christmas to take our family for a memorable first visit to Chile.

2 I had studied three years of architecture in Chile but left college to work as an illustrator, something I had been training myself to do since childhood. After meeting Jill on my first trip to Europe in 1978, I decided to re-start in the UK and soon I was walking the streets of London with blind, foolish, bullet-proof confidence and a growing portfolio, slowly getting to be well-known.

3 The energy, the innocence and trust common to all of us then young artists, the friendly and enthusiastic reception from people like you, the excitement of seeing one’s work in print and the incredulity at making a living with it.

4 Requirements are still varied and have expanded. The need for expressive images in all fields of graphics is undiminished. Even with the development of computers in between, now as then, media needs talented people who can graphically synthesise texts, issues and ideas. Oscillating between retrograde to enquiring fashions change, but it’s still as much of a challenge to produce such kind of work with electronic tools as it is with more traditional media. As always, the artists – illustrators and designers – are the ones who make things boring or exciting.

5 It has to be two. Editorially, the years-worth of weekly commissions for Simon Hoggart’s column in The Observer colour magazine. Sustained projects give one a chance to know what kind of artist you can be. Even though BIG BABY, a picture book published by Walker’s with my drawings sank without a trace, as children’s book illustrator it was going to be hard to match the excitement of a first published collaboration.

[Optional!] These days of painful cold turkey make me realise I’ve been a commission junkie all my life. Anything pressing on the go?

Claudio was always such fun to work with, and one of those people who were just a pleasure to be around. See some work here, and read a profile on page 24 of the May issue of Bridport Times here.


Christopher Corr

Chris Corr

1 In 1988 it still felt like early days in my illustration career. I’d graduated from the RCA, and I was teaching drawing a day a week at St Martin’s and in my own work I was experimenting with different ways to work, using collage, very basic printmaking. Illustration was going through a golden age, really flourishing, lots of illustration everywhere, packaging and glossy reports, and lots of visual experimentation from lots of people.

2 Illustration at the RCA was very drawing-based, both in the studio and on location. For me, it was the best way to develop my work. I’ve always been passionate about drawing, and it has always been a central part of my work, it’s so fundamental, so vital.

3 The late 80s was such a creative time for illustration and illustration was so widely used at the time. I remember walking around a supermarket and being astonished by the beautifully illustrated teas, coffee, wine labels, biscuit packets. It was everywhere.

4 I think there has been a shift in image making since the 80s; digital work has made a huge change and drawing has lost some of its importance. I think it will make a return just as the ‘crafts’ are reappearing, knitting, weaving, linocutting as a reaction to our digital world.

5 In the 80s, I began travelling and drawing around the world, and it was thrilling & fascinating. I’m still curious and eager to see and show more of the world I see. I worked with Qantas for about 18 months and travelled a lot in Asia and the Pacific. It was such a good education! I want to see more and draw more and show people what I see.

Chris’ work has never lost its sense of zing and pleasure, and we worked together at most of my magazine jobs. You can find a selection of his ever-vibrant work here.



Twelve (3): The Observer, 1988: Axel Scheffler and Benoit Jacques


Axel Scheffler

Axel Scheffler

1 I left art college in 1985, so I was about three years into my career as an illustrator in 1988. I already had one or two pieces published as a student (maybe one commissioned by you – I can’t remember) when I started. I took my portfolio round to magazines, advertising agencies and children’s book publishers in 1986 and got some commissions straight away. And I’ve had a steady influx of jobs ever since – no ups and downs, really.

2 I felt my college education didn’t do much for me – except it gave me the idea that illustration was a proper job, and gave me the chance to draw for three years. I remember Liz Pyle (on your list as well) asking me why I was at art college (where she taught at the time) and didn’t go straight into the business…

3 It seems to have been a bit of a ‘golden age’ for illustration, so I feel lucky to have started in the late eighties (though I look at some of my work of that period and can’t understand why anybody would have paid me to do this).

4 The work is essentially the same and Cartoonist and Illustrators are still around though they seem to be used less than in that period. But I have largely moved away from editorial to children’s book illustration and don’t know much about the current market, except it’s all digitalised now.

5 My biggest project over the last 30 years has been my collaboration with Julia Donaldson on The Gruffalo and many other picture books.

All things Axel can be found here, in a rather beautiful website. I may have commissioned Axel at The Listener, but I definitely did at The Observer. Even then his brilliance at capturing character was obvious.


