After I graduated from Cumbria Institute of the Arts in 1987, I had to find employment to put my graphic design and art history training to work. Back then, rather like now, jobs were rather ‘thin on the ground’ and I had to do a period of voluntary work with the Citizens Advice Bureau, whilst pursuing my first step on the elusive career ladder. I had some temporary work for Busways in Newcastle upon Tyne, but was still looking for permanent work when my former teacher at the Institute, George Thompson, rang me and told me about a job for a graphic designer in the Scottish border town of Langholm.
ABOVE: Me, with my thinking cap on, at my desk at Ashley Bank House (you can see some of the logo designs).
I applied for the job at The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and got an interview. They must have been fairly impressed with my presentation and my graphic work, as I started receiving some freelance work from them; this was probably to see what my work ethic and creativity were like. The fast-and-furious deadlines were enough to give me veritable nightmares, especially as there were no such things as e-mails and sending pdfs (not that I knew of anyway). Everything had to be hand drawn and coloured to the best of my ability and within the set timescales. When the work was complete it was a mad dash to the Post Office in order to post the work to them in time to meet the deadline.
After a number of months doing this home-design work, I was very grateful to be given a contract in early April 1988 and started working at Ashley Bank House (a former hotel), which was part of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s base in Langholm. I later went to work at Waverley Mills, where I did a lot of the design work for the marketing department. My time was spent creating logos for the company and P.O.S (point-of-sale) material, which was a large bulk of my work during the two-years that I worked there.
I will write some more about my first job on another blog post at a later date and include some more of the work that I did for this forward-thinking knitwear company.
From being a young boy my Mother’s family, the Lakes, bought me copies of the charming animal stories by Beatrix Potter, so I am very familiar with them. I am particularly fond of Jemima Puddle-duck, Squirrel Nutkin and Hunca Munca from ‘The Tale of Two Bad Mice’. Since early childhood, I have also gathered a number of friends who also love this lady’s work, including Sara, who has a particular fondness for Mrs. Tiggy-winkle. 150-years-ago today, Beatrix Potter was born in London and in this commemorative year her characters and illustrations are being featured on Royal Mail stamps and Royal Mint fifty-pence coins. So, it would seem an appropriate moment to mention a ‘Beatrix Potter’ inspired illustration that I was commissioned to do, whilst working in Carlisle, in April 1997.
When I worked with Sara and many of my other friends, on such publications as Cumbria Life and the Cumbrian Gazette newspapers, I was often asked to produce illustrations for the advertisements or editorial features. On one occasion, I was asked if I could draw an illustration, which was to feature on an advertisement for a very prestigious and beautiful hotel in the Lake District – famous for the red squirrels that live in the grounds. The clients asked if I could do a red squirrel pencil or watercolour illustration on a Beatrix Potter theme. I was keen to try and immediately set to sketching some red squirrels in the delicate fashion of this famous lady that has inspired me for many years. I have in no way captured the beauty of her work (I had a very short deadline to do the illustration by, as it happens!) but at least I have tried to capture the essence of her unique style and flair.
After having seen her original watercolours work at the National Trust gallery in Hawkshead, Cumbria, I can only say that some of her work was so intricate and delicate that it left me speechless. I can only hope that Beatrix Potter would smile benignly on my ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ illustration, with a look that is both kind and favourable. I hope you like it too 🙂
Helen Beatrix Potter, English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist • Born: 28 July 1866 – Died: 22 December 1943
NB. Please note that the picture (above) is framed and this image shows some slight distortion caused by reflections on the glass.