This is a number 38 London bus. I have been using it for the past 40 years. I call it 'the magic bus' because it is plentiful and local.
Often if I am stuck for an idea I'll leave the studio and go for a walk or jump on a 38. I love people watching and buses are great for that especially on the top deck. I jump on and off whenever it takes my fancy. I believe that everything is a creative opportunity and this morning I spotted two teenage Japanese girls looking like a living artwork. I had to snap them. From the back...
and the front...
In the middle of photographing (it took place at the top end of Museum Street), a woman appeared and said, "You can't photograph here". I replied, "But this is a public place, why can't I photograph?". She then said, "I can't tell you that", and disappeared into the building with me shouting after her, "What are you, MI5 or something?". London can be a crazy place sometimes.
I thanked the two girls and in true Japanese fashion they both bowed gracefully and we said our goodbyes. I love the Japanese.
Very sad news that graphic designer and illustrator Dennis Bailey has died.
An early student project from 1953
He studied at West Sussex College of Art in the late 1940s and was one of the post-war intakes at the Royal College of Art and along with RCA contemporaries David Gentleman, Raymond Hawkey, Len Deighton and Alan Fletcher made a considerable contribution to the British graphic design explosion of the 1960's.
In the early 1960s, Dennis collaborated on film projects and lived for a time in Paris working as Design and Art Editor on ‘Olympia Review’.
Penguin Books 1974
He designed and illustrated many book covers and editorial for Penguin Books, The Listener, The Economist, Nova, New Statesman, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the British Council, the Arts Council, and the British Medical Journal. He also created stamps for Royal Mail.
Illustrated and designed by Dennis Bailey for Royal Mail in 1963
Town magazine 1966
Catalogue for the Arts Council, 1961
From 1964 – 1966 he was Art Director of the iconic Town magazine commissioning an array of creative talent of the period including Don McCullin, David Bailey, and writer Tom Wolfe.
Between1971 to 1980 he taught at Chelsea School of Art. In 1980 he was made a Royal Designer for Industry.
I will remember him for his beautiful natural ability to draw with ease.
They say that travel broadens the mind. It also feeds the imagination, delights the eye and, in my case, blew my mind.
For a graphic designer, the Japanese flag is probably a perfect example of a stripped-back, minimal symbol that expresses an idea perfectly.
I have recently returned from my first visit to Japan taking in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. I have travelled to many places, but Japan completely overwhelmed me in so many ways.
First off, it was the people. The British are renowned for their courtesy, but the Japanese far surpass that. They are the most well-mannered, gracious and law-abiding race I have ever encountered. I was amazed and very moved by it. There is a natural modesty in their behaviour that is utterly endearing.
And they take enormous pride in whatever they do. They live by a set of rules that are centred on thinking of others around them.
Now this is going to sound like a promotional commercial for Japan, but it is exactly how I experienced it.
Me along with my daughter-in-law on one of the immaculate trains.
The trains, buses and taxis are immaculate. There is no tipping. Everything is punctual. People queue in line, and no one seems to shout.
Not a soul on the crossing.
No one eats on public transport. No one crosses the road unless the light is green.
If you have a cold in Japan, you wear a mask to avoid spreading it to others – so considerate. Can you imagine people doing that in the UK?
While staying with my daughter-in-law’s family, we visited a local ‘onsen’: this is a natural hot spring bathhouse. There is an amazing washing ritual before taking the hot spring.
It involves sitting in a little stall, scrubbing copiously and ladling masses of water to rinse off. During the process, various soaps and shampoos are topped up by female attendants – a little disconcerting for a European.
The lavatories in Japan are fantastic. Most WCs are electronically controlled to include a heated seat that lifts and closes automatically on entry. When you are finished, various jets of water spring forth strategically aimed, and all is topped off with a warm air dryer. A delightful hands-free experience.
Before entering a house or restaurant, you remove your shoes. Here in the UK, we can step in spit, mud, vomit and dog droppings and after tersely wiping on a door mat or not, we trail it around the house. Japanese visitors to this country must be revolted. And when you go to the loo in a Japanese house, you wear shoes specifically for that purpose.
Wherever you shop, service always starts and finishes with a bow, along with much smiling and thanking. It is so wonderful and always seemed genuine to me.
There is far more uniform wearing in Japan, and these are worn with great pride and are always immaculate.
Penny loafers abound.
School girls have a strict uniform code consisting of white sailor tops and navy skirts or tartan kilts with white shirts and navy socks, and all seem to wear American-style penny loafers – the latter being, I guess, the influence of the US occupation during 1945 to 1952, along with their baseball, golf, Coca-Cola, and workwear.
Ready for work in orderly fashion.
Office workers wear a crisp, white shirt and a two-piece black suit for women and navy or dark grey suits, a white shirt and a tie for men, and always with a briefcase.
