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Radio 4 posters

A bit of background here. A few weeks ago I went to see the great poster artist Matt Taylor talk about his work (and give a Procreate lesson) at the Apple Store on Regent Street. I'd actually been feeling pretty lacking in energy or enthusiasm about design/illustration/that whole thing, I guess due to a very heavy schedule over the last several months of big project after big project - and the disappointments and frustrations associated with some of those. I won't pretend that feeling has gone entirely but I'm certainly grateful for the lift it gave me which helped me get through the remaining weeks before Christmas holiday time and recuperation - which started today. Phew.

Matt Taylor's work as well as his generosity n talking about his process and showing rough and early work of his was inspiring. It was gratifying to see his process matches mine quite closely. Perhaps because I didn't train in a graphic art I have a slightly mystified view of how 'real' graphic artists develop their ideas. Matt Taylor produces wonderful, beautifully imagined and composed results, but it's clear from seeing his rough work and what he described his development is no different from mine. He tries out different things until something sticks. There's no overarching rule to how a subject matter must be approached, you just do what seems like a good idea at the time and accept obviously there are probably a hundred other good ways to approach it but you gotta pick one.

Now this talk happened to fall during a time I am really preoccupied with my love of Radio 4 comedy at its best. It happens that John Finnemore, my favourite producer of radio comedy, possibly my favourite comedian altogether right now, was rehearsing and recording the new series of his Souvenir Programme through October and November and I'd been to see a couple of these.

And so the reminder from Taylor's talk that graphic art could actually be, y'know, fun and engaging and based on things you were passionate about met this Radio 4 comedy preoccupation and an idea was born...

I was struck by the idea of taking a Matt-Taylor-esque sensibility of bold, bright, retro cool and applying it to something as uncool as Radio 4 content. It needed working out exactly what that meant, exactly what version of that idea I wanted to pursue, but it really excited me at base level. I started by making a list of the radio shows I love. Six very quickly asserted themselves as the core: The aforementioned John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme as well as his sitcom Cabin Pressure; Saturday Night Fry; Bigipedia, Warhorses of Letters and The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy.

There was a longer list of other Radio 4 shows I also love (Delve Special, Hard To Tell, Bleak Expectations) as well non-Radio-4-but-still-radio-shows I love (Adam and Joe on 6 Music, The Russell Brand Radio Show) so why was it clear these six were the ones to pursue? As the idea brewed in my mind I realised what I was excited by in the idea was not any kind of irony, that was a secondary criteria qualification for inclusion at most. I wanted to produce posters that celebrated Bigipedia et al in the way Matt Taylor's work celebrates Star Wars because that's how I feel about them.

The six chosen programmes are the ones I feel about the way some people feel about Back To the Future or Ghostbusters. Possessively admiring, shaped by my love of these things, loving being able to live in those worlds whenever I revisited, and obviously annoyingly quotey.

Hitchhiker's Guide takes me back to being a ten year old in our old spare room, which is where the stereo lived, listening repeatedly while drawing unicorns on printer paper. My parents had enjoyed the series when it originally came out and my big brother before me, but I'd discovered the series independently at the mobile library on cassette and what I heard was perfection and all mine.

JFSP takes me back a shorter distance to when I first started my current job about four years ago. Not yet having a smartphone I only had the option of listening live to Radio 4 via a MP3/radio thing I borrowed off my mum and so the things I discovered then have a wonderful uncovered-gem feeling attached. The other discovery of this time was Pilgrim but more on that below. I was commuting from Brighton to London at the time and the Souvenir Programme has strong associations for me of cheering up the always tedious necessity of dealing with Victoria Station.

Cabin Pressure (which I must have heard before discovering Souvenir Programme but only payed much attention to after) became my balm when I went through a bout of depression a couple of years ago, lulling me to sleep or distracting my brain enough to make me get up and do things, like eat, I felt too sad to do otherwise. I've even recommended it to friends for the purpose who've taken it on as their own medicine... I still use it for the anti-insomnia purpose sometimes especially when travelling. I remember the flight home from New York earlier this year passed in a slightly surreal flash as I drifted in and out of sleep and the world of Cabin Pressure interwove with that of the real plane I was on. I did make sure not to pick the series with a mid-flight emergency.

