Church Mission Society 1981-1983
I left Art College in 1981 and my first job was with The Church Mission Society, in Waterloo in London. I had spent four or five weeks taking my portfolio around various agencies in London without success. It seemed everyone wanted experienced designers, which put college leavers like myself at a disadvantage to say the least.
I enjoyed working at CMS, it was a good place for a new graduate to start employment, and schedules and pressures of work seemed pretty minimal compared with what I was to encounter later in life. Cycling to work from Hampstead, I would regularly cycle through all the traffic ‘hot spots’ like Marble Arch and Hyde Park corner and think nothing of it. On a good day I could beat the tube.
Whilst it was a junior designer job, I had responsibility over the in-house typesetter who patiently produced typesetting using a machine that was operated by rolls of punched paper tape. In those days the charity didn’t have any computers and when I left they were considering buying one for the accounts department.
CMS had an in house telephonist, who would physically connect the calls using plugs and leads, (similar to the photo below). I remember she kept her knitting inside the workings of the telephone exchange, which seemed very dangerous. She would get very cross if I made a personal call to Donna who was working across the Thames. We were expected to use a call box for our own calls.
Of course, now looking back at the publicity I produced there, it seems very amateurish. Whilst undoubtedly some of it was, because I had little experience, it’s important for me to remember that the tools we had at our disposal, in a pre digital world, were very unsophisticated and crude compared to what is achievable today.
I worked at CMS for about two years until we decided to get married and move to Reigate.
In order to find a job in or around Reigate, I decide to write to every design studio within a fifteen-mile radius or so of the town, to see if I could get an interview. Setting myself a target of (handwriting) at least two letters every day, I eventually secured an interview with RS Consultants in Wallington, which was about 12 miles north of Reigate..
RS Consultants 1983 – 1984
I was offered a self-employed position at RS Consultants, a small studio producing advertising and marketing for local companies. In return for renting desk space in the office, the manager would pass any graphic design my way.
I was not the only designer there. They also employed another designer, who was some years my senior and made my life very difficult. I was made well aware how little commercial experience I had, but I was determined to learn and to resist any bullying that I was subjected to along the way. Being self-employed, the stress was not just because I had no real experience, but I also had to secure enough work to be able to pay myself each month. My inexperience meant it took me longer than necessary to produce work, so that affected how I charged for my services. In addition, I had to pay for any mistakes I made out of my own pocket.
Somehow I managed to keep my head above water, and in the process not only became a more commercially experienced designer but also managed to learn how to thrive as a self employed professional.
It was a baptism of fire. I could tell I was stressed as I started occasionally smoking again, having given up a year or two before.
Eventually I felt as if I had conqueror the position, and looking for more experience (and a better salary), I answered an advert in ‘Campaign’ the national marketing paper of the day for a designer in South Croydon.
Links Art Services. 1985
Links Art Services was a small studio, situated in what could pass for a boy scouts hut in South Croydon. The company’s main clients were Crosse and Blackwell, Nestlés and other food manufacturers who had offices in Croydon. I was employed as a ‘Visualiser’. The role involved producing initial design layouts and artwork for ads, food labels, general publicity and some point of sale items for the food industry.
I learnt some fascinating tricks of the trade. Such as when photographing ice cream, photographers substituted mash potato for the ice cream, as it won’t melt!
Looking back on that year, I could have easily stayed for much longer. I seemed to be valued, I was confident and I was producing good work, and it was the type of job I had trained for. The company didn’t need to look too hard for work, with the good contacts they had and there was an overall feeling of security and ease.
Looking back on the work that I did there, for someone who always maintained I couldn’t draw, I seemed to do fair amount of illustration.
However, Donna and I had decided to go to Bible College. My heart wasn’t in selling food! I wanted to explore my rapidly growing faith. My colleagues took it well, I don’t think they understood but I had only been there a year and I would be easily replaced.