Me in Tokyo
There is an overwhelming use of neon and animated digital advertising on poster sites in cities looking like scenes from Blade Runner. Sound too is widely used: jingles, cutesy melodies, speech and bird songs assault the ears on the underground, on the streets and in the shops.
And the Japanese love little cartoon characters: they pop up everywhere in a very kitsch, child-like way that is very alien to what we have in the UK.
The crime rate is relatively low in Japan: guns are illegal and the much-coveted ceremonial swords have to be registered with the police. Capital punishment is still carried out in Japan. You can leave your mobile or laptop on the table while getting a coffee and it will still be there when you get back – do that in London and it would all be gone in seconds. And there are also baskets placed beside tables to put your bag in to keep them clean. Traffic and pedestrian police are a pleasure to watch, using a kind of illuminated rod in a series of graceful moves to conduct people and traffic.
Making in Japan is a craft tradition, and there is much evidence that it is still supreme. Their pottery, fashion, furniture, lighting, flower arrangement and gift wrapping are all stunning.
I had the great pleasure of visiting many of the traditional temple gardens in Kyoto, and they are breathtakingly beautiful.
In a Japanese garden, everything has a meaning and is painstakingly put together to echo nature.
Bamboo is used for fences, gates and building materials, making everything in harmony with its surroundings.
My granddaughter looks out.
Traditional tea houses are often to be found in the gardens, where you sit on the floor, take tea and look out onto the tranquil surroundings. You can clearly see where the inspiration for modernist architecture came from. Japanese buildings are all about simple function, beautifully formed.
Beauty in everything.
Being a vegetarian, it was a little tricky for me, but the presentation of Japanese food makes the European nouvelle cuisine chefs, with their concocted presentations, look frankly pathetic. Food presentation in Japan really is an art form. Restaurants tend to be on the upper floors in city centres rather than at street level, where rents are far higher. Generally, they tend to be small and intimate. With space being a premium, the Japanese are experts in making the maximum out of the minimum.
Rubbing shoulders with traditional Japan is a young, energetic creative community designing and making products, graphics, furniture and fashion items that fit harmoniously into all that has gone before, retaining that special Japanese aesthetic.
The Japanese still don’t allow immigration, and I can only assume that is why their customs and culture are so intact and not diluted by other cultures. With 126 million people packed in this group of islands, this is understandable.
However, Japan has an ageing population that is gradually outnumbering the younger population, and this will create an issue in the future with the increasing budget for caring for the elderly, so immigration may need to happen to maintain the workforce required to generate income.
Was there a downside in all of this? Well, just two odd things: they still allow smoking in restaurants, which was a bit of a shock. And bicycles aren’t allowed on the main roads in cities, so they ride on the pavement, weaving in and out of pedestrians, so you have to be mindful of that.
On my last evening in Osaka at my daughter in law's home, her mother gave me the full tea ceremony. It was so special.
Arriving back in the UK and sitting on the Piccadilly line, I was instantly depressed by the spectacle of a messy carriage, with people speaking too loudly on their mobiles with others stuffing food into their mouths. Such a depressing contrast from the behaviour of the Japanese.
Japan’s impact on me had a profound effect, and I will definitely be returning. I sincerely hope that the Japanese retain their unique, delightful character, and all I can say is that if a set of rules can make such a gracious race, let’s introduce some rules here.
Visual post script
Some additional memories...
above and below, loo heaven.
I hope that this has given you just a little taste of the magic that is Japan.
Back in the 1960/70s, there was a steady flow of beautiful work coming out of Penguin Books. No, not the crime series, or general fiction (all great), but from the non-fiction side. And there was one designer in particular who was quietly beavering away behind the scenes producing dozens of perfectly structured covers. His name is Gerald Cinamon and here are a few examples from a long forgotten art series designed in 1971...
Cinamon also designed the art and literary magazine Transatlantic Review in 1967
Penguin's Art in Context another long forgotten series that still looks as fresh as a daisy. Many of Penguin's wonderful art, educational and non-fiction titles were axed when Peter Mayer joined as Penguin's Managing Director in 1978 and changed the editorial direction of the company.
If you would like to know more about Gerald Cinamon's work there is a rather lovely book available HERE
It’s a warm summer evening in 1998 and I am approaching a small block of red-brick flats just before hitting Sloane Square in London. I ring the bell at my destination and am greeted by a warm and weathered face that would not be out of place in a crofter’s cottage on the Orkneys.
This is the Scottish playwright John Byrne. He puffs gently on a roll-up and ushers me in amidst the howl of crying babies and the rear view of a woman in a bathrobe, ironing. It was like a scene from Look Back in Anger. We move along a narrow passage with paintings, drawings and framed textiles from floor to ceiling. We arrive at a small sitting room that seemed to double as a studio. "Would ye like some tea?" said Byrne in his distinctive Scottish tone. So why was I here? I'll explain.
