Ralph Steadman

You don’t so much commission Ralph Steadman as unleash him. The art direction is implicit in the decision to ask him for artwork. He is a force of nature. His acceptance of a commission is de facto an endorsement of a project – that adds value beyond even the illustration itself.
 

And I send my best wishes to the lame art director who tells him what, and how to draw. Actually no I don’t send best wishes. They would be foolish. But I may send flowers as commiseration.

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An example is at the top of the page. My adjectives would be, what is the word I am looking for? Pointless, that’s the one.

His work has often been a rage against the system. A wildly exuberant hand and an acute, almost feral, venal eye. His symbiotic, yet combative, relationship with Gonzo writer, Hunter S. Thompson for Rolling Stone magazine is legendary. One of the great hoots being the way each blamed the other for the excesses of their exploits. And his biography is all over the web.

My simple prompt for this blog is just an urge to celebrate this man who has been a part of my life for such a long time. I could relate the time he burst into Stanley Studios demanding “Where’s my fucking artwork?” Not because he thought we had any – but he did feel publishers were not returning his originals as they should – but mainly because he was living in Parsons Green. And we were the nearest. Lunch at 11 Park Walk calmed all. Fuelled by his mockery of his own wrath and significant amounts of Barolo.

I could tell you of his soliloquy on how The History of Civilization all began with the Welsh. “The first man was a Welshman, Homo Boyo. And his wife, Homo Womo. Like a side of beef with arms she was . . .” But Ralph would probably defend his copyright but arriving with a Howitzer and obliterating my cats.

I am tempted to show you a photograph of his spare room. When working on I, Leonado he took to painting The Last Supper on the wall to get under the skin of the painter, hands on. When completed he changed all the bed-linen to white and pushed the bed against the painting so the pillows became the tablecloth of Jesus and his disciples. “That’ll stop visitors getting up to any hanky-panky!” OK, here it is. It is called The Last Cuppa.

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You can look for yourself for Ralph’s antics destroying an iphone with an icepick live on stage. Technology infuriates him. Only mention any kind of Social Media if you wish to see your giblets up close and personal. So may tales and yet I have to tell you he has a big heart, can be the very best company and the world is a better, more vital place, with Ralph in it. he work is full of passion. The man cares. He should be knighted. Go on, Queen and Government, I dare you . . .

I have only spilled a few beans here. And, for your patience Dear Reader, I end with a glimpse of personal friendship. I think of it as belligerent affection, and love it for that. A letter received when we moved into a house in London.

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http://www.ralphsteadmanartcollection.com/ or follow on Twitter (A family member I suspect!) @SteadmanArt

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A Piece of China

Against the advice of those who thought I should post every week I took a break from Blogging. I thought you had earned a rest from this place (sorry, PosterousSpace). But I just realised it has been a bit too long. Weeks in fact. Great Googly Moogly! as Frank Zappa would say, if he were still with us.

I could say that I write today about design and technology but that seems rather grand and pompous. The connection is China. Full of surprises they recently closed down several entire fake Apple Stores (yep, the whole sleek Geek temple). In fact not just one – but dozens. Extraordinary enterprise. Gasp here.

 

 

The design part is a cover of a book by William Hinton. It is an account of every day life in rural China. It is called Shenfan and it has a sister tome called Fanshen. The design is simple. Not much to say about it. A well-chosen photograph of a villager painting the name of the town on the end of a house. Long Bow. This is married to a fine choice of typeface by Joy Fox. Check out Joy’s recycled jewellery.

The technology? Cow Gum for that cover to be honest. But I found a great use of current technology to amuse myself on the Devon/London train last week. I sat in the last seat before the area for luggage and seats for the disabled. Four young Chinese sat cross-legged on the floor playing cards. The two girls facing me. The two boys with their backs to me. The girls were losing every game.

Needing distraction from fretting over an important imminent presentaion at One Alfred Place I turned to technology. Taking my, now ancient, iphone surreptitiously from my pocket I channelled Spooks and started taking pictures of the boys cards. Then showed them to the girls. They stifled giggles and started winning regularly. A little creative mischief.

Eventually my cover was blown and they disembarked at Reading, amongst much laughter as a fair section of the carriage was by now in on the game on the boys blind-side. One of the boys came over trying to look menacing but grinning from ear to ear. “You owe me wun pownd!” he declared.

