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.

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Balls

Almost at the end of two weeks of a fabulous Olympic Games. There is wall-to-wall coverage so I’ll not add too much to the Olympic noise. The inner cynicism with which I approached the event has been squished under thousands of happy feet. I have loved the event, the change in atmosphere in the country has been amazing and the sporting success of Great Britain’s competitors is just thrilling. So proud. And Boris was left dangling on wire to increase my TV glee.

Thinking of sport every day reminded me of some sports guides I designed covers for at Pan Macmillan – a few Olympic Games ago. As a general publisher rather than a sports specialist Pan’s approach was to go for the individual sport’s governing body endorsement as their USP. And a unified graphic brand identity was called for. I wanted to avoid sports personality imagery as it always throws up ego/permission/vetting issues. And they would date sooner. After a period of deliberation on concept the editor enquired about my creative intentions. “Balls”, was my response. Though sometimes abrupt, this time my answer was simply factual. We had LTA Tennis, SRA/WSRA Squash and PGA Golf. Now I have been involved in a lot of series over my time and I had become aware of some of the potential pitfalls if you don’t plan ahead. I needed to know which other sports might be coming down the pipeline . . . “Possibly Rugby, not Football and maybe Cricket,” the editor assured me. “So all ball sports”, I probed. “Yes, definitely no others”, came the reassurance I needed.

Now confident I turned my attention to specific. I declined the photographic option for the balls as the close-ups would need to be perfect. And this was pre-Photoshop times (gasps, I’m turning grey!) and such things as post-production retouching were very expensive. I wanted hyper-realistic artwork of the ball for each sport. Now you all know I have a taste for the best in illustration and I dislike weak airbrush work. Too often I saw work from people for whom the slick effect took hold before the basic skills were mastered. The results would tend to look as though a balloon had been stretched over the subject. And when only the best will do (most times then. Ed.) it called for the masterly eye of Chris Moore as my illustrator of choice. An Olympic Champion with an airbrush. What makes it so good is his acute observation, the skill of the initial drawing and the expertise to use a regular brush afterwards.  This gives the texture that breathes life into the finished work. Chris is one of the finest Sci-Fi artists of all time. This time it was pure technique. Perfect results every time. And a pleasure to deal with.

So the type was added. I should confess I would do it differently today, (If in doubt, use Goudy). And I had the after-thought of rotating the squash ball through 90 degrees for a little visual wit. We polished off the job and moved on to yet more of Pan’s prodigious list. All was fine. Well, fine for a while. Our series of official sports guides went well. Then the editor commissioned a new title which, of course, needed a cover. These were all going to be ball sports right? “So what is the new title?” I enquired willingly. “Swimming” was the reply.

Some days are less about design and more about escapology.

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 David. 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?

 

 

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Art Students, Plymouth 2012


Regular readers may recall I visited Plymouth University as an Associate Lecturer last year. A two week stint running a Type & Layout workshop with First Year Illustration. There were 45 in the group and it was busy, fun and the Uni has a good feel to it. So I was pleased when Ashley Potter asked me back this year.
 

O, just one thing, Gary. There are 69 students this time” Muttering darkly under my breath I cheerily assured my Course Leader that would be no problem. Half as many again? Oo, er.

First up was a personal introduction in the lecture theatre called ‘Who is this Bloke?‘. Serried rows of gimlet eyes peering through the dim light. Elevated baked seating like the Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium. Without the football. Or the numbers. Or the noise. And it was Plymouth. Some smart questions which is always a good sign. Second part, ‘What is Type‘ – to give them an introduction for the project. Attention can wander after too long so this became a fairly rapid-fire exercise knowing that I had the images on my iPad and would be able to refer back to them through the coming weeks. A great teaching tool. (Not me, the iPad).

Back in the studio with 69 students. They all had good space to work but rounding them up took forever as small groups milled about like grazing wildebeest. Getting their attention meant raising my voice too much and disturbing Year Two across the partition. Fix required. So that evening I rummaged in the workshop for a ball of string and two clamps to bisect the room. Once my side of the string they began to coalesce into a group and we could talk normally. The novelty broke the ice and registration became String Time. Certainly the closest I’ll ever get to any comprehension of String Theory anyway.

It may sound amusing, in fact a little humour is often the best way to tackle a problem, but imagine the extra strain on the course with so many – marshalling groups, timetables, paperwork, logistics etc. With University fees restructured no doubt there has been a surge intake with students’ natural desire to beat fees hike. Some even by-passed a Foundation Year. Ducking under the fiscal string . . .

 

Work time, sleeves rolled up. Ashley rallied round and called in the delightful Claire Harper whose help was invaluable. Groups of six students at a time and I made as much one-on-one time as I could. So much to share, so little time.

Initially they seemed to struggle with what was expected and, to be fair, it is not easy to explore  with type when you are new to it – remember these are illustration students. There is a decent work ethic in the group and the desire to meet expectations maybe inhibited them at times. At one point I was concerned that vitality shown in layout was a bit lost in final pieces. Yet by the end they produced great first-year work. Some by natural talent, some by graft, some too timid, some really stretching themselves and a few by epic escapology! Have a look at the work they produced here.

Will 69 complete the course? Will 69 well rounded happy young adults emerge? Will all become professional illustrators and be making a good living in a few years time? From what I have seen, probably a few more than you might think. But in the end, how long is a piece of string?

What do you think?

What image made the most impact on you in 2011?

 

Add your comment with a link to the image. Maybe say why it made such an impact. It can be personal, of global consequence or, well, you choose . . .

UPDATE: A review of contributions appears as a Guest Blog at IMPERICA: http://www.imperica.com/viewsreviews/gary-day-ellison-images-of-2011

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Art Students

Class photo (tagged): http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=351986&l=2f7dde0b17&id=100000772157570

 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?