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 Philip 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.






Art Students

Class photo (tagged):

 Project work: Alistair Nimmo, Jordan Rogers, Jamie Bradford, Claire Knight

 BA (Hons) Illustration, University of Plymouth Blog

I was an art student once and, over the years, I have delivered the odd lecture, set some projects and frequently been engaged as External Assessor/Moderator at Art Schools. They have had various guises as Institutes, Colleges and Schools. Many are now part of a University, some were UK, some in New York and one was even Royal. But whatever the nom de guerrethey are all basically art schools. The home of wisdom for, and the nurturing of, students of Visual Communication.

And, expecting a minor flurry of contradictions, they are not fundamentally different from my sojourn at Brighton Polytechnic, now a University. An energetic seaside town awash at the time with such talents as Michael HodgsonJulian Powell-TuckHelen ChadwickRaymond BriggsRob O’ConnorCharlie HookerJohn Kippin, and Dick Jewell.

For this art student it was both a lifetime ago and just yesterday. Two weeks ago I stepped into University of Plymouth and half expected John Lord (my long-suffering tutor back in Brighton) to loom over me with that big red beard and chase me up for an unfinished project!

On a cold Monday morning the University’s Head of Illustration, Ashley Potter, had called me to help out with a problem. 45 First Year Illustration students were booked into a week-long project (they call it a module) to introduce them to type and layout. Unexpectedly there was no tutor and it began the next morning. “OK, I’ll help.” Eek!

I hurriedly assembled images for an introductory lecture for two key questions the students would need answers to, “What is typography?” And “Who the hell is this bloke?“. Through the door, lights out, showtime. 45 young faces, a mixture of the eager, shy, curious, sceptical, anxious and interested. And just one hour to show and tell. 60 minutes to hopefully raise their sights yet put the subject within their reach. Then a live crash course in how the institution set its modules. Ashley smoothed the path expertly and we all cracked on with it.

They had a whole heap of questions about the project. In fact it was in danger of becoming a bit of an avalanche so, after checking that it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers, I modified the inherited brief a little so they could focus on the core of the work. Meeting constantly in groups or individually over the next few days I got to know them, and where they work.

My experience was just one week with first year illustration students. Bearing that in mind, these are the impressions of the University I came away with. Campus is a few minutes walk from the railway station and very central so it felt an integral part of the city of Plymouth. Though densely populated its aspect is open and organised. It was busy. Facilities appeared very good, from what I saw, and working spaces were pleasant. The canteen pasta bake did not kill me – in fact it wasn’t bad at all! There was a steady buzz of activity. I really enjoyed the principal exhibition, in the foyer, Dominion by Angela Cockayne & Philip Hoare. 

First Year Illustration impressed me. As a large group of developing young adults they are undergoing fresh influences, change and all sorts of pressures. But, in at the deep end, with a stranger  temporarily at the helm, they were terrific. They were open and fun. A little distracted at times but they still, mostly, got the project completed. I am not one to be phased by a student earnestly attending a critique with a drawn-on curly moustache! A few had English as their second language and many were soft-spoken and shy. Yet they were comfortable in teams and work groups and became increasingly articulate as nerves subsided. Generally the attendance was good. They took software in their stride but I would like to have seen them use the Library a little more, they will find that so rewarding.

Did they have concerns about fees, accommodation, friendships, health, love and politics? Undoubtedly. Did it stop them enjoying their drawing, their designs, their lives? No. They were involved with the course and engaged with each other and the staff. They were on it.

Look at some of the project work above. And then those young faces. These great people played with the project constructively, were lively to work with and produced some surprising results. And made me feel pretty welcome. Good work.

What is, or was, your time at art school like?

Oliver Sacks, MD

Oliver Sacks MD, FRCP began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. He encountered some fascinating cases and writes about them in a way that is both compelling and full of empathy. He describes the seriously bizarre characteristics of patients suffering a range of conditions from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now that does not sound a barrel of laughs but his humanity and utter fascination in his patients is nothing like as dry as it may initially seem. At Picador books I had previously designed the cover for Awakenings which I cannot find but will add later (software permitting). That was made into a film with Robert de Niro and Robin Williams and tells the true story of a number of patients suffering persistent coma who Sacks diagnosed as survivors of a global pandemic that lasted from 1913-26. He administered a new drug called L-Dopa (you couldn’t make it up). They all awakened to a short-lived but euphoric state.

