Hits for the Missus

I’ve provided creative services to the photographer Rachel Spivey for the best part of seventeen years.

And not only is she still in business – we are still married.

I guess any relationship forged between a designer and a photographer will have a creatively symbiotic dimension to it. I, more often that not, use Rach to shoot stuff I need shooting and I’m always on hand to do bits and pieces to promote her business.

This week a book arrived from the States with her logo in it.

OK, it’s one of 2999 other little marks being held up as fine examples of the craft, but I’m particularly chuffed that Rach’s was featured because, well… it’s ‘ours’.

Rachel Spivey logo featured in Logolounge Master Library Type and Calligraphy
2012 | Rachel Spivey Photographer logo in the Logolounge Master Library book

Working for Rach has never really been a chore and it’s been great to have been so close to something that has slowly evolved, stopped, started again and has now become a proper grown-up business.

So, prompted by this unexpected appearance in an internationally renowned design tome, I’ve had a rummage around in the archive and pulled out some bits that will serve as a potted history of my most long-standing account.

When Rach, first started with the photography, it was a bit ad hoc. She was still working at Hulton Deutsch (now Hulton Getty) and doing the odd job for people and, while she was far from a credible outfit, she needed something to put on her invoices when she sent them in.

From the get-go she was the product. All the jobbing photographers I knew were male and didn’t come with a mass of bright red hair and I always thought this was a great point of difference.

Still do.

This is the first little logo I did for her…

Illustrative business card for Photography by Rachel Cooper
1995 | Photography by Rachel Cooper business card

How of its time is that? Looks like Britpop photography done by the sixth Spice Girl, and probably one of the first times I ever used illustrator. Rudimentary, though not without its charm I suppose.

After leaving Hulton and sleepwalking through a couple of temp jobs, Rach became a one-woman photography department at the agency I was working for. It meant regular work, great clients, a fully specced studio and a change of tack identity-wise. As an offshoot of Parenthesis, the venture was christened Brackets – not only a reference to the agencies grammatical name, but the name given to the process of adjusting a camera’s aperture between shots to ensure a good exposure.

The idea was that Brackets would stand alone from Parenthesis, so that Rach could effectively work for other agencies. The look therefore was deliberately completely different. All minimal and slick, just using black and a fair amount of metallic silver. Maybe because I’d heard that silver halides were used somewhere in the chemistry of  photography, though more likely because we were approaching the new millennium when EVERYTHING was printed in metallic silver.

Brackets Photography stationery set
1998 | Brackets Photography stationery

The logo was a stylised camera with a pair of brackets forming the lens. But you can see that from looking at the pictures, right? What’s less obvious is that the ® mark formed the button on the front of the camera, and when that and the first bracket were used in isolation on the back of the business card, it formed Rachel’s initials.

Which is exactly the kind of self-satisfied wankery that makes us designers feel a bit better about our shallow little lives.

I even did her a mailer that played with the elements of the identity, though looking back it seems more concerned with building a brand than showcasing her work.

Promotional mailing piece for Brackets Photography
1998 | Brackets Photography leaflet

Brackets came and went and Rachel Cooper (by now Spivey) was once again a lone girl with red hair and a camera. At this point her brand expression began and ended with this business card that was shoved on the corner of a print job as a favour by a friendly printer.

Red haired female photographer's business card
2000 | Rachel Spivey Photographer business card

It was heavily influenced by the style of one of my all-time favourite designers. (I won’t name him for fear he ever Googles himself and ends up looking at this 3rd rate facsimile of his much more elegant retro-futuristic illustrations.) And I’m not sure what’s going on with that type either. I have a thing for interlinking characters, but maybe that bent paperclip S was trying a bit too hard.

Fast forward a few years and two or three kids later and Rachel entered the fourth phase of her career.

Initially intending to leave the commercial work behind her, I created the logo with the photo corners to reflect this change of tone. In the age of digital photography these fiddly anachronisms are the reserve of cherished prints and albums of special occasions, and their inclusion here is intended to create the space that Rachel would be ultimately commissioned to fill.