Saturday Night Fry has the feeling of being a special discovery of just mine (despite being made like three years before I was born) as it's not much remembered despite its brilliance and illustrious cast.

Bigipedia makes me think of coming home from work to a flat in Shepherd's Bush I loved living in and putting on the radio in the kitchen to listen while I made dinners of noodle soups, and being thrilled to remember it was Bigipedia night. Like SNF it's also a neglected gem. The only person I know who has also heard it is my brother and that's only because I played it while sitting in the front room of another flat playing the show while I worked on animation and he worked in another corner on music. That's another fond memory, but I need someone else in my life who will understand when I say, 'thanks you the government' in response to the Tories being particularly awful on the news.

Warhorse of Letters... I just love. I think the fact that its the most Radio 4 thing that's ever happened (at least, to the good; its evil twin is Museum of Curiosity which is incredibly Radio 4 but I hate) is what makes me feel so strongly. Again, the feeling of special-ness that niche-ness imbues. It's brilliant in a way that feels delightfully specific to me as an audience member.

And yes, I could have summed all of that up with, 'I thought it would be a suitably funny yet sincere tribute to the radio comedies that mean a lot to me to give them a Mondo poster-like treatment ', but then I half suspect the only reason I make art in the first place is as an excuse to bang on about my thoughts.

And I haven't done ANY of the planned work on this yet, apart from doodles in my notebook. I've developed vague plans for most of the six posters (and done the funnest part of planning which was to listen to all six extant series' of JFSP with a notebook to hand to jot down memorable imagery and themes) but there are many questions hanging over the project still.

One of the major ones has to do with styling, and to that end I've spent some time working up a test piece. It's based on a single segment of JFSP, one of the few repeating sketches of the show and its only catchphrase: Finnemore adopts the persona of the 'club bore' (suggesting a Victorian setting though the sketch's settings vary away from that) to spin a punny, referential shaggy dog story. In recordings and rehearsals he reads his take with red wine in hand to suggest the slightly boozy idiot he portrays (I can't help but wonder if it shouldn't be a port or brandy but I suppose what it boils down to is that Finnemore likes red wine).

Here's three stages in the development of my graphic of the sketch so far:

I think it's going well. There's a few things on my mind about it as its own piece apart from its use as a test-run for the main posters. I'm not sure the cartoony look is something I want to go with, both here and elsewhere. In my mind I was going to go for a more photo-close Matt-Taylor-esqe look, something I've done before to, I think, some success. I'm not sure I've captured the right expression either. I think I've got something Finnemore-y but maybe closer to the enthusiastic cheer of Arthur Shappey from Cabin Pressure than the pomposity of the Well Since You Ask me narrator.

I like the way the text is developing. It's a challenge getting the spiral while maintaining some sense. I hope I've placed the words in the right-hand version in a way that suggests where to start reading the sentence and how to follow it. I'd rather have the big gap between 'me' and 'for' than have any words sitting in the space that renders them fully upside-down - I think that disrupts readability more.

The play on the 'Y' of 'story' becoming the wine glass was not in the original sketch but makes the picture so much that I'm tempted to dial back the originally intended third element to this poster - the graphics that depict various WSYAM stories. Champagne guzzling ghosts, crisp packed folded into triangles, sloths riding motorbikes ect. There's a striking simplicity about the rough I'm now loathe to spoil, and the gag of the Y-ne glass won't play if its surrounded by literal depictions of stories... plus now it;s drawn out I fear that the words won't read at all if crowded by similarly busy shapes in the form of wee drawings.

However the poster certainly needs a few other touches. Apart from anything else I need to justify that big gap in the words top left. Hmmm....


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