Creative Review

For those of you who have nothing to do with the design or creative industry, you’ll never have heard of Creative Review. For as long as I can remember (and that’s a long time) CR was the go to magazine for who’s doing the best and most creative work in the design and advertising world.

In the eighties and most of the nineties, it was the ONLY industry magazine that was worth reading. As a young designer in learning my craft in Leeds, the day it arrived was an oasis of creativity in my world of mundane design work that was Leeds in the recession hit early eighties.

Since then, it’s become a fixture in every studio I’ve worked and as I migrated from designer to manager (and back again) it’s been an industry constant that everyone measured their work by. It was notoriously difficult to get any work in there too, making it all the more prestigious.

In more recent times, in my MD capacity, I’ve passed on the magazine to designers to read and to be honest not had the time to do anything other than flick through it’s contents. I was more than pleased then, to see that they’ve given the magazine a complete overhaul – and one that makes me want to buy it and read it like I used to: greedily and selfishly, at home. If it reads as well as it looks, I should be in for a real treat.

There’s a bit more information on the CR blog here

Drawing or sketching?

Back in the day when I trained as graphic designer, drawing was a fundamental part of the Graphics course at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds (now Leeds College of Art of course). Training fledgling designers to look and interpret what they see through the medium of charcoal or pen was a fundamental cornerstone of the designer’s training and much of what we did in those days before the computer took over was about skill and technique and less about technology.

I’m not one of these people who decry technology and the gradual erosion of the skills graphic designers had, but I do mourn the inability of many modern designers to put pen to paper. At first, I hated drawing and those Monday afternoons with Lem (our Latvian tutor, whom many of you will know) were knee knocking experiences. I’ll never forget the first life model drawing session – she just threw off her decrepit dressing gown and got everything out. We all were nervously scrawling with the lumps of charcoal that day.

But I learned to love drawing. We decided we’d drawn the life models from every angle imaginable (and belive me, we had) and decided to go further afield to draw real things – aeroplanes, trains, cars, shopping centres. It’s a habit that’s stayed with me over the years too. What I always loved about drawing was the looking. It sounds obvious, but to draw something you have to really look at it and take in all the detail. To this day, when I look back on drawing that are years old, I can remember the details that I’d committed to paper. The drawing unlocks a compartment in the mind where that information still exists.

In latter years, drawing has acted as a relaxation and contrast the fast-paced world I now inhabit. It’s a way of capturing something that a camera cannot – even though I stayed true to the pure, simple, line pen drawing style taught at college (“make your bladdy mark people, don’t be afraid” Lem would insist).

Last year when I went to Venice, I bought a wonderful drawing book in one of these lovely little bookbinders just off the grand canal. Leather bound and hand made, I’ve not had as much time as I’d have liked to get the book going. In the past few weeks, I’ve been finding the time – and my mojo – for drawing again. I’ve been slipping my drawing book and newly purchased pens (yes, I’m a pen geek too) into my bag in case I get a spare few minutes to draw.

When I was drawing yesterday in City Inn Leeds waiting for a meeting, I was struck by the majesty of the Leeds skyline (really) and realised this is the kind of view that as students we’d have killed for.

One final thing. I’ve always had an aversion to the word sketching. I think it came from Lem. He said we didn’t sketch, we drew. And there was a big difference. For me, sketching has always spoke of loose, off the cuff connotations – the dictionary says  ‘a simple or hastily executed drawing’.

To draw is ‘to compose or create in lines’. For me personally, making a mark has always been careful and considered. Even when we only had 5 minutes, we never sketched, we drew. I’d love to hear some other views on the matter and no doubt I will as for some reason, I think it’s a very contentious issue.

Nice and simple

Once in a while you see something that makes you smile.

It’s often something simple, well considered and executed. These bookmarks caught my eye just now. They’re not only playful, but they’re beautifully designed and bring something else to a completely functional item.

They’re for sale here (if you can read japanese). Thanks to The Dieline for finding these.

Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall

At the end of last year, one of the projects I worked on was for a completely unique event. The plan was to illuminate the length of Hadrian’s Wall, from end to end. Every so often a project comes along that completely captures th imagination and this was one of them.

Born out of a desire to make Hadrian’s Wall relevent hundreds of years later, this event really captured the imagination of the communities all along the length of the wall. We created the brand identity and marketing materials for the event and it all happened last weekend.

Although I planned to take a trip up and be part of the event, stuff got in the way as it sometimes does and we couldn’t go. I was delighted to see that the weather was perfect and it was a huge success. Media coverage was pretty spectacular too, so well done to the team involved in pulling off this major cultural event. There’s even talk of it becoming an annual event – not sure what the team delivering this logistical nightmare think about that, but it’s testament to the job they all did.

Find out more here

Swillington Organic Farm

I paid a visit to Swillington Organic farm this weekend to pick up my next foodie project. The farm is well known locally for its rare breed organic pork – in this instance, Saddleback pigs.

I’ve been fancying having another try at air dried ham after my last experiment ended fairly disastrously (I blame Hugh but that’s another story). I ordered a full leg which weighs in at a sizeable 9 kilos and it was all ready for us when we arrived. My mate dave and I are doing one at the same time, so we can compare notes along the way.

