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.

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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.

trio

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.

obs

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.

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

Qs

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.

aurelia

 

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

Qs

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.

 

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

Qs

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.

 

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

Qs

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.

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

Qs

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.

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