At the end of 1997, the then design director of Royal Mail, Barry Robinson, commissioned me to design and art direct Royal Mail's contribution to the millennium celebrations. This was to be 48 individual stamps to tell the story of the past thousand years. The project would span 1999 to 2001. It was probably one of the most challenging and wonderful projects of my life as a designer, and I relished the prospect. It involved me in meeting and working with an extraordinary array of artists, designers, and photographers, from Bridget Riley to Antony Gormley and from Don McCullin to David Gentleman.
The reason I was at the home of John Byrne was because he is not only a brilliant writer, with TheSlab Boys, Your Cheatin’ Heart and Tutti Frutti with a BAFTA award for the latter to show for it, but he is also a wonderful painter.
I first came into contact with his work when I met the folk music producer Bill Leader back in the late 1960s – he had just produced an album for a relatively unknown singer called Gerry Rafferty. Along with his then singing partner Billy Connolly, they were called The Humblebums. Leader showed me the cover of their new album: I thought it beautiful.
Bill told me it was an artist who went by the name of Patrick. I later found out that he exhibited at the Portal Gallery not far from where I was based in Mayfair at the time. At that point, Byrne was trying to earn a living from his painting – he’d attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1958 to 1963, where he was awarded the Bellahouston Award for painting in his final year – but had a difficult time until he had a brilliant idea. He sent a small, rather naïve-style painting of a Panama-hatted man to the Portal Gallery, which specialised in exhibiting naïve painters similar to Alfred Wallis. Byrne claimed that the little painting was the work of his elderly father, Patrick: a one-time busker and now newspaper seller at Paisley Cross. The gallery liked what they saw and asked to see more of ‘Patrick’s’ work. Byrne set about painting another half-dozen in the naïve style of the first. It resulted in a one-man sell-out show and instant acclaim.
Fast forward to that evening in 1998 at John Byrne’s flat. I wanted to commission him for one of the Royal Mail millennium stamps on the topic of the medieval migration to Scotland.
The millennium stamp by Byrne.
We sat talking about the subject over our tea until I was aware that the woman who was ironing was now standing in the doorway. “This is Tilda,” said Byrne.
Above two paintings of Tilda Swinton
I looked up and saw the glowingly ethereal face of Tilda Swinton swathed in a bathrobe. Byrne mentioned that Tilda had recently given birth to their twins, and that explained the howling on my arrival. She was clearly exhausted and I was puzzled by the modesty of their accommodation, but this was when Swinton was still very much the art-house cinema muse and was yet to crack Hollywood and the big time. Well, she did that and the rest is history. Not many years after Byrne had finished my stamp project, he and Swinton had parted and gone their separate ways.
Now at ’75, Byrne’s play Slab Boys has recently been revived at the Glasgow Citizen Theatre and he continues to work in his studio each day, only taking breaks for a fag or to keep the wood-burning stove topped up.
Byrne in his studio.
He was a long-term friend of the late Gerry Rafferty and had co-written some songs with him, along with designing many of his album covers, including Stealers Wheel. He also painted a number of Rafferty’s guitars. In turn, Rafferty wrote a song dedicated to Byrne entitled Patrick My Primitive. Take a listenhere.
Gerry Rafferty's guitar.
More recently Byrne was commissioned to paint the ceiling mural at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh. You can see a time-lapse film of its creation here.
Byrne with his ceiling mural at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh
It is so refreshing to be brave enough to admit that an earlier logo from the 1960's worked perfectly. That is what Ben Terrett, design director Co-op has done in conjunction with Sean Perkins at North for the rebranding of the Co-op. Resulting in instant recognition from the past, and makes so much sense.
Back in 1986, I designed this book for Edward Booth-Clibborn on the work of the illustrator/designer/artist André François.
For anyone who has ever been commissioned by Edward, they will know his classic modus operandi. He would first seek out a designer admired by other designers. Then he would wine and dine them rather lavishly. The moment agreement had been made about the commission, a manuscript, a pile of original illustrations and a batch of photographs would arrive, and you were on your own. No editor or publishing coordinator.
The great thing was that you could do whatever you wanted, but there was little money.
Like so many other designers, I fell for it time and time again because, at heart, designers just want to do nice work and the fee, although important, is secondary – we are so silly.
Having so much of François’ original work to select was wonderful, and the book was an absolute joy to work on.
André François 1915–2005
André François was born in 1915 in Temesvár, Austria-Hungary; he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and moved to Paris in 1934, where he worked at the studio of the legendary French poster artist Cassandre.
A classic poster by Cassandre
François became a French citizen in 1939 and went on to gain worldwide recognition, with his work gracing the covers of Punch, Vogue and The New Yorker and featuring in major advertising campaigns from Kodak, Olivetti and Citroën to Pérrier and many others. His cartoons were syndicated in newspapers around the world.
François' 1965 cover illustration the Penguin edition of Lord of the Flies
The work has a wonderful immediacy; is full of wit, warmth and humour; and can always raise a smile on a grey day.
Here are just a few items from his vast output over six decades.