Benoit Jacques

Benoit Jacques

1 I did two years in an art college in Brussels (never finished the four years “graphic communication” course there), arrived in London in 1979, worked two years at Pentagram Design, went to New York, worked a month for R.O. Blechman, got caught two years by the social service in Belgium, went back to London in 1983, worked as a freelance graphic designer for Wolff Olins, Michael Peters & others, but because I always had enjoyed drawing, I decided in 1985, when my first son was born, to become a full-time illustrator.

2 There were loads of magazines & newspapers around, with a true tradition of using illustration and photography. The art directors were usually open-minded, unconstipated and prepared to give a chance to young inexperienced artists such as myself. I got to really know the town by going around on my pushbike with a huge black portfolio on my back, either to show my work or to deliver the goods. By 1988s, as an illustrator, I suppose I had slowly become a reliable professional. I gradually felt I was being admitted in the circle of recognised illustrators, with no idea how vain and fragile this notion was. I used to hang around with Jeff Fisher, Jean-Cristian Knaff & Richard Parent, all foreigners like myself. There seemed to be an everlasting supply of well-paid work (another vain & fragile notion). I can say I truly loved my life in those days, fascinated by the British culture, in love with London, and fully aware of my own luck. I moved to France the following decade.

3 Because of my involvement in my own publishing venture, I slowly lost touch with the context of illustration for the press in England the following years. The only reminder of that period was the weekly drawing that The Guardian kept commissioning until two years ago. When it was stopped overnight, with no real explanation or farewell note from anyone, I thought that things had decidedly changed radically.

4 It seems I could never handle prestigious jobs. In the 80’s I did a poster for the Underground (“Fly the tube to Heathrow”). The image is strange, overcomplicated and totally inefficient. In that period, I was commissioned by Swatch to do a “Paris” watch. Putting the Eiffel tower on it was part of the client’s brief. The result is horrible, and I am well ashamed of it.

5 The work I would possibly feel the proudest and happy about is my self-published book, Play it by ear. The first edition came out in 1989, thirty years ago. It is still available and keeps selling well.

Like Axel, for Benoit magazine illustration was just one string to a large bow. Books, puzzles and comics all flow freely from his fertile mind, as you can see if you visit his website.


Twelve (2): The Observer, 1988: Liz Pyle and Carolyn Gowdy


Liz Pyle

Liz Pyle

1 By 1988 I had already spent about ten years working in the UK and New York mainly for newspapers, magazines and book publishers.

I arrived in the UK in 1978, having done an illustration degree at Philadelphia College of Art. My illustration teacher there, Al Gold, who also taught the Quay Brothers, thought I should follow in their footsteps and head for The Royal College of Art illustration course. So I took his advice and after a few months of backpacking settled in London and started the course. At the same time, I started doing the rounds with my portfolio to the newspapers and magazines first and then to a smattering of book publishers. I managed to get a couple of jobs a month, which kept me afloat through college. Afterwards, I headed to New York and spent a year freelancing there. Then back to the UK until 1988 when my husband and I headed to New York where I carried on doing editorial features and book covers on both sides of the Atlantic for about six years and then came back again to the UK.

2 I started art school as a sculpture major then switched to illustration because I wanted to do more drawing. I didn’t really fit into the commercial illustration mould and soon found myself at odds with the course. I finished though by winning the Illustration prize in my year somehow by doing something rather unconventional. This side of me was embraced by the Royal College of Art, which in 1978 was busy pushing the boundaries of what was considered illustration. I rode high on the crest of that wave of ‘radical’ illustration until it subsided.

3 This wave was also being supported by an enlightened group of art directors who also were enjoying free reign at their various publishing houses and were able to provide a platform for the illustrators. So naturally, it was a happy union of more ‘radical’ illustrators and art directors.

4 Everything changed with the internet and the availability of stock imagery. It seemed that the pendulum swung towards using photography instead of illustration.

5 I particularly loved doing the book covers for Penguin, Picador, Pandora, etc. Particularly ‘On the Black Hill’ by Bruce Chatwin, the Penguin covers for Camus and Kafka. Also, Longmans asked me to illustrate the ‘Blind Watchmaker’ by Richard Dawkins, I made 13 black and white monoprints for the chapter headings and the cover. New Scientist magazine covers were another particular favourite as they gave me a chance to do science-related themes. Then I moved into children’s’ books, which was the last oasis for illustrators.

[Optional!] I had a whale of a time making pictures for fascinating projects.

Find Liz’s stunning work, and more about her career, here.


