When my career as a freelance illustrator drifted to an end a few years ago, I gathered all my drawings together and put them in a filing cabinet. I catalogued them all and there were over 4,000 of them. I closed all the drawers and shut the attic door. And that was it.
After a while I realised that the filing cabinet was a bit of a coffin. Those drawings might as well be dead bodies, I thought.
Art is meant to be seen, I thought. Really, they should at least be available on line, just in case the odd person wants to riffle through them.
So here they are. And if you are that odd person, Welcome to my on-line attic!
I seem to have been drawing in black and white for so long that I can remember a time in the early 1970s when, for a while, it was fashionable. At that stage I was scraping a living from selling my own posters. Scenes from Alice in Wonderland. They seemed to sell ok so I had a go at publishing books of drawings — more Lewis Carroll subjects: Jabberwocky and Hunting of the Snark — which also seemed to sell ok.
So I decided to do things properly by enrolling at the London College of Printing to study book production and typography. I learned all sorts of fascinating stuff on that course, most of which became obsolete within five years… but in the meantime I had started earning a proper living as a freelance illustrator.
Working from a studio in Crouch End throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I had regular slots in many British magazines and newspapers including New Statesman (where I was political caricaturist for most of the Eighties and captained the cricket team, persuading more than 600 batsmen to get themselves out to my loopy leg-spin), The Listener, BBC Worldwide and On Air magazines, the FT, Sunday Business, The Guardian and, particularly, The Times.
Illustration as a career can take you into many different subject areas, and you sometimes have to learn about things fast to feel on top of the job. The adrenaline of tight deadlines makes this more exciting than daunting. My home ground of subject material proved to be politics and the arts, in particular music. I built up a collection of around 500 black and white caricatures of composers over six years of weekly illustration for The Listener augmented by commissions from the recording company Naxos. These images continue to be used to illustrate recording packaging and concert promotion material all over the world, though like early movies there is a demand for them to be ‘colorized’ these days.
My best illustration work (in my own modest opinion) was done for the Times either side of the millennium, in collaboration with columnists like Lynne Truss, Nigella Lawson, Ned Sherrin, Anthony Howard, Richard Morrison and Joanna Coles.
In 2001, I moved to Liverpool, causing all my London contacts to assume I had left the planet. By 2002 I had more-or-less retired from commissioned work, and returned to self-publishing books of drawings under the imprint of Checkmate Books. This gave me the opportunity to develop as a writer, though my talents as a publisher seemed to peter out at around the promotion and distribution stage. But at least I can be content that all those books piled up in the attic are worthy of my LCP diploma in book production.
One thing self-publishing has led to is giving a lot of talks and slideshows on the subject matter of my books. This in turn has led to a series of pictureshows that bring together music, projected images, primitive animation and narration. The highlights for me have been three programmes, in collaboration with pianist Mirsa Adami, that combine projected graphics with a live piano recital.
Since 2013 I have been running a weekly drawing class here in Liverpool’s leafy suburbs. I still draw a lot but, having recently discovered there is a third dimension, my main enthusiasm now is for making ceramic sculpture.
During the 2020 Covid lockdown I discovered a new respect for watercolours and set myself to painting one picture a week in order to develop my technique.
Throughout my career I have made a point of having exhibitions of my work.