Having a life that’s crammed with ‘stuff’ is great.
I’d never knock being busy, but it does mean my well-intention blog only receives a bit of a tinker on high days and holidays.
An update’s been long overdue, so I thought I’d better get busy with the puns and hop to it.
When I started this, I was interested in looking back to see if there were any recurring themes among all the nonsense I’ve devoted myself to over the last 20 years. I figured there’d definitely be similar stylistic things or common industries that I could group together to tell a bit of a story, but one thing I didn’t expect to see was how often white rabbits have appeared.
And well, seeing as it’s Easter, I thought I’d stick a few up here as part of my continuing trawl through the archives…
Long before ‘digital’ was even called ‘new media’, it was called ‘multimedia’ and I was there, alongside my colleagues at Parenthesis, at the dawn of this revolution.
A client of ours at the time was NCET – The National Council for Educational Technology – a government quango set up to promote the use of computers in schools. One of the ways they would measure their success was to hold ‘The National Education Multimedia Awards’ to celebrate the work that children were producing with all the new tools at their disposal.
How my designs promoting the future of technology came to feature illustrations from the 1860s was right there in the brief for day one.
To illustrate how multimedia could enrich any academic subject, the brief I received from the client included these opening lines from Alice in Wonderland:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
You have to appreciate that in those days I worked for lots of companies who made widgets and had names like ‘Planmatics’, so to receive a brief with such literary aspirations was a rare occurrence and one I embraced whole heartedly.
I’m sure there were other, more appropriately techy-looking creative solutions, offered in the initial presentation, but it was this wonderland theme that struck a chord.
OK, it’s not like there’s any real pride to be had swinging off the coat tails of a great artists like John Tenniel, but there’s something I still quite like about that reappropriation of those illustrations and mixing them with the pixelated type. In a way, it reflects the age of sampling and mash-ups that the whole idea of ‘multimedia’ enabled.
Besides, that rabbit blowing someone’s trumpet and holding a rolled-up certificate was a bit of a gift.
This job landed on my desk about a year into my career and, rather than adapting existing templates or designing to strict corporate guidelines, was the first significant project I ever really remember ‘owning’ from the start.
All these years later I can clearly remember the input my Creative Director, Colin Higton, had on the brochure (adding the paper texture and the ‘down the rabbit hole’ type on the back page) and me also having a massive sulk when the text on the finished programme didn’t line up with the trumpet.
Of course, looking at it now, there are about it that make me cringe (like how that bit of type runs through the rabbit’s legs) but it’s interesting to note how the young me felt unbound by any ‘locked-up’ logos but how it still all hangs together quite well.
The event itself was hosted by the GamesMaster presenter Dominik Diamond at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, so I created a giant Ace of Diamonds character for him to stand next to on stage. Other than a bit of hand painting, it was the only of Sir John’s drawings I messed with.
Ironically, for such a future-focused subject, everything was produced very traditionally. I had to photocopy the Tennial illustrations from an old book, blow them up then paint them with watercolours and the pixelated type was a achieved by removing the printer font before bromides were output. All the artwork was stuck on boards and a lot of the finishing, like adding gold tape and stickers to the winners’ certificates, I did myself.
The technology and convergence of media that all this promoted came to pass, NCET became BECTA, then ceased to exist, and two decades on, pasting up artwork feels as archaic as ploughing with horses.
16 years later my white rabbits were completely digital.
Having done lots of financial services work in my career, I have spent a lot of time trying to avoid wise old owls, piggy banks and squirrels squirreling things away for the future. Though these rampantly reproducing rabbits seemed the perfect metaphor for this animated web banner ad promoting a spread betting account…
I worked on this with my longtime writer pal Dennis O’Neill and it was one of series of ads we did for the UK arm of E-Trade. I quite like how stylised and innocent the bunnies all look even though we know, by implication, they have been at it like, well, rabbits.
We had an arrangement with this client where we would come up with the ideas and pass over signed-off visuals for their in-house team to build the flash banners and translate the ideas to whatever else they needed for the campaign. They did a great job with this animation, the rabbits appearances were nicely timed and it was more fun than how these things usually ended up. I don’t have the final files to upload here so you’ll just have to imagine them popping up out of their holes whack-a-mole style.
It was always a bit weird to hand over work for a client to complete. Sometimes we’d get to see how things were translated across campaigns, other times we wouldn’t. I actually found this A5 flyer based on my rabbits in the street on my way to work one morning. It must have fallen out of someone’s copy of the Financial Times.
My most recent rabbits were a favour for my friend Darren Goodwin.
Having bought a gift shop in Bourton-on-the-Water, he asked me to come up with a little logo. There wasn’t much of a brief beyond the name, so I had a free rein to experiment and throw various distinctly different rabbits into the pot to help him define the tone of his store…
Some of the ideas could have ended up quite ‘grown-up’ and some were out and out kiddyfied. My favourite was the one that didn’t show a rabbit at all, but rather a typeface suggesting a rabbit (all ears and a white bobtail) sat among a scatter of brown full stops.
In the end, the cute route was the way to go and this little carrot hugger nailed it…
The shop sells a mix of homewares, gifts and food for Bourton’s ducks, but, as a fellow Star Wars fan and longtime dealer, Darren wanted to have a corner of the shop he could dedicate to sci-fi collectibles and such like. As a way of zoning and promoting this element of the store I duly received a request to ‘swap the carrot for a lightsaber’.
There aren’t that many obvious connections between rabbits and the Star Wars universe, unless of course you count this dude from the Marvel comics of the 1970s…
But other than Jaxxon the giant green space bunny, I couldn’t see a way of convincingly tying the two together, until I considered where the white rabbit might live…
Just no one tell George, OK?
Happy Easter x