Carolyn Gowdy

Carolyn Gowdy

1 In 1988, I was in the flow with editorial commissions, feeling inspired, positive about the direction my work was taking, and open to all possibilities to make a difference in the world as an artist. It was exciting to receive these opportunities to do work I enjoyed, to share it out there in the world, and to paid for this. I treated commissions with the same focused commitment and intensity that I did my own personal work. I was also teaching illustration part-time at the BFA level in various art colleges.

2 As an illustration student, I benefited from being given time and space to explore, experiment, and follow my intuition.

3 I completely enjoyed the opportunity that going around with my portfolio gave me to meet and interact with people.

4 Yes, the world of publishing has changed and moved increasingly from the printed page to the computer screen. I think they call it a digital revolution?

5 My favourite commission was an advertising campaign. It was thrilling to see my illustrations displayed as a series of enormous posters across the entire London Underground for at least an entire year. These same images were also featured as full-page advertisements in numerous magazines, Sunday supplements, and on postcards.

[Optional!] My art has been a vocation and a way of life. I don’t draw a line between art and illustration. Work is play and play is work.

For Carolyn, image-making is truly a vocation. If she was unsatisfied by a piece of work, she would re-do it, even if it meant coming back into the magazine office at night and “stealing’ it back! You can see some of her beguiling work here.


Twelve (1): On leaving The Observer, 1988

In 1988 I had just moved from Art Editing The Listener Magazine, a BBC publication with a strong tradition of using illustration as a means of dealing with often complex political and social subjects, to the Observer Magazine, the Sunday supplement of the Observer newspaper. I was Assistant Art Director, with responsibility for illustration. It was a new team at the magazine, put together by the AD, John Tennant. John had recently joined the magazine from being Michael Rand’s right-hand man at the Sunday Times Magazine, and he wanted to inject vitality and freshness to make it more than just an also-ran to the market-leader.

In the couple of years that followed we took a bold approach – we illustrated a whole feature on Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary “Star Wars” initiative, using Peter Brookes, Ian Pollock, Huntley / Muir and Jeff Fisher among others. We commissioned Brad Holland and Matt Groening (in his pre-Simpson days) and asked fashion illustrator Mats Gustafson to draw a portrait of Gore Vidal. We had fun.

We hit on the idea that our regular columns should be a showcase: Sue Arnold’s funny and spiky column (think Lucy Mangan or David Mitchell) would be illustrated by one artist in four-week slots – that would give 12 people throughout the year a month-long commission and a chance to have a themed set of work. For this slot, we used illustrators who were just getting established.

For our other weekly column, on wine, we decided that it would be great to use the talent emerging from art schools across Britain, giving 52 first-time job opportunities a year. We didn’t want to be prescriptive for either commission – we specified the finished size and left it at that. Of course, this resulted in some confusion. Still in art school-mode, some illustrators gave us four finished illustrations to choose from, as if it were a project with a crit at the end; artwork painted on bottles of wine; oil paintings that had to be reduced by 400%; collages of daunting complexity for the 50mm by 70mm space…

It was a fantastic time that came to an end when the entire art department resigned over the decision to back-date a pay cut for our freelance designers – they’d worked in good faith for an agreed fee. With the insouciance and arrogance of youth, we all figured we’d get another job without too much trouble. My colleague Shem Law (now Deputy Editor and Art Director of Radio Times) discreetly phoned a cross-section of the illustrators who had worked for us and asked them to paint portraits of me for a leaving card.


The resulting work provided a glimpse into the world of illustration as it was at that time. Creative Review ran a selection of the drawings and carried the story [the references to music in some of the responses was because I had an alternative career going on at the same time…] While thinking of potential features for an issue of Varoom! on the theme of nostalgia, I thought of that leaving card and wondered what those involved could remember of that period in their lives, and how their careers had subsequently developed, so I tracked down their emails and asked if they’d answer a series of questions.

1) Where were you, professionally and personally, in 1988? [i.e. just starting out/just left college/established].

2) If you came through the art education system, what was your experience of the way illustration was taught? If you didn’t, how did you arrive as an illustrator in London in the late 80s?

3) What do you look back on fondly about that time in publishing?

4) Do you think the place of illustrators or cartoonists has changed in the intervening years?

5) Can you pick one favourite or important project from your 30-plus year career?

[Optional!] If I asked you to sum up your career in one sentence, could you?

Over the coming weeks, I’ll post what those who answered told me about life in London, publishing, and illustration in the long-gone days of ’88.