In the early days of producing illustrated captions for the promotion of television movies, with a deadline to meet, things would get desperate when the ideas didn’t flow. My mind would become a tormented blank. Some days I’d watch the traffic go to work at the beginning of the day on the nearby motorway and then hours later, watch it return and still the drawing board would be empty of ideas.
In such a state of anxiety as the clock ticked, on my visual imagination having morphed to the consistency of limp pastry, deadlines were a personal curse and a private agony.
But having said, nine times out of ten I met the deadline. In fact I took pride in meeting them, I was learning that it’s what you come to expect of yourself and of others; ‘Professionalism’. A professional delivers.
Trouble with that is when you can be relied on by your client to deliver even under tight deadlines those who dole out work to freelancers grow in confidence, especially if the work you produce is good, then deadlines can get shorter and shorter.
I had one call from the studios that gave me only four hours to create a caption and deliver it so it could be used that night, that was real tight, and in the end I didn’t pull it off.
So you have to be careful not to become a puppet at their beck and call. Avoid having all your eggs in one basket, one string to your bow and your knickers in a twist! That’s not a good place to be and besides it’s painful.
That’s no way to live; but when you have no other source of work it’s a nightmare difficult to avoid. As a general rule freelancers should never give a client the idea that they are the only one, even if it’s a downright lie, a freelancer has to appear to be in demand.
I survived the illustration for the movie ‘Them’ the one I knew nothing about, but gladly I can’t remember what I did. The studio must have liked it though because things were looking up from the Graphics Department, as from movie captions for grown-ups, I was elevated to story illustrator for pre-school kids’ programmes.
Although I could now earn more money per job, (I only got ten pounds for each movie caption I did), the kids’ programs were more challenging and at the beginning a lot more satisfying to do.
I had to take the story which when broadcast would be narrated by an actor sat at a piano, and produce a series of colour llustrations on 16” by 20” white sheets of board, which illustrated the narrative and bringing it to life for the little kids watching.
Then job completed, I’d deliver the pack of drawings to the studios where I’d go over them with the Director and discuss the camera moves of the illustrations. The Director would write down a list of instructions; pans, zooms, fades, mixes and cuts which best interpreted the story.
At the time of recording, two of my illustrations were placed in front of two cameras. The director then manipulated the images coming from them to create an illusion of movement, action and ‘place’. It was a technique simple and effective. For me, learning how to plan and produce a successful illustrated sequence was to stand me in good stead as an exhibition designer further down the road.
Occasionally when presented by a good actor and intermixed with musical phrases on the piano, the illustrated stories could turn into little gems, mini movies in fact, a technique deceptively simple but actually an unsung art form really. A form which reached its’ apogee with a BBC childrens’ programme created in the same way called, ‘Jackanory’.
I carried on producing illustrations for the same programme for a couple of years. And over time my little room became filled with small plastic bottles of colours; this for the dolls dress in the series, these for ‘Scallywag’ Sally (the little girl in the stories) naughty puppy, that orange for the Marmalade, the cheeky kitten! This for Sallys’ eyes; her lips her shoes etc. etc. In fact as the months passed and the programmes piled up behind me, Sallys’ little illustrated world with her toys and pets almost took over mine. I knew it was getting to me when I dreamt of it and Sue my wife would ask in the morning, “So, who’s Sally!”
After doing about thirty programmes, I got sick and tired of my childish make-believe world. and bright orange for the explosion that would destroy the fantasy garden I’d created for three year olds and their soft toys, when the meteor hits. (Only kidding of course).
Truth was Sallys’ naughty puppy was taking me no-where except the fantasy garden and it was time to look further afield for something more challenging, fulfilling and remunerative. I’d got off to such a good start with the industrial films after college but now somehow had got stuck in a cul-de-sac, metaphorically and actually, ‘Orchard Close,’ the one made up of boring little brick houses like the one we lived in.
Illustrating kids stories for television and stuck in a fantasy world with Marmalade the cheeky kitten