Kerygma Trust and The King’s Coach. 1986 – 1990
I have covered this elsewhere on this journal, so please follow this link for a full description of this period.
When we went to Roffey Place, I was pretty convinced that I wouldn’t work in Graphic Design again, but would retrain and probably move abroad.
However, all my experience that I had gained in the past few years wasn’t wasted. In fact I needed to be as resourceful as I possibly could, as I was faced with the challenge of producing exhibitions with no experience in that field, little financial resources, and even less in the way of graphic equipment.
The exhibition space measured about 80sq feet and comprised of five panels each measuring 4 feet by 4 feet, plus design and print ancillary posters and leaflets. It’s hard now in the age of the Internet to explain how creative I needed to be. I had to source every photograph, writing to agencies and persuade them to send me some free material. I also had to write the accompanying text, have it typeset and then enlarge, colour and print the typesetting on photographic paper. Finally I had to manually stick everything together on sheets of plastic board and have a protective covering applied. These days so much information and resource material is available on line that it is difficult to convey the problems I encountered, as I had no access to the sort of assistance that is currently available.
In addition to this, I undertook a short course in video production and shot and produced some promotional material. Unfortunately I didn’t have the financial resources to do this to the standard I would have liked.
However I was in my element, in a field of work I loved and passionately believed in. I felt called to do this, as though my life had been leading up to this point. I was in charge of my workload, made my own creative decisions on the exact nature of the exhibitions and solved my own problems. The only problem was I was very overworked!
I had always known that Donna and I weren’t called to be lifelong team members with Bob Gordon and trust. I had imagined it would be for about five years. It was almost exactly that.
Midland Printing Services, Shrewsbury. 1990
As I have written here in this journal, this was a difficult period in my career.
Perhaps the most significant lesson I learnt from this time is that it is important to recognise the seasons in your life and act according. This was a pivotal moment, and without doubt if I hadn’t borrowed a large sum of money and invested in a computer, I would never have worked in graphic design again.
SELF EMPLOYMENT. 1992 – 1994
By the end of 1992 I had acquired enough knowledge of the computer to be able to start a small business working from the converted garage. My biggest help along the way came from a friend at church called Steve, who had started a marketing company in Telford. Most of his clients were agricultural companies and most of my work consisted of producing adverts about bull’s semen! (the quantity of which is apparently is measured in ‘straws’). But it was a start and I managed to scape up a living from this and some contacts I had in Birmingham (some fifty miles away – that’s how remote we felt in Shrewsbury). Eventually it seemed a better proposition to rent a room in the office Steve was working in, which was based in Telford, about ten miles away so that I could be on hand.
Christian Publicity Organisation (CPO). 1994 – 1999
Having experienced five years in a career wilderness in Shrewsbury, it was a joy to join committed Christians again at CPO in Worthing, working in a field that was familiar and rewarding. For the first few years it seemed as if I had been given a blank sheet of paper and told to create my own brief and my own ideas, (within what was required of course). I had the advantage over the other designers in that I was now quite experienced in using the computer, and was determined to keep ahead in these skills.
After a couple of years I became the head designer, and took responsibility over the studio. It was a position I greatly enjoyed as I felt I was a good team leader. There were only two problems. The first was that in the latter part of my time at CPO, I held most of the technical skills in the studio. Consequently much of the workload fell to me, and I became overworked. Secondly, I was not earning enough money.
I made the decision to leave in 1999. It was a hard decision. I was happy there. I had learnt important lessons in Shrewsbury about being aware of the times and seasons in ones life and I had discovered in my early career that lack of experience hindered employment opportunities. I now recognised that ten years of my career had now been in Christian work, and that some employers may not see this as bona fide commercial experience. I knew that at 41 years old, not only was my age beginning to work against me, but that it would be all too easy to allow time to pass, only to discover that in a few short years that I wouldn’t be able to find another job outside of the small Christian world. Having started so successfully and enjoyed it so much, I didn’t want to end up many years later being told behind my back that I was so negative and I should have gone a long time ago.