So there it is, China, Design and Technology. This Friday I shall use my phone to attend a feast probably at Wong Kei where fierce waiters will force march me to a table and interrogate menacingly me over a menu.

And I shall think of the kids on the train. And grin.

 

 

Geoff van Beek, gentleman dentist

Geoff van Beek is at the top of his profession in dental surgery, specialising in implantology. In fact he was named Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau (Dutch equivalent of the OBE), for his lifetime contribution to dental science. His clients come to him from all over the world for his skills and he does the same to source his specialist professional needs.

Although we attended the same Grammar school our paths had not crossed for decades. When they did it was a physical convergence on Devon. There are some very specialised motor-sport engineering skills that exist in England. A very rich vein of hidden talents. One very special outfit is on Dartmoor. Check out Bob Petersen. Engagingly eccentric Mr van Beek drives one of those Bentleys. And no one else may work on this particular beast . . .

What I didn’t know was that, via a school blog, my design website had been visited and checked out. Mr van Beek’s Rotterdam practice needed a fresh graphic look. So when the Bentley next needed mechanical TLC from Bob Petersen we met to discuss the graphics project.

It is noticeable that Dental Practices are largely unadventurous in their visual identity. Strange, in some ways, as we all need our regular dental health visits – and many dread the experience and crave reassurance. But it usually stops at a mobile or something amusing on the ceiling above the chair. I set to thinking it through.

In my work I tend not to create a logo and set about its tidy deployment. Instead I seek to take the pulse of my client and build a graphic identity that reflects what makes them unique, special. The choice of vehicle gives the clue that Geoff van Beek is highly individual. Conversation confirms this characteristic. The surgery reinforces the impression of eclectic interests too. On one hand a beautiful collection of  antique dental equipment, on the other a state of the art 180º x-ray machinery. There is a highly advanced sensibility to engineering and process but it is always tinged with an inclination to humour, often self-deprecating.

And that is what led me to a sleek typographic look – but with a bite out of it.

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As an aside, Mr van Beek persuaded me to abandon my Braun electric toothbrush in favour of a Philips Sonicare. It works at much higher speeds with noticeably better results. And I have a challenging set of gnashers. Product placement, moi? Well, I am not on a sales commission but it is brilliant and I thought you might like to know about it. It even starts to replenish the battery as you approach the charger. Spooky.

I leave you with this question. Should Dentists fear going to the Graphic Designers?

 

 

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The Fellowship of the Ring, Rotterdam

 There is a fair amount to say about design, its inception, creation, execution, reactions and reception. (Let’s skip occasional perdition.) Strictly speaking this blog is intended to highlight the back-stories to some of my design projects. This one ends back stage.

But the fact is that the more involved you become with your work the more the work/life thingy blurs. One good part of life celebrates another. That is how it seems to go with me and The Lord of the Rings. Every time I get involved there seems to be a coming together of events. I have put iQuill to App before about Doug Adams‘ splendid book and you can read more about it via this link. And those of you who are as yet unaware the enormity of this book/film/music project may well have just missed the point, possibly got sniffy about Middle-earth and gone off to watch celebrity wrestling. Bear with me.

For my curmudgeonly disposition slips into pleasure at the thought of this past week in Holland. Eurostar to Brussels was superb. And through ticketed to Rotterdam for less than a train from Exeter to London – shame on you First Great Western. Towards the end of that leg of the journey we chatted with a charming Dutch cellist who had just completed her music finals in London. Onwards, switching to regular trains as we hurtled onward through the Belgian countryside I became aware of the chap next to me. As did fellow passengers. A young man with tousled curly hair was peering at an unopened Tupperware lunch box. Through a crack in the lid he stared intently and the salad within. Frequently putting it back in his bag before nervously re-examining it at frequent intervals.
 


When the going gets weird the weird get going“as someone once said (who was it? Hunter S. Thompson?). For just as I was praising the efficiency of mainland European railways the announcement came over the Tannoy that there was a problem ahead and we were to disembark at the next station and begin a convoluted re-routing involving several trains and a coach. Our cellist companion, the chap with the cracked salad box obsession and ourselves formed a small fellowship of travellers collectively trying to fathom out the increasingly complex travel itinerary in mixed languages.

