Magic Markers saved my life


I spent my early days as a young designer in a chemical fug. Day after day, my senses were dulled by fumes that made me light-headed and reckless. Intensified by the heat and pressure of a busy design studio, I became addicted to the mother of all creative highs.

Magic markers.

It’s incomprehensible of course these days that we would spend an entire day drawing stuff, colouring in with coloured felt tip markers, glue it to some board and then go see a client with the brand new thinking for their next campaign. But we did. In the modern age of PDF and We Transfer, sketching stuff out seems oddly quaint, although it’s not vanished entirely, it’s an affectation these days rather than the norm.

Back then markers were our expression, easy, quick tools that demanded skill to deliver ideas on the hoof. This process had its own vernacular too: markers were used to create scamps, roughs, flims or even thumbnails. As designers we were still close the commercial artists craftsmen who taught us our craft and we borrowed ancient terminology from these long-lost giants.

To someone who always loved drawing, the technical ability of these tools to deliver flat colour, crisp lines with no bleeding (here I go again) and flawless visuals was a revelation. Of course, you had to know the tricks and a scuffed drawing board could ruin work that would have to be done again. There was no Apple Save in those days. But you learnt quick. Shortcuts came thick and fast and everyone had their own armoury of kit and secret techniques to deliver the killer visual.

There was no finer sight than a full rack of juiced up markers, ready to do your bidding. I started on Magic Markers, the ad agency staple. The stubby glass bodied pens were fearsomely expensive and prone to drying out, and were soon usurped by the snazzy Pantone upstarts, who had the massive advantage of the pen colour matching the entire Pantone ink and paper family. Both co-existed with dedicated enthusiasts on both sides.

I learnt recently that the chemicals used in magic markers were very harmful to humans and even back then we’d joke lightheadedly about how these couldn’t be good for us. Of course now we can’t have a glass of wine without getting a warning so imagine spending a day intoxicated by killer toxins just to get an advert sketched out.

I love the past sometimes. That’s why I’ve just ordered a full set of greys to get cracking again.

What do you remember about magic markers?

Is art for the elite?

Visitors walk through the Royal Academy galleries during the Summer Exhibit


I finally got around to visiting the 246th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this week. I’ve always wanted to go, loving the romantic notion that all members are eligible to submit work and if it’s good enough, it will be in the show. Art lovers have long known that it’s the place to pick up a bargain piece of art from an artist on his or her way up the ladder and there are many stories of collectors having done just that.

I love the fact there is world famous artists whose work is for sale well into six figures sitting alongside complete unknowns. Artists like Tracy Emin also have fun with it too, selling limited edition prints at a very attractive price, OK it’s a print, but it’s a signed and numbered print by an internationally renowned artist.

The first thing to note is that the galleries are stunning. A hugely diverse collection of art has been curated carefully into 12 galleries, each gallery curated by a different member of the RA. This is a feat in itself as the eclecticism of the work means themes and dialogue have to be found to help make sense of the exhibition. For the large works by well-known artists this is clearly great fun for the curators but with the smaller pieces, the sheer volume and scale of difference is a virtue in itself.

Unlike a traditional gallery, where pace and them is easily controlled by artist or collection, the Summer Exhibition is an explosion of vibrant colour and thrilling execution, challenging the viewer to try to absorb not just an individual piece but an entire wall of artworks, all talking to each other. Each gallery is paced cleverly and allows respite where needed from the sensory overload.

I think modern art can sometimes feel like a club, excluding people who aren’t in on the gag. But this show feels truly inclusive in a way I’ve never seen before—the sheer democracy of style and subject matter makes it feel like a show for the people, by the people. Of course it’s still in a gallery and it still costs £12 to get in, but once past the hallowed porticoes of the Royal Academy, there is a truly levelling experience to be had.

Do you think art is for the elite or should be made more available for the masses?



Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson

Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson



work on paper by John Carter


Photography is strictly not allowed, so thanks to Benedict Johnson for use of his stunning images.

The Nation’s Prayer 12.06.14


I love this.

Just what we need now we’re facing an uphill struggle to qualify for the quarter finals of the World Cup.

Great writing and lovely typography by Asbury and Asbury


Walking in London

It’s only when you live in London that you start to get to grips with the city. As a frequent visitor over the years, there’s no real need to get to know it. You use the city—for business and for pleasure, it’s just there.

One of the key parts of getting on with London is orientation I think—Londoners already have this nailed but us newbies have years of half-baked tube map and taxi journey knowledge, which isn’t massively useful. So we’ve taken to walking everywhere which hugely helps to understand how this giant city fits together and also how not so giant the city centre is.


City Road looking from Old Street, the sun was setting with the new build apartment blocks looking majestic and glamorous. City Road is a major artery into the Square Mile and beyond eastwards. The city creeping outwards, constantly growing and evolving.



There is tranquility to be had in the bustle of the city and this is Bunhill Fileds, one of the London’s oldest burial grounds. Formerly ‘Bonehill Fields’ it is final resting place of William Blake and Daniel Defoe amongst others. The ancient graves sit quietly in a haven of dappled sunlight and bluebells in early summer.



London is of course full to bursting with history and I was taken with this map on a construction hoarding in the city. It show the area where we live as a rural area which of course it isn’t now. This applies to every major city I realise but the etymology of place names and historical references fascinate me.



Everywhere you look in London it’s the juxtaposition of old and new. Sometimes they sit beautifully together and sometimes they jar. I like the combination personally: it speaks of a city alive with growth and industry but the only caveat I would impose would be breathtaking design is the prerequisite for any addition.



In the heart of the square mile of the city, commerce is king and midweek the thrum of the financial world is focused on London. On a weekend though, it empties out and everywhere is closed, even M&S. It’s the best time to marvel at this tiny but impressive pocket of the city.



Graffiti art in Shoreditch (where we live) is everywhere and an art form in itself. Clearly encouraged and commissioned, street art adds to the edgy narrative of this engaging neighbourhood. Too cool for school for some, Shoreditch is an essential part of London’s nightlife, the focus of countless cool bars and clubs.



There’s proper modern art galleries to be found too in Shoreditch. This is My Art Invest Gallery on Commercial Road, an eclectic mix of modern and street art influenced work that can be part owned in a share purchase scheme. The piece above is The Grapes of Wrath by Ludo…skulls as a bunch of grapes, bit obvious but I liked it.



We took in the more traditional side of London too with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Astonishing to think this happens every day. Of course the tourists love it and they were there in their thousands. I love a bit of pomp and ceremony too, so I’ll be honest and say I lapped it up.



This dude has to stand all day, stock still, in all weathers so hats off to him—if you’ll excuse the pun. What lies beyond the gates at Buck Palace is of course only for the select few to experience and for us commoners to dream about. I wouldn’t class myself and a royalist as such but it’s hard not to be impressed by the machinery of it all.



Cranes are everywhere in London and gaping holes don’t stay that way for very long. They are always the precursor to something big and bold taking shape. There are many that hand wring about changing the face of London too much, and I suspect that has always been the way for centuries.