Galileo & Mick Brownfield

A lunar eclipse occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon are in a perfect alignment, right? Well three things came together recently and there is some fugitive sendipity, some tangential connection between them so I thought I would take out my iQuill and see if I can resolve them.

You know the way that sometimes history can brush your soul for a moment as you realise a major figure from the past stood where just where you are now standing? It doesn’t always happen. My history teacher at school certainly never prompted it. David Starkey doesn’t do it for me either. Mary Beard and Joann Fletcher can. I digress . . .

There was a glorious full moon on Dartmoor recently. It was huge and heavy. My wife, Sandy and I stared at it, in the garden and in awe. By chance, a day or so later, I came across this sketch by Galileo.

I adore it. So now I must try not to gush but aside from the simple beauty of the page was the impact of the likeness – we see the exact same moon as Galileo Galilei, 1564 – 1642. Today we often see science portrayed as a sterile, cold activity (and The Man in the White Suit is a favourite film of mine) yet there is something in this sketch that speaks of simple humanity, curiosity and wonder. It’s moving. OK, I gushed. Blame the phase of the moon.

The second body to share my orbit was just last week when Mick Brownfield appeared on Facebook out of the blue. We have worked together a couple of times. He is a big cheese (like the moon). Remember those great Heinken ads? Advertising boys and girls love his work just as much as editorial does. His work is amongst the best contemporary illustration and has, well, just always been there. He seems full of that blend of youthful enthusiasm and slight melancholy I feel like that myself on many a day. The coincidence? Well you might ask. The talented Mr Brownfield’s work graced the first Pan paperback of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in it’s modest beginings. Neither of us has a copy of it – anyone? Mick has a host a utterly fab visual references to space and sci-fi in his mighty portfolio. (I wish now I had given him a more open brief. Sorry Mick.) In particular he has great affinity for the lighter-side of SF and popular culture. The wide-eyed optimism of the public appetite for early space travel, the comic-book super-powered heroes – the fun. And we share a pleasure in the space tin-toy. That mad clash between leading edge technology reproduced in gaudy print on feeble materials driven by clockwork. And, curse it, he has a collection that puts my minor shelf to shame. And Brownfield artwork now brightens up my Facebook stream. Which is nice.

And the third body? Well it was this. Last Thursday I visited the lively exhibition of 1st and 2nd year Illustration students at Plymouth University where I teach. I had a good chat with David Smart about research amongst University staff. I had often thought, just on the back-burner, that the research for Visual Communication/Graphics/Illustration was Fine Art. In some ways maybe it is but I was interested to learn that effectively it is a commitment to continuing education/exploration by staff and the sharing of that knowledge. I must admit it got me thinking. Over the hot weekend, as I mowed our grass, I found myself joining the dots from Galileo’s sketches of the moon back to Egyptian portrayals of the Sun and Moon. To romantic painters’ emotional use of Moon and Stars. The sinister symbolism of the necromancers. To Georges Méliès‘ chaotic film predictions. To Dan Dare and the paintings of Chesley Bonestell that exited me so much as a boy (and still do). The paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. And on to Hubble and digital photography and Star Trek and a creeping, lingering question of whether the power of the illustrators’ imaginings of the heavens will be lost? Replaced by photographic images of such high resolution they raise questions about time itself. Does regular exposure to CGI mean we will lose our sense of wonder? I already have with films that hire scriptwriters who do not match the scope of Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ursula le Guinn and Philp K. Dick. Art Directors need great writers.

Will all those young illustration students find the opportunities they need for their work? Do we celebrate our wealth of living illustration talent enough? Where are the retrospective exhibitions of Mick Brownfield, Chris Moore, Ian Miller, Chris Foss, Brian Sanders? A list I shall abort and leave it for a dissertation one day – it can only lead me into trouble here! And they all do way more than sci-fi. The Leyendecker and Rockwell‘s of out time?

Time for a major exhibition of the artists who have excited our imaginations and envisioned our futures? And we too, like Galileo, can look at the stars. And wonder.

David Loftus

 
 
 

I have cooked before now you know. My delicious wife, Sandy Nightingale, was working on a rather splendid book, with Sandi Toksvig, called “Heroines & Harridans”. For months she worked late into the night on the illustrations while I worked my way through some of the Delia Smith recipes (and broke the food budget on kitchen accessories). Some time later we got an Aga. A beautiful black, shiny beast that’s a real feast for the eye. But a total mystery to this erratic, novice cook. After all you can’t see anything. Well not in the bottom bit. And I was always a bit of a one-pot cowboy. Cooking stalled. My excuses brought gently to the boil and simmering.

I tell you this because this week I needed to step up to the hot-plate and take on the iron Aga beauty. Why? Because Sandy put her back out. Sandy also has a looming deadline for her next book with Sandi Toksvig. All about Great Women in history. (It’s going to be a hoot but it is under wraps – the subject of a future post.) Anyway I stepped into the breach and took over cooking duties. On, and more worryingly in, the Aga.