And that, patient reader, is how I came to find myself in Antwerp as minder to a cello and a box of stick-insects. The owner of the aforementioned Phasmatodea (a unique gift for a friend) was in fact David Buckingham, an accomplished classical guitarist and composer currently appearing in Zorro the musical. You couldn’t make it up.

 
 Together we chuckled and chatted our way through to Rotterdam where we were greeted by our hosts, Geoff & Doris van Beek. Once work was taken care of (signing-off the graphic identity for ace dentist Geoff van Beek – more on that in a future post) we looked forward to celebrating his birthday. And the fates had conspired to have the band in town that very weekend and, as their guests, we shared with the van Beeks the amazing experience of  a river taxi to Hotel New York for a superb fish lunch followed by a Live to Projection The Lord of the Rings Concert. Converging these dates had depended on the warmth of reception to both the design and the availability of  concert seats. Both went well. Phew!


 
The concert? Think of the early days of film. Can you picture silent black & white films with musical accompaniment from some berserk crone at the piano? OK. Now forget it. Completely. This is the movie projected in a concert hall with enough musicians performing live, for the whole 3 hours, to constitute a vast sonic army of orchestra and choirs.

 
 

The venue, the impressive Rotterdam venue called de Doelen, in the heart of the city, flanking Schouwburgplein. A concert auditorium and a great conference venue (Like Minds?) There was the familiar, handsome LOTR banner outside. But no people. Well, usual busy city weekend people, but not the usual Tolkein throng. These events draw very large crowds. Seemed odd. Eerie, even. Once inside I realised why. Our host is very well connected and had thoughtfully arranged to introduce us to the de Doelen Director, Mr Gabriël Oostvogel and his team. Such delightful people. Design is a largely back-room activity but they made such a generous fuss of us. Their hospitality was peerless and shared, during the intermission, with the beautiful people of the city. And me such a scruffy English creative!

The concert itself, The Fellowship of the Ring, was sublime. Powerful. Expert. Moving. I dare to say the acoustics may even surpass the more venerable Royal Albert Hall. The industry and power of the event was so impressive. The sheer talent and quality from all concerned was impeccable. And I love the diversity of audiences these concerts attract. Dinner jackets on one side. Shorts and Gandalf T-shirts on the other. But overwhelmingly the power of the emotional resonance of the music of Howard Shore triumphed again. After The Return of the King in London I was not expecting to be quite so moved again by The Fellowship of the Ring in Rotterdam. But we were, of course!  And the van Beeks loved it. The whole audience was ecstatic. Do check this link for YouTube footage, music, review and photographs.

 
And back stage? Permit me a little pride as we were invited back after the performance by the extraordinary conductor Mr. Ludvig Wicki (who is just beaming, joyful and indefatigable off-stage as he is in performance) and his charming wife Beatrice. How he manages to be so bubbly and excited after such an exhaustin and brilliant performance I will never know. So good to have made his acquaintance and I hope we meet again. And the night produced yet another treat as we met the singer, Soloist Kaitlyn Lusk. Wow! What a voice.



An amazing day. I shall remain forever grateful to Doug Adams inviting me into the world of The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films in 2009. Next Year? Tickets are booked for the de Doelen and The Two Towers concert. See you there?

 

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Salman Rushdie

But there was trouble again for the author.

It turned out that Director Deepa Mehta chose the island location over India or Pakistan, where the story is set, to avoid religious protests. Iran had objected to Sri Lanka’s Premier and filming came to an abrupt halt. You will recall Iran’s former leader Ayatollah Kohmeini was the source of the misguided (potty) Fatwa on Rushie for The Satanic Verses. I have never believed the author sought controversy or intended offence. He is an exceptional writer who sets his work in complex societies he knows well. He was a soft target for zealotry.