Though her dad always thought they looked like ‘Batman’s underpants’.

Rachel Spivey business card
2007 | Rachel Spivey Photographer business card

The type was arranged in such a way to suggest the proportions of a print and, as the identity has evolved, works with or without the photo corners depending on the application.

Or what sort of mood I’m in.

Ha! In your face Corporate Guidelines.

One of the first things this identity ever featured on was Rach’s initial gallery website www.rachelspivey.co.uk. It was produced off the side of the desk of my then colleague, Paul Beacham, in return for a photo shoot of his daughter. It’s all a bit flash-tastic and dated now but I always quite liked the way he brought that very simple identity to life.

As well as all the stationery, the photo corners frequently cropped up on early ads and promotional postcards…

Rachel Spivey stationery abd other items
2007 – 2010 | Branded stationery and promotional items

Though they probably reached their creative peak on the invite to the launch of Rachel’s first, modest little studio in our back garden…

postcard invitation to a studio launch
2008 | Garden Studio launch invitation

They still appear from time to time, but these days the photography does most of the talking.

on and offline brand executions
2010 – 2011 Rachel Spivey Weddings promotional material

When Rachel made the decision to set up her boudoir business in the mid 2000s there was a lot of debate about how distinct it should be from her main identity. At the time, the current boudoir boom was still in its infancy and it wasn’t clear how such a risqué offer might alienate mainstream clients.

Though there was never any doubt about the name. Raquel Rouge was her nickname from her Hulton days and felt right for her ‘burlesque’ alter ego, but it took a lot of searching to find the right font to base the logo on. It needed something sensuous, feminine and retro-looking, but not evocative of any one specific era and modern enough to still work with contemporary shots.

I found it in Pendulum, though I still had to fiddle with some of the characters to make it read how I wanted it.

Boudoir photography teaser postcard
2008 | Raquel Rouge teaser postcard

The idea with the colours was that the logo would reveal itself to you. It works best with the dark sexy red fading to a flesh tone out of a black background, but let’s be honest, with pics like these who the hell is looking at the logo?

The Raquel Rouge brands applied to a range of marketing collateral
2008 – 2011 | Raquel Rouge promotional material

It’s just as well I hardwired some synergies between the two brands. They both share a Goudy as a secondary font and the websites work off the same grid, because, as it turned out, these two strands of the business have ended up sitting side-by-side quite a lot.

Vintage wedding photography and bridal boudoir leaflet and stand
2010 | Vintage wedding fair stuff

As this niche little industry has matured and the whole burlesque thing has got more mainstream, there are a lot more swirly scripts in black and red out there than ever before. So there’s a real impetus to keep things playful and fresh.

Or at least ‘fresh’ in an old-fashioned way.

I’ve had a fascination with vintage clip-art that dates back to my college days. It’s quite over-done now but I created these as show cards for Rach’s stalls at vintage fairs. The direct tone of old ads help to get over key points as folks browse and they proved so popular with people that she had a set of business cards done.

Spoof vintage showcards
2011 | Vintage style showcards

When it came to creating an ad for Burlesque Bible magazine I was keen that we ran something that would stand out from the all the floaty feather fonts and pin-up clichés and came up with this idea, half inspired by an old matchbook.

Burlesque and boudoir photography ad
2011 | Ad created for Burlesque Bible magazine

Not everything I do sees the light of day either. Here’s an ad that will never run, as we’d never get the usage rights on the images that I, um, sourced on the internet. Though it did find an audience of sorts over at the Chip Shop Awards.

Cheeky unused ad for Raquel Rouge featuring iPhone girls
2011 | Unused ad

While budgets and hours in the day often curtail my bigger ambitions for Rach’s stuff, it is such a joy to work on something where the insights are first hand, the brand guidelines are all in my head and there are no sign-off procedures to stifle the creativity.

So as long as the cups of tea are still forthcoming and the client continues to give me a pretty free rein, I hope to continue working on this account for many more years to come.




In 2012 the ‘Come on ladies’ ad above went on to win a ‘highly commended’ Vinegar at the Chip Shop Awards and received a further nomination in the ‘Work That Never Ran’ category in the Fresh Awards.

