Illustration

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.

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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.

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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 (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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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.

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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.

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Interlude: Restless Spirit

John Alcorn: Evolution by Design
Written by Stephen Alcorn & Marta Sironi
Designed by Marina Del Cinque
Moleskine, £40, €49, $64, Hardback
moleskine.com

Written for Pulp magazine, 2015

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This beautiful book, printed on Fedrigoni paper, is one of Moleskine’s continuing series of publications that offer “insights into the creative processes of noted artists, designers, writers and architects”. It presents an extensive collection of the work of the talented and innovative John Alcorn, who graduated from Cooper Union, New York’s prestigious design school in 1955, and went on to find an early kind of fame working with both Push Pin Studios and Lou Dorfsman at CBS. These talented and switched-on collaborators had high profile clients in advertising and media, especially in the burgeoning world of TV, and Alcorn’s work was a perfect fit, rich in both wit and style.

At a time when illustrators were becoming interested in type and letterforms, and designers had a real feel for drawing as decoration, Alcorn was perfectly placed. The mixing of vernacular typography, languid and expressive human forms and vivid, over-the-top patterning, quintessentially evoked by Alcorn, would come to define the visual language of the Sixties.

But there was much more to him than that. In his intimate text, John’s son Stephen, himself an artist, calls his father’s approach, “in essence artisanal; at its root lay highly-sensitive eye-mind-hand coordination”. Milton Glaser characterised him as “the baby-faced design prodigy with the golden hands” while Ed Sorel, another of Push Pin’s founders, interestingly saw him as “wildly ambitious, intricate, and jolly”, a collection of words not often seen together. He had a graphic designer’s eye for how a magazine page or a print advert should work, and this made his image-making dynamic as well as smart – he was, in Lou Dorfsman’s words, “an art director’s illustrator”.

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That he may have been, but he saw himself, equally, as an artist, and was not afraid to follow his muse. In 1969, the year he contributed “Eight Days a Week” to Alan Aldridge’s The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (and probably influenced the animated film, Yellow Submarine), he visited the home of his maternal grandmother in Piedmont and had an epiphany. As the Sixties peaked and then soured, the artistic wealth and stunning landscapes of Italy made him question his working life. In a bid to escape the deadlines and frenzy of commercial illustration in NYC, he uprooted his young family and moved them to Florence. New York had brought on, he said, “a case of indigestion” and Italy offered the cure.

It wasn’t long, however before his personal work led to his intray being filled by offers from the likes of Fellini and Italian publishing house Rizzoli. Mario Spagnol had been given the task of re-launching Rizzoli, and Alcorn, fresh and contemporary, was the key to this reinvention. In the way that Jeff Fisher’s work was crucial in defining Bloomsbury in its early days, Alcorn’s book jackets, advertising material and logos introduced a new look to the shelves of the Italian bookstore. His time here also involved caricatured covers for political magazines and a few carefully selected advertising campaigns, where his cartoon-like characters feel like a softer version of his Sixties psychedelia.

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A restless spirit, Alcorn moved back to the States in 1977, beginning a new period of freelance life, illustrating record covers and editorial projects in America, while still doing design jobs for Italian newspapers and publishers. He also did a large amount of work for paper manufacturers, whose services and products were excellent showcases for his bold line and pleasing colour palette. His series of illustrated titles for TV Guide in the late 80s used all of his talents in one job: a way with letterforms, a nostalgic set of characters, sparkling visual wit and the technique to combine it all into a satisfying whole.

He died in 1992, at the early age of 57, as Ed Sorel notes, “just as his drawing style was evolving from the purely decorative into something more expressive and naturalistic.” This lavish book is an excellent overview of his life and work, and a beautiful testament to a roaming creative spirit.

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Reprinted by kind permission of Pulp.

 

 

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