I again mailed as many agencies in the south of England as I possibly could. I kept a file of rejection letters, using the contact details when I mailed them a second time. Knowing that only 10% of available positions are ever advertised, I was determined eventually that if my letter arrived before a vacancy was publicised, eventually the odds would go my way and I would get an interview.
Newnum Print 1999 – 2001
Newnum Print was a small ‘jobbing’ printers in Worthing. I did some design, but most of my work was technical, getting artwork prepared for printing in house. The first year was very stressful. I made the mistake of not leaving enough time and space between jobs, so that I left CPO on a Friday and started work at Newnum Print on the Monday. My mind was scrambled as a result. In addition, my boss was pretty exacting in his demands. Strangely I ended up having a good relationship with him as we were of a similar age. What I learnt most in the role, was how to become technically proficient, so that whatever was required – I could get it to print correctly. This was to prove invaluable later on. By the second year, I knew it was time to move on and gain some more experience.
PalmerSport. 2001 – 2003
Jonathan Palmer is a former Formula One driver, who having retired from competitive racing, established a corporate entertainment business in motorsport. He converted an old aerodrome in Bedford into a rally course, and subsequently bought five other driving circuits including Brands Hatch. In conjunction with Audi he also developed Formula Palmer Audi, which was part of the national racing series. Coincidentally, he happened to be an old boy from Brighton College (two years my senior).
In my view, Jonathan was a better businessman than a driver. He certainly knew how to make money and had learnt to fly a helicopter, and daily made the journey from Southwater (outside Horsham), to the circuit in Bedford. He once flew me to Bedford, and rather scarily flew back directly over Heathrow as he was short on time. Watching 707s taking off under our flight path was a very bizarre experience!
I think I was employed as not only was a competent designer, but I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in cars. This was an advantage to Jonathan as I clearly wasn’t there to waste everyone’s time trying to get involved in the driving side of the business. As part of the induction, I was given a place on the company’s leading event, which was a day’s driving instruction at the Bedford circuit in some of the fastest cars in the country. It was a fantastic experience! The instructors threw the cars around the circuits in a cloud of burning rubber and smoke. When I tried to do it, I spun the car at around 80 miles an hour. The instructors laughed and made me carry on driving, but my mind was scrambled and I found it difficult to concentrate, not able to comprehend what had just occurred.
Jonathan paid well, but expected his staff to be available at the drop of a hat. On a Friday night he once asked me to work the whole weekend, however he paid for a weekend for Donna and I at a top country hotel as a thank you.
However since the motorsport industry is seasonal, my work the following year was much the same as the previous year with more identical programmes and brochures. I knew after two years that I needed to move on.
Warren Design. 2003 – 2004
Whilst at Newnum Print, I had met Stuart Warren, a local designer and had done quite a bit of freelance work for him. He worked on his own, and approached me with an offer of a job, which I took up.
The great advantage was that it was in Worthing again. The big disadvantage was that he had never employed another designer before and knew little of how to manage staff. I wasn’t given the responsibility I had been led to believe, and quite quickly I was planning to move on.
Verité Media. 2004
I had met Chris Powell at CPO, he was the financial director there and after I left became the CEO. When I left CPO, I kept in touch with him, asking him advice on my career decisions.
In 2003 he left CPO, and started his own business Verité CM Ltd. For a while I produced work for him on a freelance basis until the business was sufficiently established that I could join him as a partner.
Some of the main business has been book design (below), along with outreach material for churches, digital short run printing, and mailings.
Some of the most successful items have been a series of evangelistic sports booklets, a guide to various sporting fixtures like the Euro championships or the Olympics. We have produced millions of these, and made the artwork available free of charge so that Christian organisations abroad could produce their own language versions.
Our business relationship has changed twice over this time, and as I write this in 2017, I now run my own business again, trading as Verité Design.