Hits for the Missus

Creative Licence to Sell Beer, Wines and Spirits

While you can hardly lay the blame for broken, binge-drinking Britain at my feet, one thing that has cropped up throughout my career has been the packaging and promotion of booze in various guises.

Vital is rightly proud that its longest-standing client of 17 years is Marston’s – the largest brewer of cask ales in the country and operator of over 2,000 pubs – and as such it’s been an account that has featured heavily in my life over the last few years.

Before I joined Vital full-time as Creative Director in November 2003, I did a cheeky bit of freelance for them in the evenings and weekends. By the time I started, I’d already completed a few projects and had a few on the go with deadlines looming, so I spent my very first full-time morning putting these together.

Drinks promotion poster with type made from ripped labels
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs drinks promotion poster

I stood over the sink in the kitchen soaking labels off bottles and I was all like, ‘Yeah? The new CD’s in town and I’m gonna get arty on yo asses’ while my colleagues made their cups of tea and they were all like, ‘What a clown, he won’t last five minutes’.

I’d been briefed a week or two before to come up with a set of posters to promote offers on drinks in all of Marston’s (or Pathfinder Pubs as it was then) busy town centre ‘circuit’ pubs., and, after observing’ how drinkers would sit and pick at the labels on their bottles, came up with this idea. Usually with these things it’s all pack shots, big logos, starbursts and loud, shouty type, but this was a way to get the participating brands front and centre in a more interesting and cool-looking manner.

So once the labels were dry, I ripped them, and a few beer mats, into the best letter shapes I could and slapped them on the scanner.

As they went through a couple of rounds of amends the type got bigger and the images smaller, but, for a compromise, I was happy enough with where they ended up.

Drinks promotion poster with type made from ripped labels
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs drinks promotion posters

A few weeks later I was tasked with creating some more in the same style. But without paper labels to rely on, I had to approach it a bit differently. The curry one came first, with the burger briefed some time later, but we managed to keep the theme going…

Pub promotion poster with type made from food
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs food promotion posters

These promotions were a regular fixture in the studio for the next year or so, but with ever fiercer competition from supermarkets, the pubs had to be more and more competitive and offer-driven. With each new concept the pack shots got bigger (the drinks brands played an increasingly prominent role in funding their existence) and the type got bolder and brighter, until they just became down-and-dirty retail posters.

There’s nothing subtle about bulk buying a round of the cheapest drinks at an the bar, so I guess it follows there shouldn’t be anything subtle about the posters that promote them.

There’s nowt clever, or particularly nuanced, about this next job either – a one-off billboard for Banks’s situated outside Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium next to the M6.

Banks's beer outdoor poster
2008 | Banks’s 48 sheet poster

It’s a very simple and immediate message, aimed at drivers on one of the biggest arterial routes in the UK. And as the poster itself was situated in the heart of Bank’s country, it was only proper that the pint should be shot in the heart of the stadium that bears its name.

Passions run as deep for a local brew as it does for a local team, and there was never any question that we would try and fake the shot of the centre circle or the stand. Provenance is a big deal in the ale world and it had to be 100% authentic, so on a grey and drizzly Tuesday I headed off to Walsall with renowned local photographer Sam Moxon, a car full of high-end kit and a few cans of Banks’s.

We camped out for the day on the pitch and picnicked in the centre circle like local radio prize winners. There was a fair bit of poncing about, trimming individual blades of grass with nail scissors, though our stand-in pint was always going to be way too riddled with reflections to be useable and was later replaced with a pristine-headed beauty, shot in the warmth of Sam’s studio.

Photoshoot on the pitch of Banks's Stadium, Walsall
2008 | Banks’s Stadium photoshoot

It was struggle to get all of the elements onto such a proportionately long poster site. We needed to show the full length of the pint and the fact it was sat on the centre line, as well as showing enough of the goalmouth and stand to give it a sense of place, AND get the fugly-fonted headline as large and legible as possible within the turf area.

But we managed.