I leave this well-worn topic and return to more innocent times, at Stanley Studios, London SW10, as I set about designing the original paperback cover for Midnight’s Children. Not for the first time Pan’s commitment to the significance of the book was to be reflected in the point-size of the typeface. The trouble with a brief of ‘Big Author + Big Title’ is that it can be a typographical blunt instrument. But Sonny Mehta‘s unerring literary judgement had picked another great. In fact he saw it as a possible Booker Prize winner. So the task was to work with it and bring some character to bear. Devouring the tome hungrily in my West London flat I found there was a feast on offer. I was particularly struck by the doctor who when visiting a young woman is confronted by female family members protecting her modesty with a sheet. The sheet has a carefully placed hole through which only local examination of the immediate medical problem is possible. Over time the various local areas build an overall picture for the doctor who has gradually fallen in love with her. The film-maker’s must have had a such an amazing time with such rich narrative.

Potential bestsellers on the mass-market list at Pan Books (parent to the Picador imprint) endured relentless pressure, in cover briefs, to parade 70s film-poster style collages of heroes and helicopters exploding or some such chaos. It was clearly dated even then and I fought the good fight for better graphics where I could. On Picador we worked to develop ways to set the mood and entice interest with the visuals in subtler, but no less effective ways. Midnight’s Children was seen to have huge sales potential yet its target audience is inclined to more nuanced sensibilities. (Read between the lines people, work with me here) As some scribbled notes on the inside of the hardback edition reveal (just unearthed from a box emptied to fill yet another new bookshelf) the ‘just before midnight’ clock hands were my first idea but survived scrutiny. The execution would provide the character. I would handle the type differently now but remain happy with my apparently perverse choice of Ian Pollock to create for me the pealing paint/ faded opulence wall. He was widely celebrated for his brilliantly bizarre, idiosyncratic characters at that time. And we incorporated one big peel in case it won the Booker Prize. In that space I could announce its triumph and avoid a Daz-style corner flash. And if it didn’t, well it’s a peeling bit. The illustrator gave me the original painting (shown) and that recently emerged from another box.

I keep reading that blog posts should be kept short. Shame. Because coincidentaly that was the title of his next novel. I took the painted wall route again with the cover. This time with ‘Shame‘ as graffiti, in Urdu I recall and Salman popped in to Stanley Studios to write it for me. Hard to imagine within a few years he would be in hiding.

Sonny Mehta left London for New York. I left Pan (well it was important for me!). Salman Rushdie went to Penguin with The Satanic Verses. Midnight’s Childen went on to win the ‘Booker of Bookers’ in 1993. Time sure keeps moving after midnight . . .

Can’t wait to see the film of Midnight’s Children. Or whatever else turns up in boxes come to think of it.

 

 

Steve Jones

I was struck this week by the occurances of the mis-typing of Obama and Osama. In particular the spectacularly dim Breaking News headline from Fox News who announced ‘Obama Bin Laden Dead‘ across the world’s TV screens. Of course predictive text often throws up howlers. My recent attempt to type ‘baubles’ was replaced by ‘Bibles’ to unfortunate effect. The problem, more often than not, is that the rogue word is missed by spell-checkers that leave the wrong word as long as it is spelled correctly.

And then there is the time you use the right word and the spelling is tip top – and you still get a very wrong outcome.

In the days of Dial-Up (when download speeds were about the same as BT’s rural broadband but with a bing-boing-chirruppy tune worthy of the late, great Delia Derbyshire) I found myself hunting a photograph that had previously made a strong impression on me. Henry Steadman, at Transworld at the time, had commissioned me for a book jacket for Almost Like a Whale. Author and Professor of Genetics, Steve Jones revisits the massive impact of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species. He carefully re-traces the steps of Darwin’s arguement with the Clarks Wayfinders of contemporary scientific knowledge.

Darwin had speculated that a bear swimming and catching fish might be the first transitional stage of evolution towards becoming ‘like a whale’. Put that way way it almost makes evolution sound as improbably potty as Creationism. But not quite. But on discovering the source of the enigmatic title I remembered a great shot I had seen of a Polar Bear swimming. It was shot from below with the the light streaming down throught the icy waters. A huge beast made even more graceful by buoyancy. I find it very moving. Especially Hippos and Elephants. But maybe that’s just me.

So, into a creaky bakerlite search-engine went the words ‘Polar Bear’. No room for error there. Could have been a child doing a homework project. Nothing can go wrong.

And it didn’t for a while. Page after page of the predictable and over-used as I sought the slippery Ursus Maritimus image that had stimulated my synapses and squirrelled it away for later. Cuddling, sleeping, eating, fighting, performing in case David Attenborough dropped by. Flogging Glacier Mints. All was well, if time consuming.

