Determined that I was going to reapply to Brighton Polytechnic’s Foundation Course In Art, I had made up my mind to spend the year in Kenya improving my portfolio. To that end, I took art classes with art A level students, and also took lessons with a very nice Asian lady who not only taught drawing, but also taught me batik and various other crafts. This would result in having a more diverse portfolio, which was what was expected to apply for the foundation course.
However, the life changing moment came, thanks to a Nairobi company called ‘Visual Communications’.
My ‘A’ level art course had majored on lettering, and I would often design fanciful typography, (which were more doodles really). I had done various designs of friends names (predominantly female) – and I produced a piece of artwork featuring my brothers name. He seemed impressed (bless him!), and suggested that I got it printed so he could use it as a letterhead. I asked my father how to get it printed, and he said he didn’t know, but why didn’t I go over the road from his office and speak to the advertising agents who handled his company’s business.
I was given a surprisingly warm welcome by the two partners in the business – George Childs, and an Italian called Giovanni, (I have forgotten his surname). They commented that the design was good, but that it wasn’t technically possible to print from the artwork I had produced. However, if I was interested perhaps I might be want to come back the following day and they could give me some help. I took up their kind offer, and one day led to the next and in the end I worked for six months with them. It was effectively the work experience that is common place these days. From the moment I started with them, I knew this is what I wanted to do. What was so fascinating was seeing the creative process from initial ideas to seeing the final product in print. In addition to this, they loved good typography and design. My first weeks were spent copying typefaces by eye, observing the intricacies’ of the font, and appreciating that someone had lovingly and carefully constructed the letters, as if they were carved like a sculpture. Although it wasn’t possible for them to pay me, because I would have needed a work permit (which I wouldn’t have got), they rewarded me by giving me small projects which I saw through to the print stage. Whilst I was there I designed the programme for the Nairobi’s National Theatre production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ and various other advertisements. I had found my mojo! I have never forgotten George and Giovanni’s help, and have sought ever since to help younger designers to get a foot on the career ladder.
In between my art lessons, my work with Marketing Communications, I found a new set of friends who lived and worked in Nairobi. Most of my previous friendship group were not around during term time, being either still at school or at University. I also played in a small brass band, called ‘upwind’. It consisted mainly of music teachers or those of similar ability, so it was a pretty professional band. We did small tours, including a gig at Kenton College, which was interesting for old time sake!
Not that it was all plain sailing. There were one or two moments where they suggested to my parents that perhaps I shave before I came to work. They also had their ear to the ground, and knowing that I was actually working illegally, they acted on a tip off that the immigration department may be paying a visit. I took the hint and I booked a flight to England to make my application to the Foundation Course at Brighton Polytechnic.
I was in the UK for a month or so in the spring of 1977, and was successful in getting a place on the Foundation Course. During this time I met and dated a girl called Jayne who I think had just completing her A levels at Brighton College. On one evening we went out together she said she was feeling fed up and just wanted to go for a run! I had no idea what she was talking about!
I now knew precisely what I wanted to do for a career. It still wasn’t called Graphic Design, it was still known as Commercial Art. My parents were dubious, they didn’t doubt my abilities so much as were skeptical on the chances of making a successful career in an over populated industry. Tell me something new!