Monday, May 30, 2011

I Met The Man Who Designed Tiny Tears.

A week or so ago I went to a lecture on the history of Palitoy, a Coalville-based toy manufacturer begun in 1918 in Leicester which went on to produce Action Man, Tiny Tears, all the Star Wars figures and other legendary toys till its closure in 1986. At its peak, it was turning over £2million annually - quite something in the very early 80s.

It was more fascinating than I thought it would be. As an occasional lecturer and public speaker it's always hard not to judge the presentation (my Mum went too, so the poor woman had two lecturers in the audience) and it began a bit ropey - slides on an overhead projector, badly publicised resulting in more empty seats than full, and notes in the wrong order.

But it didn't matter. The few who were in the audience turned out to be original Palitoy staff from back in the day, who kept the initially-stuttering lecture notes bouncing along with anecdotes, correction of facts and interjection of shopfloor statistics, thrusting technicolour Palitoy catalogues at us from carrier bags.

One of those people was Stewart Moore, the man who designed Tiny Tears and Pippa, and actually worked in the doll design section for decades (can you IMAGINE?) He claims to have interrupted his job to take National Service, which tells you how young he was when he started. After staring at him for some time, my Mum encouraged me to get his autograph, so I did. An elderly gent with a glint in his eye, he was amused and a bit confused, but humoured this over-excited doll fan and duly scribbled in Mum's notebook.

The signature now sits tucked under the arm of my Pippa who, being a doll, knows no different, but perhaps feels just a slightly increased sense of paternal comfort.

The original Tiny Tears from whom the Palitoy version was evolved, actually crying. Would you buy this for your child? I'm not sure...

The more modern Tiny Tears - the one I had (along with Teeny Tiny Tears and a Teeny Weeny Tiny Tears). Tiny Tears was stolen out of her pram one summertime. I'm still having counselling. Sorry about the 'tiny' photo.

I bought it for the cover.

How many times have you said that? I've said it a lot. I am not sure people say it about my covers, though the phrase always hovers worryingly in my head when I'm under pressure to produce a good book cover.

I bought the following at a second hand book shop in Edinburgh. I was there to visit a National Trust site for a job, and had some time left over, so thinking I might find some interesting clothes or shoes I found myself being scared of the boutiques and blowing money in a book shop instead, coming home in the same pair of tragic old shoes (again).

This is the shop.

And here's what I bought.

The first I picked up in the £1 box outside the shop. I hovered for a bit as I thought no-one was in, and spent a good five minutes working out how to get the coin into the shop without breaking in. Since I've been thinking about doing some repeat-pattern covers for a bit (not for a publisher, just as a project) this one appealed, since the artwork was produced the same way, all drawn by hand. I've no idea what the book's like, but my Mum reckoned it'd be a rip-roaring story of the sea.

The second had a foiled and embossed cream cover which I got excited about. My friends Steve and Roger run a place in Leicester which does this sort of thing, and it was good to be reminded of the skills at my disposal in the local vicinity.

Then I went inside, since the door opened as I was trying to cram my pound coin under it. Here's the sight that greeted me:

I nearly fainted.

Here's the next one I bought. This one I picked up initially because the spine told me it was by 'Coleman', but with the discovery of a still-sparkling gold spine and that it was about butterflies, which I tend to draw quite a lot, it was sold. It's about 6" x 4", and is indeed written by one of my ancestors (I like to think).

Just look at these beautiful illustrations of butterflies. Some of them have a silver ink on them which still gleams in places.

The only downside is this page...

On the way to my most devastating unplanned purchase, I saw these 'Bibelots' which were massively desirable, but £200 EACH. Oof.

So then I saw this. I pulled it a bit too eagerly from the shelf on sight of the word 'Detmold', which caused the assistant to lower his trendy glasses a bit in my direction.

Charles Maurice and Edward Julius Detmold were prodigious illustrator twins born in 1883. Their output was large and impressive, working on pieces together, and were well on their way to joint and individual success when Maurice committed suicide without explanation in 1908. He was 24. Although distraught, his brother Edward lived and worked until the 1950s, and it is he who illustrated this book. Since they are among that fairy-lit collection of illustrators credited with creating the magical era of illustration around the turn of the century (Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac and Aubrey Beardsley among them) I had to bring it home.

It's a first edition and is embossed with accurate line drawings of insects, with this debossed beauty on the back. Around 10"x8", and two inches thick, it's surprisingly light for its size largely, I think, down to the very fluffy paper inside which is easily damaged. It's like thick blotting paper. The type is set with a massive margin around it - this was a luxury book certainly - in something like Bodoni - I'm sure a type geek would soon tell me - and each colour plate is covered with rustly tissue paper.

Italian Locust. Great legs:

Common Wasp. Check the deboss around the plate:

Clock the attitude of the Preying Mantis here, the wary eyeball. Note not a hint of caricature, yet he imbues the fella with a personality of his own.

Finally the text itself is a delight. Fabre writes about every insect as a 'he' or a 'she', like this example from 'The Capricorn', which resonated with me immediately.

'Though the Capricorn-grub possesses these useless legs, the germs of future limbs, there is no sign of the eyes with which the fully-developed insect will be richly gifted. The larva has not the least trace of any organs of sight. What would it do with sight, in the murky thickness of a tree trunk?