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is about some other extraordinary patients. Particularly those with ‘object blindness’. In the absence of Dr Sacks medical training I understood this as a problem, not with vision, but with the connection from eye to brain. One man could not recognise the the left side of objects. Confronted with a pizza he would eat all the right-hand side but say he was still hungry. Rotating the pizza for him 180 degrees he ate the other half contentedly.


Another man was totally puzzled when given his own glove and asked to identify it to Dr Sacks. Defeated in this task he called it a leather pouch with smaller leather extensions, possibly for use in carrying different denominations of coins. I found the innocence of the account poetic. However when he went to leave at the end of the session. He took his coat but neglected his hat. When reminded he tried to yank his wife’s head off her shoulders believing it to be his hat.

Object blindness? Another visual challenge in the daily life of an art director.

Belgian painter René Magritte came to mind. In particular “The Betrayal of Images” which depicts a lone smoker’s pipe with the legend, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” beneath it (“This is not a pipe“). The point being that it is not a pipe but a painting of a pipe. What I wanted was the hat/wife link. I have done a lot of work with illustrators and I love to reach past their ‘style’ to engage their creative thinking on books they will respond or react strongly too. But on this occasion I had something specific that needed to be executed with skill and élan. I called Paul Slater. Master craftsman, good egg. And what a good job he did. Now I dislike plagiarism, and so I made damn sure we clearly credited our homage to Magritte as such on the back cover.

The book was published and was well received. It deserved it. Our efforts to communicate complex issues of neurology with apt graphic imagery worked. I mentioned how great a job Paul Slater did? I got a letter from the solicitors representing the Magritte estate who, in their zeal, thought we had used a real painting from the collection without permission. All was cool once we pointed out the fulsome credit acknowledging the great man, in fact they were pleased (In fact Paul has reminded me I wrote “Ceci n’est pas une Magritte“). Paul Slater you were just too good! Dear readers, please see the full range of Paul’s fabulous work unfettered by concept-obsessed art directors.

Douglas Adams

I have been fortunate to work with some really great people. Authors, Composers, Entrepreneurs, Actors, Publishers, Creatives. Working with the best is very demanding but it makes you raise your game.

I relish that challenge.

My latest project has been working with a very talented Musicologist in Chicago called Doug Adams. More on that project in a later post. But it’s a good excuse to start this Blog with the similarly named, Douglas Adams. I love to listen to BBC World Service. That’s where I first heard the radio broadcast of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – at 3 am on a sleepless night in West London. I liked the way it played with the Science Fiction genre. So when editor Caroline Upcher bought the rights for Pan Books I already knew the nature of the beast. And together we were able to spread the word that this was more than the SF designation it had on the list. But initially that is where it stayed. Mick Brownfield produced worthy cover art for the first edition. The series grew. It became a Trilogy.











Now, this is what I mean by massively late. Sales needed a cover to rack up the orders. I had to deliver the design for the hardback jacket before Douglas produced the book. I made him promise to tell me what he had in mind. On his way out of the Fulham Road offices, unaware of his imminent incarceration, he stuck his head round my office door to brief me. He said, “It’s called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish“. And left.I sat, lost for words. A few minutes passed and his head re-appeared, “But there are no fish in it.“, he declared – and fled.












This left me license to match enigma with enigma. And when the penny eventually dropped, it landed in a pint of Guinness and produced a ‘lenticular print‘. I found one of a walrus that morphed into a dinosaur, originally produced as a give-away for a cereal packet. Douglas Adams wrote in my copy “The silliest jacket in the history of history itself“.

An Olympic level of silliness reached (that, of course mirrored the product) we were able to cap it off nicely when we eventually produced a unified design livery for the whole series. Adams hard-nosed agent demanded that we get the new paperback editions in bulk display bins in WHSmith. Trouble was their policy was no bins for re-issues, which three of the four were. It’s never just simple! It was going to take a real eye-catcher to encourage WHS break the rules.

I played around with some nice images. Chris Foss produced a classy SF illustration of a spaceship in the shape of a Rebok training shoe. Fate demanded a fish this time. A very small place in North London produced a towel with the legend “Don’t Panic!” woven in. And Douglas had made a self-portrait on his early AppleMac. But felt none of them were strong enough to stand alone. Off to our author’s house in Islington. Unable to hear over the most sophisticated sound system I had ever seen we played games with paper. Marketing Gods would call it brain-storming. I chopped copies of the images into pieces. Then settled on cutting each image into four. So by reconfiguring them you see the whole of each image. Just out of devilment, the spines, when in chronological order spell out “42”. In Luscher Colour Test colours. Nobody got that.

Great fun, and millions of books were displayed and sold.