This is going to be a long job as the ham can take up to 9 months to air dry properly. I’m curing it first in salt for a few days and then hanging somewhere dry and draughty for the agonising long wait. I will report in regular intervals on progress…

Zen and Tennis

Last night I played tennis and this morning I can feel it.

Joints and tendons, tweaked. I’ve not played for a few weeks and when you get to my age (still in my prime, obviously) – you just need to be playing a lot more regularly to keep the aches away.

I used to play a lot of tennis, in Huddersfield of all places. Sometime up to three times a week I’d be sliding around on some godforsaken shale in Meltham, or getting my arse kicked by a geriatric potato farmer in Denby Dale. But that was another time but I still get a real buzz from playing the game.

The one thing you realise about tennis is that it’s less about your skills and more about how sorted your head is. Obviously there is a skill level required to compete at a certain level, but it’s then about how you apply your mind to every match.

Someone once said to me ‘concentrate on every point and not the match score – don’t worry about where you are at with the overall score, just think about the point’. Now that’s easy to say. As a player, you’re always naturally looking forward to when it’s your turn to serve or even when you’re getting a serve on your forehand. This zen-like play is hardcore. ‘Play the point in front of you and forget everything else.’ Mmmn.

It’s pretty appropriate right now as I’m just reading (or trying to read) Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. All of the above and lots more besides are covered in plenty of detail.I feel like I’m on a bit of a journey actually getting to grips with the business of Zen and I was struck this week on how tennis is right at the heart of it.

We’re going to be talking about this book at the book club at The Victoria in Leeds on Friday night – I’ll let you know how we get on, I’m sure it’ll be all about the moment….

A morning in the Henry Moore Institute

I had a couple of hours to kill in Leeds recently (I was waiting for the lovely wife to have her hair sorted – it seems to take hours on end and it looks the same at the end of it, but don’t tell her) so I decided after a slap up breakfast to combat a hangover and then on to get some culture.

I always wonder what people think when they come to Leeds in search of culture and not shopping. It must be bloody hard to find. When the book club boys go to mainland Europe on our annual trips, one of our first port of calls (after the bars obviously) is the art gallery. So I put myself in the shoes of a ‘cultural visitor’ (yes, they do exist) and set about visiting Leeds City Art Gallery and The Henry Moore Institute.

The exhibition in the Institute consisted of a room of 3B pencil scribble on a massive, white,  emulsioned space. It wasn’t bad but it seemed to confound all of the visitors who were there the same time as me. Maybe that was the point. The artist was called Alan Johnston, I quite liked it and the artist seemed like he had the worst case of OCD I’ve ever seen.

As my old mate Streety would have declared “You’re havin’ a laugh!!!”

The main gallery has some interesting stuff in there, some old some new but it just seemed like a mish-mash of old stagers and new chancers. I just can’t shake the feeling that art in Leeds is just not taken seriously by anyone with their hands on a serious pot of money, which is a huge disappointment.

This city has been working towards a very commercial vision in recent times and I think we’re all the poorer for it – literally and philosophically. In some ways the recession has put paid to some of the more ludicrous plans, and I’m pleased about that.

It strikes home pretty powerfully too when you try and spend a couple of hours in the city centre that’s don’t involve shopping, eating or drinking. The city just feels culturally impoverished and although the new city museum is a captivating diversion, it’s aimed rightly at mainstream family visitors. We are still missing a ‘proper’ cultural destination.

Look at Manchester’s great old art gallery. Look at The Baltic. Look at Tate Liverpool. What happened in Leeds, and who’s responsible?


A good friend recommended that I read a book called Delight by J B Priestley.

Although I’m reasonably well read, I’d never read any Priestley (unless I had some force fed at school, but I don’t recall) so I took up the recommendation and ordered this book. Apparently Priestly was a notorious curmudgeon and classic miserable Yorkshireman (not that we’re all that way out, but we have our moments) and this book was a reaction against that. He decided to write about the things in life that delighted him and in which he found joy.

Interesting then, to read the preface by Priestley titled ‘the grumbler’s apology’ – where he makes no bones about how miserable he had and could be and that, ‘rest assured, if I looked miserable on the outside, I was feeling far worse inside’.

Although the book was written in 1949, there are many timeless delights as you would expect and some that are definitely of their time. It’s a book perfect for dipping in and out of at times when you have a few minutes as the book comprises a series of essays on a wide variety of subject matter.

A few that have stood out for me so far are:

Fountains – everyone likes them and they still continue to draw people to them

Waking to smell bacon – of course

Coming home – even though we moan endlessly about it, it’s still home

Shopping in small places – even in 1949, small shops were a delight and still are

Bragging – we imagine that we’re being modest, but we’re not really and we secretly like it

On top of all this great stuff, it’s a beautifully packaged little book printed on lovely ivory paper and the typography is exquisite. It’s designed in a timeless, classical format and typeset in an Eric Gill font, Perpetua. In fact, that’s another delight to add to all of the others.

Nice Tee

Those nice people at Howies have produced another great t-shirt. In the current climate of 6 Music and Asian network cuts, it gets right to the point and manages to pull off a double graphic design whammy.