But at the end of Spring the Capricorn, now in possession of his full strength, dreams of the joys of the sun, of the festivals of light. He wants to get out'.

Don't we all, little grub-face. We all want to get out into the sun and collect beautiful things like this. You don't find words and pictures like that in the DK Guide to Insects now, do you?

Nigel Peake.

Our friend Kev originally introduced us to Nigel Peake, who did the artwork for Coldcut's 'Sound Mirrors' album (Kev's the designer). His work is beautiful. I bought his book recently, 'In The Wilds - drawings by Nigel Peake' published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Nigel Peake’s new book In The Wilds is a lovely collection of drawings about farms, fields, and birds, taken from childhood impressions and his life in a one-road Irish village, where he is allegedly mistaken for the postman. He trained as an architect Edinburgh University, winning a Silver Medal commendation by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for his thesis. All that attention to detail shows in the drawings he makes now.

Drag these gentle things over your tired eyes three times a day for best results. (his blog is more interesting than his 'actual' website)

Robert Burns Museum Award.

The Museum's just won a Scottish Design Award, which along with the design team involved I feel very pleased about. I don't get a gong of any description personally, but I did have an extra cup of tea and this very nice email from a lady called Hannah, who'd visited the museum recently. It left an impression on her that she was excited enough to tell me about - worth more than any award, what do you reckon?

In was only too keen to point out I don't get *any* crazy emails, but life would be more interesting if I did!

Dear Inkymole,

My name is Hannah Foley and I'm an illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art. I'm sorry to get all mad fan on you but I've just visited the Robert Burns museum at Alloway because I wanted to see your work there and it is absolutely terrific. It was so atmospheric and yet in keeping with the simplicity of his early beginnings. Really, really wonderful. I hope you don't mind but I've blogged about you and would be honoured if you'd take a peek here: I know you're a very busy person and must get crazy emails like this all the time so please take the compliment and ignore the blog if you'd rather.


Hand-drawn Fonts.

I'm in this month's Computer Arts projects waffling on about why I love a hand-drawn letterform. You can probably imagine what I'm saying, but the frustrated writer in me is particularly proud of this line:

'Where a neat and symmetrical slab font might be a robust march, a script typeface is a ballet, controlled and learned but full of expression and surprises'.
(I'm repeating this line because it's mis-printed in the article - they wrote 'serif font' instead, which doesn't make sense!)

Here's the article next to the original artwork.

I'm in the next issue as well, the Illustration edition, talking about being a pen-and-ink perv. Again...


I did the cover of Contact this year, a double-sided edition with photography at the back. It was an image I did last summer for a US client, should have been a bit bigger perhaps to communicate all the detail, but it's still very pleasant to be featured on it.

I've advertised for years with Contact and for the first time am considering whether to next year. These days, it's almost impossible to tell where work came from. I can't recall the last time a conversation opened with 'We saw your page in Contact' - and many of them did start like that, to the point where I was able to keep a tally of work's origins, so that I could see what investments were working and which weren't. Unless a job has come through my agent, it's unclear what role each of my professional presences played in getting it.

There's a strong argument for a hand-held object with large, well-printed full colour images. There's another which says it's nice, but no longer relevant. I like to produce my own hand-held objects (though it's high time I did this - Christmas was the last). Compared to the cheap-to-freeness of online promotion, it comes with a whopper of a price tag. So right now, I think if you can afford it, it's necessary for those slightly old-school art director and buyers who like a chunky book of pictures to browse through, but only as part of a large artillery of tools including the now-obligatory social networking, blogging, iPhone apps and Tweeting. Those things are not novelty extras any more - they're at the core, but like an apple, the core's no good without the juicy fleshy bits to bite into.

What does anyone else think?

A Bright 'Un

We went to see the work of our friend Caroline Allen recently, who's embedded in her (second) degree in Materials Practice and 3D Design at Brighton University. Since she's usually a little coy with her work, we weren't prepared for the joy these things thrust at us.

Caroline's spent a long time researching prehistoric artefacts, and the roles and purposes we assign to them even if we don't know what they are or were. Find a corner of pottery with a curve, it was a milk jug. Find a flat piece with a pattern on it, it was a plate. The truth is we often don't know what they are, but we imbue these shards with meaning and purpose anyway, so that we can attach a significance and history to them.

She's invested a large amount of time in playing with ceramics as a way of exploring ideas around utility, function, context, and aesthetic. There's no official explanation for the things that have emerged as a result - that's up to us, as viewers: to 'develop their own biography'. These beautiful and beguiling objects ask to be touched, yet snag you and set your teeth on edge. They're made up of so many pieces, yet were made as one entity and then divided into pieces, sometimes carefully, sometimes, it seems, harshly. They make an uncomfortable sound if you stroke them. They might break (some did in transit, apparently) but they look broken already and what do they care?

The shavings are highly glazed and fragile, and highly tactile. Razor-edged, they're light as a vicious feather. Her degree show is on now but I just wanted to share these as, after a long period of output ultimately ending always in two printed dimensions, feeling and looking at them it was like a big gulp of fresh cold sea air. Carry on having thoughts Cazza, we like it when they emerge as objects which make us do the same.

Show: 1st June, 5-8, Faculty of Arts, University of Brighton
Room 207, Circus Street


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