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?

Maverick creative thinking shreds marketing nerves



I’m a huge fan of movie posters and have wittered on endlessly on this blog to anyone who has enough patience to read about my love for them. There are some great and some not so great examples around at the moment and one of the best examples of brilliant creativity in this space  had nothing to do with the actual marketing team, but a street artist.

The dude who goes by the name Poster Boy NYC is known for ‘putting his spin’ on NYC  signage with anti-consumerism, anti-everything satire. What he’s done for a poster of  Hugh Jackman’s latest movie, The Wolverine, however, is a genius work of marketing that should embarrass the studio team assigned to this film for not thinking of it first. The actual poster for the film features the simple image of Wolverine with claws bared. In the his version, however, the posters on either side are made to look as though they have been clawed by Marvel’s hirsute superhero.

It’s a piece of sharp thinking, sure to get the official creative team looking at their shoes and coughing. Sign him up, boys.

X Men First Class 2

These teaser posters for the upcoming film X men First Class 2 caught my eye. An interesting riff on past and present showing present day and back in the day Magneto and Xavier.

I really like how teaser posters have the freedom to be more interesting, with less of a promotional job to do – surpassing their main film poster counterparts on countless occasions.





Inappropriate baking ads

I fully accept it;s my juvenile sense of humour, but these made me laugh out loud. I love it when there’s more than a nod and wink going on between the creative person who thought up the ads and the reader. Unusually, these ads are from Canada – not renowned for the wittiest of creativity. All the same, I enjoyed them.

Screaming Hand

I’m a lover of all things connected to surfing. And this famous graphic was designed by Phillips for famous surf brand Santa Cruz. It sums up perfectly the anarchy of an anti-establishment brand (that isn’t really, but once was before it became a huge corporate) and connects accurately with the cool surfing dudes.


Here’s a post I wrote on our work blog. Thought you might like to read it…

Like it or not, retail advertising and Christmas have always come hand in hand.

Brands are so intrinsically entwined with the festive holiday that even its most iconic secular figure has a brand to thank for his famous red attire. Similarly, forget the arrival of robin red breast; it is the TV commercials that herald the beginning of the festive season.

In the old days, Woolworths traditionally used to be the favourite spot to watch out for. The media would be rife with anticipation about what their ad extravaganza might entail, who it might star and what their budget might be. However, much like the brand itself, those days are long gone. In these days of austerity, the Christmas blockbuster commercials resemble something entirely different altogether.

John Lewis provides the most prominent example of how this particular landscape has changed over recent years. The ad has, as is tradition, triggered a phenomenal amount of buzz. It has filled newspaper columns, sparked debate and even sneak previews on Twitter and YouTube meant that the ‘twitterati’ were twittering at a high volume before the ad aired. However, the reason why people actually care has altered dramatically.

John Lewis is one of those brands that seems to have acquired a uniquely special place in the nation’s heart. It is a brand universally adored by middle England and has become increasingly adept at tapping into the mood of the county. During a time of economic turmoil, where brands need our custom more than ever, John Lewis opted to produce a heart-warming and emotive piece that contrasts entirely against the commercially focussed norm.

This year’s ad portrays a simpler, generous and more innocent time. People repeatedly comment on how timeless it seems, indicating that it appeals to people on a far more human level. In short, it completely abandons any sense of crass commercialism.

This is highly unusual for a high street retailer and it is a refreshing change to see a brand take the moral retail high ground; in fact they seem to have carved themselves a monopoly of being the only brand that can authentically achieve this. This ad doesn’t overtly sell products, but the emotion and spirit of Christmas. While there are many cynics who may dispute its genuine intentions, that little boy who is so excited to give his parents their presents, has created more Christmas joy than all the other attempts by brands put together.

Now that’s something really worth talking about.


Retro futurism

I love it when an alternate reality is played out using real brands (or in this case, defunct real brands). I came across this poster and it transported me back to another time. Born out of Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey it’s an absolute classic.

Hans Otto Wendt

Famous for his hand drawn movie titles in the 1940’s and 50’s, Wendt was an old school ‘commercial artist’ (there weren’t graphic designers in those days) plying his trade in a booming Hollywood, creating typography for some of the top movies of the day.

This was back in the day where everything like this had to be hand drawn – here’s just a couple of great examples, including one of my favourite films of all time, Casablanca. I think they are lovely examples of craft and although the styling reflects the fevered, pulpy subject matter of the day, they still stand the test of time for me and act as a perfect design time capsule.

It wasn’t that long ago – when I started out in the design industry, OK so it is some time ago – that anything unusual had to be drawn especially and we had a ‘lettering artist’ and in our PFB studio we had a couple of guys who could knock something similar up using nothing more than a few sable brushes and indian ink.

Those were the days.

Here’s an idea

Here’s one for all you creatives out there.

Next time you have a tough brief, turn off the computer.

In all the years I’ve been in the creative industry, I’ve never seen an idea born on a computer screen.

Sharpen your pencil, get out a nice notebook.

And scribble, doodle, draw – whatever.

The ideas will come.


One page magazine

I was quite taken with this idea – take a popular magazine, take out all of the content and just leave the logos. This ‘one page magazine’ shows the logos from the advertisements in their original positions.

In this edition of The Economist, it’s interesting to note where they appear, their relative sizes to each other and the general restraint shown by the respective brand owners in terms of usage. The OK! version is fascinating in terms of positioning on the page and coverage.

There’s more of them at