And then it appeared.

Slowly, line by line, the assembling pixels of one huge image whose very sloth demanded attention. It was one big beast. Lots of white fur. And, not in the heraldic sense, erect and rampant. It was a nude Pin-Up. And I learnt something new to add to my meagre education. ‘Polar Bear’ is gay slang for a septugenarian naked man with lots of white body hair. And a hard-on.

I’m not easily shocked but I nearly dropped my Liquorice Allsorts.

What have you found by mistake in a picture search? How has predictive text complicated your life?

Maxine Hong Kingston

The first strand is the recent publication of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life which is a memoir, in verse, by Maxine Hong Kingston. She is Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her memoirs and fiction have won numerous awards, including the National Book Award and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award. I recommend a quick search for her podcast lectures available from BBC and itunes/Berkley/Yale.

The second strand is the arrival on the mat of an invitation to the Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing at the London Book fair in a few days. It has been awarded to Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Regular readers her will know that I worked with Sonny for a decade and I count him as a mentor. One day I will summon up the courage to write about the influence of this fabulous man had on me. But that is for another time.

And the third strand is the first ‘Guest Blog’ on here which is coming soon. It will be from an art director in New York who worked with us at Stanley Studios in the 80s as an intern. The eccentric Stanley Studios was our Art Department sanctuary from the steel and glass Pan head office in London. More on that later too.

These are the elements that prompt me to show two of the very first of my cover designs for Picador Books with Sonny at the helm. China Men and The Woman Warrior. She has a special voice and you know I am not going to give you a cheat-sheet on here. They are both a great read. Seek them out and see life through the eyes of a Chinese-American.

There is no perfect recipe for all book covers but some choice ingredients can be found here: Genuine original writing, crackling, inspiring publisher, a slightly bonkers studio space and an art director who reads, having the time of his life. And thrilling at the wealth of illustration talent to be discovered and enjoyed. llustrator Cathie Felstead took her maiden voyage with us. And what a debut she made!

In China Men we are taken into the world of workers migrating to America (the Gold Mountain) for work to enable them to send money home to their families. How they are seen as one amorphous group but who, by turn, see the caucasians as all looking alike. For their white-skin they call them ghosts. The Postman Ghost, the Carpenter Ghost . . .

Cathie’s beautiful artwork was the first commission where I bought the original for my home too. There are few objects, except books and music, I treasure but this sure is one. The colour is built up with layers of collage tissue. The rough edges kept for character. Background off-white as in Chinese culture white associates with death. The fish, which appeared elsewhere in Cathie’s glorious portfolio were added as a migration motif and to draw the eye to an early “First British Publication” slogan without destroying the cover with graphic devices more commonly linked to Daz.

Today there are so many references to Branding. Here the distinctive artwork is the success. It worked in a tough, competitive market-place. It’s all about character, identity and paying due attention to the very special. Human appeal counts.

Hear Maxine Hong Kingston reading from her new book here: http://bit.ly/eCH8W4 . . . and follow @RandomPR on Twitter.

Design Works Site

 

As designers it is our stock in trade to bring an experienced eye to our clients’ identities. We seek to present a clear message for them. We deploy our Visual Communication skills to show them in a confident, poised stance. Their goods, whether books, music or widgets made sparkly and their services reflecting their best qualities.

Look at me! The graphics cries. I’m shiny, appealing, loaded with character. Desirable, charming company you can enjoy doing business with. My shelves are bursting with must-have goodies. A veritable wizard’s quiver of skills and talents. Resplendent in cool, sharp livery and clearly the dog’s dangley bits in their field.

We have listened closely to ourclients’ problems and aspirations. We have compared the competition and teased out what makes them special in our minds and performed our voodoo on the Mac.

We designers bring focus and objectivity. And hopefully some fun too!

But what about our shop windows? I reflect on this as I have just re-vamped my website www.day-ellison.com. Frankly it is torture! Andrew Butler at DesignCredo calls it The Cobbler’s Shoes. Personally, I can’t see the shoes for wanting to strip out the cobblers. All your inner conflicts rush to the fore like anarchists at the barricades. Is this piece relevant? Am I being vain? Are SMEs as well represented as the celebrities? Should I make something more prominent? O, the human condition! One minute a carefree Creative Director setting out a succession of successful projects, the next taunted by the Demon Doubt, asking if you know how to re-organize the deck-chairs on the Titanic. Physician, heal thyself!