I considered these coincidences as I chopped. Wondered how it is that women multi-task so well while I whisked. Mused on how some men are multi-disciplined as I mixed and mashed.

 
 
 

Now those are very handsome cover designs, Gary, but what have they got to do with cooking, I hear you demand? Well they are by a very successful illustrator who assembled an amazing collection of printed ephemera. From this treasure trove he created a lot exquisite collage work. Some of it, like these two examples, for me. Then he stopped. Just like that. And took up photography. And then cooked up a storm in that discipline too. His name is Great Women. And he popped into my mind as I leant on the Aga rail and wondered if my burnt offerings would look as good as one of David Loftus’ photographs when they emerged from the belly of that Black Hole of kitchen engineering.

 

I chuckled to myself as I remembered of picture, on Facebook, of cheeky David in a Djellaba with his long-time collaborator Jamie Oliver. Now world renown for his work behind the camera there is real chemistry in the way he works as Oliver’s prefered photographer. What a great symbiosis is at work there – two terrific guys (O, by the way, bollocks to Jamie’s detractors, I like his cooking, I like his style and he gives a lot of himself to getting kids better fed.). And have to say I felt warm towards David (no, it wasn’t the meal burning and I’ve never met Jamie) and how many of us don’t make one great career – let alone two. He even has a Hipstamatic lens to his name that you groovy people out there can obtain. Good on him for changing tack right at the top of his game in illustration. Not as easy at the time as it might now seem in hindsight.

But, of course, David has not really got two great talents. He now has three. His own cookbook has recently been published to much acclaim. I should go right off him at this point. But I haven’t. The boy done good.

How many of us have the courage to turn away from sure success and take a risk? Who do you know that that has more than one string to their bow? Many of you have that potential. So what stops you?

 

 

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.

 

 

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?

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.

 

David Baldacci

Well, after all the excitement, celebrations and hoopla over The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films I took a little breather from the Blog. Starting to gush.

So with feet firmly back on the ground I thought I would dig out something grittier and Hobbit free. David Baldacci is an internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller writer. They all say that in publishing but, with 100 million books in print no less, it is a very fair claim. And I have to say having read six of them they are actually great, fast-paced page-turners. Hailing from Virginia USA, Mr. Baldacci practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and corporate attorney. This informs the credibility of his story lines. You may recall his debut novel Absolute Power which was filmed, starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris.

 

 
 
 
The design work I undertook for Simon & Schuster UK was a complete author make-over, comprising the new hardback, Last Man Standing and fresh covers, in the new livery, for his paperback backlist. Interestingly the commission came from S&S art director Glen Saville (now freelance). Interesting because Glen worked for me at Pan Books in a former life. So the first move was a quiet sober lunch to catch up and make sure the old roles threw up no problems in working together with Glen as ‘The Boss’. It was a wise investment of a couple of hours and roles and functions were clear. Initially I produced covers for Douglas Coupland and Seth Godin – which I can’t find for the life of me. Bald head, tight crop, bright colours.
 
The David Baldacci make-over was based on a very dramatic use of white space working off the bottom of the page. And, sorry to bang on about it, attention the spines as display areas. Glen was great in giving me space to work and championing the look through the publisher’s processes, a real ally to the project. It is worth pointing out that within a strong publishing genre, such as mainstream thrillers, you can stretch things to a certain extent but must not lose the instant recognition factor for your audience. I’d love to try it but publishers do not warm to thriller jackets/covers that reference literary fiction or cookbooks! Publishers, I dare you to let me try!

We tackled the photo-shoot in one – very long – day. As so often, my first choice behind the lens was Colin Thomas. Colin is a tall thin, sometimes bearded, odd sock wearing fellow who has quite the easiest manner you could wish to work with. His skill and adaptability are superb. We have worked on hundreds of assignments together, from Ed McBain and Dick Francis to wild PhotoShop forays where Colin is a master. He does great location, advertising and portraits and catalogue work. Damn, he’s talented. You would love working with him. Check the Digital Imaging on his website. It’s insane.

By the way, the model on A Simple Truth was a cracking fellow who appeared as an actor in a Guy Ritchie film. I think due credit is so important and I am maddened I cannot remember or find his name to check him. Maybe you can help, film buffs?

Anyway, returning to the ‘internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller’ schtick and the commercial imperative, the David Baldacci make-over exceeded the publishers’ expectations winning prime display and shelf space everywhere. His industry currency soared and the auction value of his next book went stratospheric.

What I would like to know is what thriller covers have appealed to you? Why not leave a comment and tell us why you like them?

 
 
And I’d love to hear what you think of Colin Thomas portfolio . . .

 

The Beatles

Just like Jacques Tati‘s car, I used to have a blog but it wasn’t  a good blog. Since I let Scott Gould verbally mug me about my lack of self-promotion I have this shiny new one that people actually read. There are several ideas distilling that I am keen to write but still bubbling. In the meantime I wanted to bring this story forward into the light.
 