Ourdoor posters
2008 | Banks’s 48 sheet poster site

I haven’t been up that way for a while, so I’m not sure what’s ther now, but it was there when the Google street view van went past anyway.

Always Womble-esque in my quest to re-appropriate old files on my hard drive, the same pint shot was used for one of the more low key Marston’s jobs I’ve worked on, but also one of my favourites…

Brewery Three Peaks team poster
2008 | Team Marston’s poster

A team of workers at the brewery were attempting the 3 peaks challenge to raise money for their local hospital’s neurological unit, and we donated some of our time to help them create some posters and web graphics to help them hit their target. It was great to work with a group of people that never usually get to do stuff with agencies like ours and help them to spread the word wider and further than they could have on their own.

This idea of a ‘glass of something that, at the same time, is something else’ is spiritually akin to another dusty old job in my cellar…

Logo for a wine company Wine in Time
1997 | Wine in Time

My previous agency had a long-standing client called Ritchie Products who were, and still are, in the business of home brew. We did a lot of packaging and promotions for them over the years, and in 1997 were briefed to help them name and create a new brand for a revolutionary way of selling wine.

By importing ingredients and creating wine in the UK, the duty on alcohol was avoided and the saving passed on to the customer. The product was sold buy the caseload via Ann Summers-style party plan tasting evenings then made to order. So, in theory, you could stock up on decent quality stuff for a fraction of the price, but you had to wait for it to be created for you.

There were a few name options and ideas presented.

‘That’s Ritchie!’ was a 1950s ‘wine of the future’ thing (pretty terrible really) and ‘Dr Demi-John’s Wine Revolution’ had a traveling medicine show vibe to it, so it’s no surprise that the slick, modern approach was the clear winner.

Though while I came up with the name early on, it wasn’t until the second round of creative that I nailed the image. This was all a couple of years after Toy Story and CGI had slowly spread out from Hollywood and had just about reached Coventry.

We managed to find a guy locally to create us our realistically rendered wine/hourglass image within our tight budget and I proceeded to stick it on absolutely everything.

Wine in Time leaflets, stationery, and labels
1997 | Wine in Time stationery, leaflets and labels

The thriftiness even extended to the very cheap models co-opted to appear as the upwardly mobile wine conossieurs in the company brochure.

While the years have been kinder to the basic black and white logo, the full colour version really shows its age. That said, the David Carson-esque backwards numbers and exclamation marks standing in for letters are very of their time too.

The clipping path on that wine glass and bottle ain’t too hot either.

Wine in Time industrial unit in Sheffield
1997 | Wine in Time signage

It was one of a handful of jobs we put into the Cream Awards that year, and went on to be declared ‘bloody brilliant’ by curly-haired Brummie ad supremo and Wonderbra flogger Trevor Beattie, as well as winning Gold in Best Corporate Identity and Best Packaging.

And the Grand Prix.

Which, for a 27 year old, provincial, mid-table Creative Director, was probably as high-octane and thrilling as the one with all the racing cars.

Cream Awards 1998 clippings from Adline
1998 | Cream Awards Adline coverage

Wine in Time became a bit of a landmark for the agency (it was recently featured in their top 25 jobs) and a bit of a benchmark for me. The agency went into press overdrive, though it was nice that my local papers at home that had featured the calendar also picked up on the story.

Wine in Time awards press cuttings featuring Craig Spivey
1998 | Cream Awards press cuttings

The explosion of wine clubs and supermarket deals must have made the business model unsustainable, as it seems to have died a resounding death. I’m sure it was fun while it lasted.

Now it seems to me that a bit of drinks packaging is the mainstay of a design education. Most graduate portfolios I have seen over the years feature some in one form or other, and mine was no exception.

This was another one of those student competitions, briefed in as part of my degree course in Graphic Design at Coventry Polytechnic.

Bottle design for Grafitti Vodka
1990 | Graffiti Vodka

It was a similar situation to the calendar really. Only this time, rather than earnest town councilors wanting to promote the talents of the region, it was some geezer wanting some free design work doing for a range of Vodka. Recognising this as another opportunity fortune and glory I promptly went off and put as little effort into the brief as I possibly could.

