Monday, 4 July 2011

Royal College of Physicians!!

I've felt terrible over the weekend just gone, I thought I had a bout of hay fever, but now I think i've come down with a Summer cold or some kind of flu... anyway enough of my woes.

Above is some work I produced recently for the RCP; that's Royal College of Physicians for the uninitiated, the two images above are just fragments of an A3 poster I created for the RCP's magazine called Commentary, the artwork will also be used on their websites, and various other printed material in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.

As the poster won't be printed in it's entirety until a later date, I've stayed away from posting the entire thing here.

The commissioner of this artwork, is a rather lovely person called Emma Tennant, who is now Editor of the RCP's in-house material, now me and Emma go way back, are you sitting comfortably? As I can feel a story coming on...

Okay, so when I set out on this journey of becoming an illustrator many years ago now, in fact 2013 will officially mark a decade in the business, anyway when I started out I was lucky or unlucky (depends how you look at it!) to be signed to one of the UK's leading illustration agencies.

At that time my work was a very layered collage/photoshoppy approach to making images, very much in the mould of my illustration hero of the time Dave McKean, this style of work had been popular from around late 90's to 2001/2002.. although arguably stylistically it was already on it's way out by the time I became pro.

I suppose when you start out, you think you've made it just by getting a top agent, this isn't really the case, but in my first year i'd managed to bag a couple of top name clients via the agents, these being New Scientist and a book jacket for Egmont Books.

The reality is for the most part an agent won't be getting you work week in, week out... and as I found out in my first year often won't get you enough work to eek out any kind of living, luckily i'd bagged a series of jobs with a horoscopes magazine.. strangely enough doing horoscopes, by sending out mailouts, this helped me earn something which looked vaguely like an income for the first year.

Come my second year, and having already paid tax on the pitiful amount that I had earned, I had the task of trying to get new clients and finally try and make a living from this thing.. this proved to be at the time an uphill task.. i'm putting this mildly actually, as month after month went by without hardly any work.

I maybe had done about two paying jobs by the time August/September had come around.. two flaming jobs and there's me represented by the supposed top dog agents in the UK, i'd done an interview with Digital Photographer with them labeling me the new superstar of the field, and here was I with not a pot to pi$$ in! I simply couldn't get work.

Anyway, now i'd been told some months previous by another artist that I should get in touch with a subscription based partwork magazine, that had been heavily using photoshop artists, most of which were represented by my agents.. I'd stupidly thought that work was going through the agency, which is why I delayed getting in touch with the company publishing the magazine, thinking that it was only a matter of time before I got some work through.. this never happened.

Anyway just as I was thinking about jacking the whole profession in, and looking at least to get a part-time job to make ends meet, as a last ditch thing I emailed the company that published the title, this was a relatively small company called Summertime who produced the magazine Mind, Body, Spirit which was in published in partnership with the mega company in this field Diagostini.

A few days later I got an email through from the Editor, a Canadian lady called Jane Burgess, who said she was always interested in seeing new work and that I should email her some samples... which I promptly did.

And then I waited and waited, and nothing; this was despite my work predominantly at that time having been in the whole genre of horoscopes and spirituality.

I was a bit green at the time, and if I spoke to someone via email and had sent them samples, then I didn't necessarily feel inclined to send them printed samples also as a follow up.. in this case I was both desperate and I knew I was right for the title, so I sent Jane some tearsheets, postcard and CD by post.

Maybe a week later I got an email from Emma Tennant, who I think was then Assistant Editor, who asked me if I fancied doing half page images for her on the topic of witchcraft from around the world; I'd be paid I think about £200 for the image, and if it was good this would develop into a series of 12.

At the time I was into my last £100 of my graduate overdraft... I obviously jumped at the chance!

My fortunes flipped 180 degress in a matter of weeks, the other three Editors there; Jane Burgess, Sarah Burnside and Anthony Weaver all got in touch to offer me work... this was for a weekly title, which meant I was often doing three/four jobs a week; all on top pay at the time £4oo for a full page, £800 for a double etc... that series of 12 witchcraft ended up being a series of well over 20, if not 30 images!

Instead of earning probably less than a grand that year, I posted a profit of over 30k all of which, I earned in the last six months of the financial year!

At the time I couldn't tell you how big an impact these jobs had on me, not only the financial thing, but as a person, I got my self-worth back, and helped make me the illustrator and fella I am today.

It was such a amazing period for me, as I got to work with absolutely great people everyday out, also I don't think I could have got schooled better in this profession, working to that amount of deadlines and having to produce to such a calibre day in day out..

I worked with MBS magazine until it's demise some 18 months/2 years after that initial job.. baring in mind partworks generally don't even run past the year mark... it goes to show you how strong a title it was, may even be some kind of record, it ran for I think 3/4 years in total!

So there you have it, a bit of my history and you understand why I owe Emma and the Summertime team a great deal of gratitude.

When Emma came to me with this recent job for RCP, it seemed obvious that a different approach was needed rather than the linework style I now work in for this image to work.. I don't think I'd change my style for anyone else, but I made an exception in Emma's case, and came up with a more print based style of working, that I'd been working on in my spare time, with ink and rollers.

While i'm here i'll also give a shout out to Sarah Pridgeon, formerly Sarah Burnside who I previously mentioned as one of the Editors I worked with at Summertime... we still keep in touch, after all these years, she recently married her fella and moved all the way to Wyoming, USA to be with him, from London to Cowboy country... she's a great writer, I think she should write a book on this, it'd make a very good rom-com!

Next post, less writing..just lots of great illos!


  1. Aw, I think this is my favourite post I've read all year! Aah, those hazy days of Summertime, those crazy days of Summertime. I wish Sarah would write a book about our times together – it'd be bigger that 'The Devil Wears Prada!'

    My production manager Suzanne was looking at your artwork again the other day and commented, 'We must find a reason to commission Bill again'! As soon as the next big deadline is out of the way I'll get on with circulating your details to my contacts, and also get on with the very important business of 'scheming' and 'plotting' your next commission. It was amazing to work with you again ;o)

  2. I am very envious of you, Em, getting to work with Bill again! I remember the first time we saw your art, that beautiful picture of the woman by the water. I believe we actually assumed you'd be way out of our price range, because it was so good, and pretty much contacted you on the off-chance.

    And I'm so glad we did - working with you was always a pleasure. Consistently fabulous, I believe would be a good way of describing it. I think we worked on stuff together for about 5 or 6 years in the end, didn't we? How I miss those days!

    And you, Em, I miss working with you too! I'm not sure anyone would believe what we got up to though, hahaha!

  3. Hi there Emma & Sarah,

    I don't usually post a comment on this blog, but thanks ladies for your generous words.

    If only all my clients were like you, i'd be a very happy fella.

    At some point i'll meet you both person, and finally put the face to the name.