My step-father, Ron, was Marketing Director at British Eagle airlines during my early school days. So when The Beatles flew with them I got to paint (yes, paint) “Beatles Fly” above the British Eagle logo, in matching type, on four bags. But I didn’t get taken to the airport to see them and I have lost the photo. My early introduction to the benefits of free work. See how I got over it and moved on? Anyway it was Klaus Voorman’s design for Revolver that proved to be the Damascean drawing for me. It was fab and it seemed distantly achievable even to a schoolboy with a short version of a Beatle haircut and dreams.

 The-Love-You-Make-1984-4site

Last summer saw lots of media coverage for the anniversary of The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Just as their music was instantly ubiquitous, all their album graphics became iconic.  You can often gauge how much album art has been absorbed into popular culture by the number of parodies. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Simpsons, Booker T & the MG’s, Lego, and just about everybody else have paid homage to Abbey Road. Only spell-checker software, it seems, has not heard of The Beatles.

In 1984 Pan Books published Pete Brown’s account of his time with The Beatles. As Creative Director for Pan I wanted the cover to show the exact spot with the band now missing. The record label would not permit the re-touching of the original sleeve. So one Sunday morning it was off to St.John’s Wood with delightfully gentle photographer Peter Williams and a set of step ladders to shoot from scratch. With a very limited budget for models or props the were Hitchcock cameos by myself, Sandy Nightingale, Richard Moon, Creative Director of The British Council at the time, and his VW. We left the ‘For Sale’ sign in for Beatles’ fans to spot.

The zebra crossing itself is an international pilgrimage destination for fans of The Fab Four braving the London traffic to get that souvenir shot of themselves on location.

Visually, I am quite taken by the wit of the tank on The Beatles Bike that puts the motorbike in Abbey Road wherever it’s true location may be. A shame the airbrush artist went on to pepper (apologies) the machine with so many other references too. Smart tank idea though.

And, with all the lyrical wit of a McCartney bass-line, life threw up the location in a project this year. This time, as I rummaged through the archives for material for The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films. While using the hallowed recording studios, Director, Peter Jackson and Composer, Howard Shore stepped out to get their own snap. Then English Heritage got the studios listed. And I still love The Beatles music.

And in the end . . .

Michael Ondaatje

This week I overheard two boys, about 8 years old, at the magazines section of WHSmith. One asked the other if he read comics. “Back in the day.” was the reply.

Back in the day, this designer worked on the cover for Michael Ondaatje‘s early novel, Coming Through Slaughter. Michael is a very charming man who writes like an angel. This book is a ‘fictionalised’ account of the brief life of Buddy Bolden. Fictionalised because so little documentation remains. But – back in the day – in New Orleans, he played Jazz on the trumpet for the very first time. The Birth of Jazz. 
 slaughter
Miles Davis & Coltrane move me but Jazz is not my first musical port of call. And I am sure that is my short-coming, not the music’s.

But this story makes the hairs on the neck stand up. He was called the first great jazz trumpet player. No recorded music. How tremendous does your impact have to have been for that colossal appellation to form your legend? Now that, for me, occasions use of the over-worked word ‘awesome’.

Ondatjee relates a tale of massive, high-impact collision. The explosion of a creative talent. The implosion of drink, drugs, excess, squalor and madness. His description of Bolden’s rampant trumpet outpouring, in a public town parade, at his musical peak, and at the same moment as the fissure to his final insanity.  This is one of those very rare times a writer truely does justice to the potent alchemy of music.

Not only are there no recordings and sparse documentation of this pyrotechnic talent, there is little visual record. One fire damaged glass plate. At the time it seemed to0 obvious to use it on the cover. Beautiful, on reflection but as a grabber maybe just another bunch of sepia negroes as entertainers. Once into the text, it holds a howl of melancholy. On the shelf, another poignant, but passive moment awaiting Ken Burns‘ genius for his trade-mark, slow-motion, re-ignition of the past.

This is probably the point where I should tell design students to sit up straight and learn what you do when you want someone’s image but do not have the subject available. Nah. All I can do is tell you what I did. On that day with that problem.

I fibbed a bit about me and Jazz. I love Louis Armstrong too. In fact I once speculated about my funeral music (as you do) and chose two tunes to bookend my experience of adult life. I fancied David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust‘ at the start and Louis Armstrong’s ‘Stardust‘ at the end. Then I forgot about it. Until just then.

I remembered that a signature visual for Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong was the way, during performance, he would mop the sweat from his face with his handkerchief. Some rascals suggest he kept cocaine in it to revive him during a particularly vigourous set. I doubt it. In fact, I expect that would produce a Woody Allen moment. But the point is that it totally obscured his face.

And I had it. My muse moment. A portrait of a man who was not there. A hope for a pause in performance of exhaustion, intensity and pain. I wanted a close-up study and often have a mischievous desire to commission out of genre. I took the idea to Robert Golden. At that time he was the man for food photography. A serious man, he now makes documentary film, I believe.

No drug dust. Maybe just a little Stardust. Back in the day.