I was always doing these doodles on backs of notebooks and stuff (still am) so, a couple of photocopies and a bit of Letrasetted Futura Condensed later, I had my entry.

And bugger me, if it didn’t end up being one of the three that were chosen to be developed as prototypes.

I got to go to Rockware in Doncaster and watch palm trees get screen-printed onto Malibu bottles before having to recreate my original scribbles into printable artwork. As I had to completely redraw it I took the opportunity to sneak in a pic of my dad and include a couple of guest doodles by my mates.

I’m not sure where the final stuff ended up. It was destined for the ‘gift market’ and I was told it was going to be sold in duty-free shops. I know there was, at least, a limited run made with my design as I did receive one solitary bottle of the finished product for my troubles which, as far as I know, still sits unopened in the back of my mum and dad’s drinks’ cabinet.

If any one out there ever saw, bought or got drunk on a similar-looking bottle of Graffiti Vodka in the early nineties please let me know.


Creative Licence to Sell Beer, Wines and Spirits

Different Strokes for Different Folks

If it all goes to plan, this blog will jump around my timeline, making connections, highlighting recurring themes and inevitably at some point look at just how much financial services work I have done in my career.

However, as this is the first entry it makes sense to start at the beginning.

And this is as much of the beginning as I can find.

Pre-school painting of a fire engine in red and yellow
c1974 | Fire engine attends a blaze (poster paint on sugar paper)

This little thing reappeared in my life a couple of years ago when my grandma died. I was previously unaware of its existence, but she’d kept it for some 3o-odd years and is now the earliest evidence of ‘my art’ in existence.

It’s a fire engine.

But you don’t need me to tell you that, right? The ladder gives it away.

That and all the fire.

To be honest, painting with a brush was never my medium. Too messy and it never really went where I wanted it to. When I took my O Level options at 13 I dropped art but did tech drawing and, by the time I was into my BTEC OND in Art and Design, I’d swapped the poster paint and sugar paper for Indian ink and cs10 board.

So if the fire engine was among the first marks I ever made on paper, the 1989 Scunthorpe calendar was certainly the first thing I ever got printed on it.

In those days it was all very analog, no inkjets or laser printers. So for a kid like me to get some of his work professionally produced on a proper printing press was a massive thrill – up there with cutting a single and getting it played on John Peel.

Our course at North Lindsey College of Technology was approached by the local Industrial Development Enterprise Agency (IDEA) who wanted a calendar that would showcase our ‘industrial garden town’ and encourage businesses worldwide to locate their factories on all the bits of land left after the closure of big chunks of the steelworks in the early 80s.

I have vague recollection of a representative coming in to brief us, along with promises of fame and fortune for the winning designer. It was like getting a sneak preview of real working life, which was something the course leaders were always good at setting up.

I threw myself into it wholeheartedly.

And after my fab and inspiring tutor, Carole Van Hoffelen, steered me away from one of my earlier ideas – aerial pics of an industrial wasteland with an overlaid cross hair and the line ‘Set Your Sights on Scunthorpe’ (I wish I was joking) – I settled on something that ultimately proved to be a bit more appropriate and much less luftwaffe-ish.

Scunthorpe calendar 1989
1988 | Scunthorpe calendar cover

That brush stroke abstraction thing was everywhere in the late eighties. And this illustration style is clearly influenced by some of the logos that were around at the time. It looks a bit like the Glasgow Garden Festival logo, as well as that year’s Eurovision logo…

…but what it didn’t look like the image anyone had in their head when they thought of ‘Scunthorpe’.

Conceptually it talked about things like ‘prosperity’, the ‘future’ and, um, ‘golf courses’. The painter’s palette on the last page was supposed to be a self-referential link that tied the whole idea together, while heralding a bright and colourful tomorrow for the town.

I’m sure that wasn’t lost on the councillors on the judging panel.

Though maybe it was the golf courses that won it for me.