If you have dallied on my Blog before you will know that I love the English language. Marvelling at its power for clarity and delighting in its potential for whimsy and unruly playtime. But not on my website! I don’t want boastful adjectives and purple promises traipsing through with their out-sized muddy boots. I mean, I must think the better part of my work is good or I could not, in all conscience, release it to any the fab folk whose tags adorn this blog. But I certainly don’t want to lather the pages with sales-pitch. It’s just not me. But do I hamstring my own sales efforts in so doing? Arrrgghh! The Demon Doubt again. Fact is you are not there to apply the same cool-headed objectivity that is your normal daily stock in trade. You are trying to deftly negotiate that minefield of hopes and fears. Alone. With Arvo Pårt doing his level best to be a calming voice through the speakers.

So you try to be as objective as you can and ask other people’s opinions. And listen. Then act on what seems the best advice to you. I am grateful for advice from Joanne Jacobs in particular.

I have worked with a lot of great people and the site shows a good selection. And I have kept it simple. It is tailored to the iPad – that seems the way to go. I am working on a WordPress bridge between the website and this blog. That will have a database where you can search by client/author/title etc.

Could I have your help too? I would love it if you would leave comments/feedback below.

Have a look here: www.day-ellison.com

What do you think?

Dick Francis

You cannot live in a rural community, as I do, without observing what an all-encompassing interest horses are to many. Not only racing but riding, owning, grooming, breeding and showing. The equestrian fan is totally absorbed by their pastime. Quite an industry too. It’s not my specialst subject – only ridden twice, once on the Guinness Estate as a guest (good), the other in Algeria (bad). Amazing creatures though. Equine athletes. Limited expertise here. Must say I prefer Delacroix to Stubbs. But do check this stunning volume, Horses by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Jean-Louis Gouraud. The sheer beauty of the animal does not escape me. Also the fertilizer is very impressive for the garden.

And I do enjoy reading a good thriller . . .

. . . Who could not help but be gripped by the extraordinary events at Newbury Race Course last weekend? In the viewers’ enclosure several of the race horses suddenly became extremely distressed. And two died instantly. Ghastly, even on the radio. Possible cause is suspected to be an electric shock from an under-turf source. Not only was it an attention-grabbing news item but I was struck by how many reporters said the event was ‘like a Dick Francis novel’.

A select few authors become synonymous with a sport. Norman Mailer on boxing leaps to mind, but more often than not it is sport as a major strand of popular culture that inspires the novelist, rather than sport per se. Short story writers, however, do favour the activity. But I digress. So you see why I value great writers so highly – for their skill and craft eludes me.

Dick Francis was a serious achiever in British National Hunt racing before he started writing about that world. He won over 350 races, becoming champion jockey  just as British National Hunt racing, in the 1956 Grand Nationalwhen the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Wikipedia just told me that bit. ’56 is the year I acquired a hyphen.

At Pan Books Dick Francis sales were cantering along nicely. But the feeling was that he should be read beyond his devoted fans in the horse-racing fraternity. “Whether you followed the gee-gees or not they are a good read” they said. And we need covers for his books that stretch his appeal to include them. I was skeptical (the description of jockeys as dwarves dressed as clowns always tickled me) but gave it a shot. I read a few. They were right. He writes at quite a clip. Fast paced, accessible, one sitting reads. All made credible by his wealth of insider knowledge. So the challenge was to package his novels without overt equine imagery to keep the thriller appeal wide as possible. OK marketing peeps.

 

The design shown is about nefarious deeds with counterfeit vintage wine against a racing backdrop. I designed two dozen or so with photographer Colin Thomas. A few are shown above.

A graphic design snippet for you: See the bubbles on the meniscus? When photographing drinks you need to be able to control the bubbles. Especially with wine. Too many will appear oxidized. Too few looks flat. And, whilst there is some settled wisdom, opinions differ on the ideal size and number with the wine producer. An air-filled syringe is a time consuming option and as bubbles burst they splash colour on the perfect glass. Solution: you can buy plastic bubbles in unlimited configurations to drop into liquids. They pick up the colour by reflection. Life before PhotoShop.

