1978…onwards and sideways.

I had been in the creative industry two years now. I was discovering the expectations of me stemmed from my original blagging in the pub during my gin and tonic interview. I also realised that I was very good with my hands although I often shook like an old Bakerloo line train rattling its way beneath Regents Park. This meant that anything that was made, was my job. I was the mock-up man, a sort of foul-mouthed Blue Peter presenter! I was now part of a team.

 

Stewart McColl Design Associates Marylebone High Street London W1

Where I started to take things seriously…sort of!

 

The graphics department was three strong, including me. It was a small bolt-on to the main business of interior design and architecture. They were an interesting bunch, and one guy reeked of alcohol every morning as he rushed to his desk perpetually late. He had the poshest accent I’ve ever heard, a cross between Mr Darcy and the late Brian Sewell (google him). I didn’t know posh people got drunk! I thought they just slurred naturally.

I sat four desks away from a guy called Clive Frampton. A small, unassuming fellow who kept himself to himself. He also happened to be the brother of Peter Frampton, at the time a huge megastar musician. Blimey! I also knew that his dad had taught David Bowie at school when David was young down in South London. And Clive knew David very well. I spent two weeks staring at Clive until I plucked up the courage to say something banal to him as a way of introduction. (Probably, can I borrow your set square please?). My strategy was to small talk Clive for two weeks then bombard him with deeply intrusive and personal questions like….”what was it like to share a cigarette with a man from another planet?” “Did he look crap in the mornings?” and “did he have a driving license?” It turns out he did and had owned an E-type jag. That surprised and delighted me. David Bowie – petrolhead? Nah, but it was my fav car of all time and one that I was determined to own one day. My E type fund by now stood at under £100 after two years, so I had a long way to go. Btw, David was brilliant at table tennis apparently, honed during his Ziggy tours. I would’ve paid a month’s salary to watch just one game — such weird imagery. Ziggy played ping-pong.

In between being star-struck and absorbing all this alien culture, I started to ply my trade correctly. Along with mock-ups, my main job was to artwork the graphic designers’ ideas. In principle, they would give me a hand-scribbled sketch, and I had to make it good enough for print or signage etc. Now, we are still 15 years or so away from Mac’s in the UK, so a steady hand, a keen eye and lots of luck was involved. The tools of repair were Tippex, double-sided tape and blaming someone else…frequently! This was a fantastic opportunity to learn the skills not taught at Art College. Like how to eat pizza and hand render lettering with a Rotring pen at the same time and how to put a new surgical blade in a handle with one hand. Took a bit of painful practice that one. Artworking was all about neatness, accuracy and presentation. All the things I struggled with at the time. There were many finished logos floating around 80’s London with traces of fag ash and bits of pizza that had been reproduced.

When I had finished a hand-drawn logo, always in black and white, it would then be copied on a Permanent Mechanical Transfer camera. PMT for short. Aptly named, very temperamental, irrational but okay when you just let it get on with it. (Sorry). The PMT’s were sometimes called Bromides due to the paper. It would then be cut square, pasted in position with Cowgum and various rules and set squares and finally scanned by a print company. Sometimes you would shoot a transparency which was easier to scan, but you would lose quality.

 

 

A Permanent Mechanical Transfer Camera or PMT machine for short.

Very difficult to understand.

 

If you needed to archive a logo artwork there where numerous commercial photographic labs in London. You send them the original, they shoot it high quality and give you back a reference number on a 2-inch square reference print. When you needed a logo you rang them up and 5 hours later (if you’re lucky) you got it to size. We used a company called W Photo in Camden. London was full of motorbike messengers then, as everything was done elsewhere and it was way before the web.

Unlike today when the bikes carry food, then they carried design presentations and artwork. A task that takes 5 minutes now would take a day then. But on the plus side, it meant that we were always working on 3-4 projects at the same time as you were inevitably waiting for something to arrive. This was a great way to learn how to manage projects and your time. Something invaluable when you progress the bin chute.

To be continued.

Part 1

If you have any questions or queries about this article please get in touch.

 

Coming soon:-

Pt 3. The 80’s – Big hair, Big suits, Big egos.

Pt 4. The Retail Boom

Pt 5. Destiny calling – The Islington design company

Pt 6. The 90’s – Away at Highbury

Pt 7. Not much sex, lies and videotapes

Pt 8. Hoxton – a coming home

Pt 9. Bread and butter, and lots of it

Pt 10. The Politburo, Mafia and the Tass News Agency

 

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