Thursday, 10 November 2011

Anecdote: from a possible series of freelance experiences

This is intended to be one of a number of posts documenting a range of freelance experiences. The intention is to amuse/frustrate/entertain and ultimately inform. 

Areas that will/may be covered would be setting up as a freelance, agents, art directors, working for ‘foreign’ clients etc. The anecdotes are intended to be non-consecutive. 

1. Penguin books 
This job wasn’t my first commission, it wasn’t even the first book jacket I did (Picador commissioned me to do a cover for Tobias Wolff’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’) but I had been living in London for about a month or so - picking up the odd editorial job – Radio Times, Fiction Magazine and a couple of others but I had always wanted to work for Penguin. 

Through persistence or luck I managed to talk my way into showing my portfolio to the senior art director Cherriwyn Magill. 

Penguin, at this time were located near ‘Worlds End’ on The New Kings Road and had recently re-launched the ‘King Penguin’ imprint and looking to commission work. 

Cherriwyn was a great art director for a new illustrator to meet, she had tons of experience at Penguin and Collins before that and she found the time to talk about my work and on occasions I would show new work and get some really valuable feedback. Art directors can be a mixed bunch (more on that in some future post) but she was great. 

I had been out of college for only a short period and I was still incredibly naive. I had been making work in a variety of ways predominantly in print – silkscreen and lino/wood cuts – alongside drawings and collage but I had very little access to those facilities and had to figure out a way of working that reflected my usual working methods. I did get to return and use the print area for a while but my problem was to settle into a working method without access to print. 

The technique I used for the first few covers involved a hybrid of collage and pigment - for colour and its adhesive qualities, my main problem was that I soon realised the limitations of the technique and having produced a few covers using the technique I had to amend and adjust my approach. 

I produced a series of roughs for the cover, although really they were pretty much finished artworks, as I became established as an illustrator, the need to make highly finished artwork as a rough became less essential, although I always submitted a range of ideas. 

I did get a buzz out seeing my work in the bookshops and was fairly pleased with the outcome. In ‘Penguin by Design’ Phil Baines suggests that the typography on the majority of the new King Penguins was too dominant but I think they did a good job with mine. 

‘Keepers of the House’ is a semi-autobiographical book written by Lisa St Aubin de Teran and is largely set in Latin America. Lisa was named as one of Granta’s 20 best young writers that year and wrote a number of other novels. 

Later the same year I was invited to fiction magazine’s end of year party. One of the great things about being an illustrator, for me, was the idea that I was being paid to read books and make artwork. I was delighted to be invited to the event and Lisa was there that year along with a number of other writers, illustrators and editors – they were, without exception, lovely people. I was nervous as hell and drank too much and inevitably embarrassed myself. I did work for them again and did another cover for Lisa, so perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I imagined but as I considered writing this post I remembered that awful ‘what was I thinking’ moment that struck me the next morning.

John Clementson 

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