Thrillers are often referred to as ‘electric’. Maybe that was the cause of the Newbury tragedy? Time, and Clare Balding, will tell.

Will they ever find Proof?

Cecilia Bartoli

Italy at its very finest. Emiligia Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria in June. I have been lucky enough to be taken along as a pal and support vehicle driver by Greg Hart who is competing in the Modena Centro Ore Classic, Edizione 5a. Greg is racing a 1964 Lotus Elan and winning nearly every event until the diff is killed by an over-zealous marshall at a hill start. The particular moment I want to take you to is a break in a road race stage at an unfeasibly beautiful restaurant in the Umbrian countryside. There is languid heat and hurried linguini for lunch (the race cars tend to arrive at food stops earlier than a Mercedes Van full of equipment and tools! Outside are parked the highly-strung petrol-fed stallions. I am beside a Ferrari 275 GTB. A mechanic listens closely, like a surgeon to the tick-over of its V12 engine. That engine has 300 Horse Power before it ever sees a spanner. A low brooding rumble. Hold that thought . . .

 
London a few years earlier, working at Decca as Creative Director. Shaking up classical music packaging a bit. The Partners had laid great ground-work on the design front. In-house art director, Ann Bradbeer, in particular, is embracing our drive for more adventurous commissioning of photography and illustration. I am enjoying bringing in good creatives like David Smart who went on to spend so many successful years there. But I am having to spend much too time throwing open the windows on working practice, scaring the natives and re-organizing my departments; Art, Editorial & Production. Missing more hands-on creative work.

A challenge presents itself and I need to get away from dull desk work. Rossini Arias. I confess I am not big on Opera. Mostly too overblown for my puritan tastes. But one Opera singer moves me. A lot. She is a mezzo-soprano called Cecilia Bartoli.

You need to work around some pretty major egos in book publishing. But you gingerly hotfoot in a whole new field of coals and eggshells with the maestros in Classical Music. Prima donnas and prima uomos get their tags from that world after all. Vladimir Ashkenazy was an exception, as was Cecilia Bartoli. It frustrated me to see such characters under a blanket of convention. Subsumed beneath stiff DJs for the men and the woman decorated like some upholstered baroque confection. But, as with many conventions, stepping into new territory can be a risky business. 

We set up a morning photo-session in the Blackfriars studio of ace photographer Tony McGeeTV-AM turned up as the Press Office had tipped them off about us using a high-flyer fashion photographer. But a quick interview and I shooed them away before the session. That dealt with Tony and I talk. On the wall behind us is a print by Robert Freeman, the shot for the With The Beatles album. I still covert it. We chatted about keeping the session relaxed and seeing if we could ease away from some of the formality of an opera CD. What we didn’t want was to impose any false trendy veneer but extract something from the artist’s look when we met her. 

And our artist arrived. Wow. Having worked with a lot of models and being married to my lovely wife, Sandy Nightingale, it takes quite a bit for a woman’s looks to take breath away. Picture Cecilia in her leather jacket and a white T-Shirt. That’ll do it.

Two minutes discussion and we agreed we must shoot her in her own clothes. Thankfully she agreed. Just a beautiful young singer. Perfect serendipity. More traditional shots as insurance which were used on the CD. Marketing took fright. Maybe, at that time, it would have looked too much of a stunt to use the leather-jacket shot on Arias, but we got the leather shot and it made to the poster. And it got talked about. She was getting all the attention she deserved. 

 So what about the Ferrari? Did she arrive in one? No, a black cab. But I need to describe something very special to you. 

 As we took the costume shots I wanted to ease more vitality into the images and I asked her if you would possibly sing. Just a little for animation. And she did. So softly but the latent power was beyond words. Well beyond my words. The hairs are going up on the back of my neck as I recall it. Such a sense of limitless power, life, passion – everything. So close, just the other side of Tony’s lens. All at such low volume.

 

And the nearest I can get to describing it is my memory of standing next to that Ferrari in Umbria. Purring. Stationary. With the potent certainty that a mere breath on the throttle would unleash unlimited, almost frightening power.