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.

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.


Spellbound by Stardust


We’d promised ourselves a visit to The National Portrait gallery because a) Julie and never been and b) we were drawn to it by the recent TV programme where Simon Weston was the voted the people’s portrait and we wanted to see the result in the flesh.

Of course, this gallery is way more than that with portraiture from the middle ages to right now with everything in between. In truth, it’s a beautiful gallery, carefully curated to display our relationship with our own image through the ages. From Richard the third through to Kate Middleton, the gallery holds a mirror up to how we see ourselves and catalogues society’s obsession with fame and recognition. And yes, the Simon Weston portrait was actually really, really good.

The whizz bang show when we visited was David Bailey’s personally curated exhibition of his work, over 250 images cataloguing British celebrity culture from Twiggy and The Krays on to Kate Moss and Damon Albarn. It’s not as ephemeral as it sounds though. The show is a unique collection of images that capture the heart and soul of the sitter, whether it be Hollywood A-listers or East End hard men — Bailey definitely has a unique eye for the story behind the eyes.

The collection was much larger than I expected and as a retrospective, incredibly thorough. The arts were well represented with fashion, film, music, art, photography all providing iconic and striking imagery (I thought churlishly David Bowie seemed a little over represented) and alongside the more commercial work, experimental journalistic projects jockeyed for position, with mixed success. It seemed to me that Bailey is most comfortable in the studio where he has ultimate control of the output. His iconic black and white photographs against a white back drop beautifully capture the essence of the sitter where his location images seem to lack this power and cohesion.

I find it impossible to criticise Bailey for no having a go though. He’s had a pop at everything and this exhibition is in itself just a snapshot of a prolific career. But the black and white portraits still endure: eyes telling stories across the decades, images that look like they were taken last week, an entire room of Rolling Stones photographs catalogues a supergroup in the making (although we’ll forgive him shooting the Stones amidst the Stones at Avebury, but it was the sixties after all).

David Bailey: Stardust, National Portrait Gallery

Bailey Stardust 30


His unflinching nudes demand attention: ordinary people getting their kit off as part of the project, piercings and all, sit alongside statuesque images of Bailey’s ex model wife with alabaster skin. I particularly liked the shots of a bygone age in the East End of London, a way of life captured, gone for ever. Bombed out post war-time streets in Whitechapel sit comfortably alongside Hollywood royally and Bailey seems to revel in this journey from poverty to wealth, never losing sight of the image maker in him.

We saw this show before we explored the rest of the gallery and it was interesting how it provided a filter for fame, a contemporary take on the portrait as a status symbol. It seemed no different to me as the prolific Victorian portrait artists, desperate to capture everyone’s fifteen minutes no matter how obscure, or the first world war officers painted sketchily and somewhat hubristically before heading off to the front. In the pub afterwards, someone was confused why there would be photographs in the national portrait gallery and I was quite glad to have that heated discussion and put them straight, as I’m certain would David Bailey, with bells on.