Scunthorpe calendar designed by North Lindsey design student
1988 | Scunthorpe calendar pages

I created all the illustrations and the headings in black ink and specified the colours on old school overlays, while my mate Sean provided the handwriting for the little pieces of text. The dates were set by the printer along with that incredible Scunthorpe graph paper logo and contact details.

I was granted a ‘small’ picture and a byline and my then girlfriend, Janine, and I put as much effort into that as I did creating the calendar. We went all out to the recreate the style of the cover art of the Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Mainstream album, although Lloyd wasn’t a teenager whose skin looked like the surface of the moon when lit so harshly from the side.

Here’s Lloyd looking all cool and tortured and me looking like a miserable, pretentious prick.

Scunthorpe calendar 1989 credits
1988 | Scunthorpe calendar credit

As our BTEC course was relatively new, the powers that were went into PR overdrive and I appeared in various local publications, clutching the calendar, striking a balance of cocky and awkward like only a 17 year old can.

1988 design students win calendar competition
Local press coverage

I find the calendar all very quaint and naïve now. If the style doesn’t date it, the big slab of a computer monitor does. The brush work is hardly Alan Fletcher and spacing out the three character word ‘May’ over about 150mm is something I couldn’t see myself doing these days, though it does represent my first real step into this industry.

I loved my BTEC course, it was a blissful time and I got to hang out with people who, all these years later, I still class among the most naturally gifted I have ever worked alongside. Janine’s now an Art Director on the Nike account for W+K in Portland, Oregon but Sean and I lost touch some years back. A bit of googling shows him to be doing some sweet stuff up in Sheffield at his own agency – in the final analysis, while I won a calendar design competition, he was the one that actually cut a single and got it played on John Peel.

But I digress.

The brush stroke thing reappeared some years later in 1999 when I was working at Parenthesis in Coventry.

We were asked to design a logo for The Arena for a the new SkyDome complex that was slated to be built in the city. I remember putting a presentation together that included two logos that captured the energy and spirit of people enjoying live entertainment, and a third option that nodded to the middle curve of the existing SkyDome logo, as well as The Arena’s arched roof and some of the architectural features on the plans we’d been given.

They went with the latter.

SkyDome Arena technical specifications document
1999 | The Arena Technical specifications

The idea was around a ‘building with spirit’. A physical structure whose purpose as a live music and sports venue gave it an energy and attitude – hence the dynamic brush stroke execution. In this instance I briefed a proper illustrator to paint the final image, though I forget who. It’s neater and sharper than any of my attempts were anyway.

What wasn’t clear at the outset was just how much the SkyDome brand would end up dominating The Arena, and, as the project progressed, they began to feel more and more at odds with each other. The worst expression of this is probably the exterior signage, which I remember having no control over. We produced some nice bits of print collateral for them as well as supplying them the digital assets and then this ill-considered monstrosity just appeared in glorious light up 3D chunky plastic.

SkyDome Arena exterior signage
The Arena today | LHS pic courtesy of PoRtiOn nEws on Flickr

Still, I suppose that the fact it is still there some 13 years later means it has done a good job for them.

I don’t think it ever took off as the big music venue it wanted to be (and now Coventry has the Ricoh Arena) but it has enjoyed life as an ice rink and occasional boxing and wrestling venue. The Arena branding has certainly outlived the two iterations of its super-club neighbours on the other side of the SkyDome complex anyway.

Though I still think how much nicer that sign could have been when go past it.

Bringing things up-to-date is more recent piece of work with a painterly theme.

Logo designs by Craig Spivey
2011 | Jephson Spa logo variants

So recent it hasn’t really happened yet.

This is a sneaky peek at some notional logos aimed at getting the ball rolling on a new local enterprise. Hydrotherapy is very much at the heart of this project and the location plays a huge role too. The Japanese feel is no accident either. A job like this really benefits from the flow and serenity of watercolour textures that instantly get the right vibe over to potential investors and partners.

It will be a long project to bring to fruition but I really hope it happens, as it will be great to do more work on.

In the meantime, I have plenty to be getting on with.

Will be back soon, if only to prove I can do logos in other colours.


Different Strokes for Different Folks