Sunday, 28 September 2014

My Dad….

Recently I was asked about books that had been particular favourites when I was a child, so I thought I would touch on that topic but also write about someone who was a big influence on my love of books and ultimately my career as an illustrator…my Dad, Nic Gardner.

   One of our favourite photos of Dad.
 Photography by Mark Preston.

Tragically my Dad passed away in 2001 aged only 58, so I thought it would write this as a tribute to my Dad's career, enterprise, skill & vision.

Dad started as a lithographic apprentice in 1957 at the Hydrographic Supplies Establishment (HSE), Admiralty Chart printing division in Taunton, Somerset (the town where by a twist of fate I now live!).

He said that in 1957 Lithography was still considered to be a craft where not much had changed in general principles from when it was discovered in 1797. The Admiralty then employed approx. 450 people from engravers and draughtsmen through to camera operators, plate grainers, proofers and printers.

He spent two years at the Admiralty in the proofing area, learning how to transfer images from copper plate engravings, duplicating plates by various means and learning how to make a printing plate safe and ready to use after a draughtsman had spend many hours working on it.

Dad wrote about his time there "Much work in colour was produced using special mixed colours, for instance in about 1963 I remember an identification catalogue of Russian uniforms, produced as a combination of film based outlines with 14 special colours each side of the sheet, 30 colours with the blacks, printed 2 colours at a time…15 opportunities to cock it up! I wish I had kept one for posterity, but of course having signed the official secrets act one didn't."

By his fourth year there he had done the rounds through graining, platemaking, proofing, and then moved into the main pressroom, at the time these all consisted of rotary printing presses, all British Crabtree machines made in Leeds.

By then he had developed a real love of printing and had become a fully qualified lithographic printer and technician. In 1968 he moved to Trowbridge, Wiltshire (where I was born) to become Foreman at Redwood Press who at the time were the printers of The Guiness Book of Records.

Redwood press had been founded by the McWhirter brothers. The official opening of the print works in Trowbridge was on the 8th February 1967, and within 4 years it was printing one in every nine titles published in Britain.

At that time Redwood was only printing in black & white, and Dad was instrumental in upgrading the presses, first with two Roland single colours and then a 2 colour and Crabtree Perfector.
He was then promoted to Works Manager and decided that rather than print The Guiness Book of Records covers as outwork, why not buy a web offset press? So he bought a Konig & Bauer 10 colour which was a major step as the whole production unit had to move into colour management.

This is where it ties into the books that influenced me as a child as Redwood Press started to print children's books and so some of my favourite ones are ones he printed and brought home to us. Particular favourites are The Bald Twit Lion by Spike Milligan, illustrated by Carol Barker (which must have pleased Dad as he was a big fan of The Goons!).

 These are all like a technicolour trip back to the 1970's!

This page still makes me laugh!

The Qwangle Wangle's Hat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury,

I loved the very chunky leaves!

 and Clelia the Mermaid by Gunter Spang, illustrated by Pepperl Ott.

"Clelia is lonely until she catches a mermaid who becomes her best friend in spite of the fact she must be carried everywhere! When the mermaid disappears, Clelia is inconsolable until a new girl who looks very familiar comes to school"

I think this was my favourite spread, I love the bold colours, the exotic snowy landscape outside and the fact 
there were so many details to look at.

When I was little I always used to think that any girls with dark and blonde hair in a picture book represented me and my sister, we were definitely Snow White & Rose Red in my brain! In this one I was Clelia and Sammy got to be the mermaid - I was quite jealous of that!

Snow White and Rose Red : )

In 1975 he was approached to help sort out a small printing outfit. It had managed to get a National Trust contract so had potential, but was at that time insolvent. Dad was interested and managed to secure financial backing and a new company was started. With the new finances in place they had a factory built in Hercules way, Melksham, and started Superior Graphics with Dad as Managing Director, then with a total of 5 employees.

I have early memories of hanging around at the new factory at the weekends; there aways seemed to be reams of computer paper to draw on and plenty of pencils & pens so I was usually very happy to be there drawing away, or me and my sister would ride around on the wooden trolleys they moved the printing paper around on!

In 1989 they changed their name to Superior Creative Services to reflect the widening scope of their business, which now included advertising, design, print, packaging and photography.

The business had slowly expanded and they bought a 4 colour press, and invested in building a state-of-the-art photographic studio. In 1990 they bought a Heidelberg 5 colour press and expanded the factory with upstairs graphics studios.

Dad was always extremely forward thinking and often ahead of his time, he was always interested in new technology and very early on invested in computer graphics, and replaced a Scantex typesetting system and bench film planning with Apple Macs to final film. Shortly after this Superior became a beta site for CTP- computer to plate.

Dad was instrumental in getting me to use computer graphics as he was convinced this would be the way the industry would go (he was right!), but I was quite resistant at that time and happy to carry on painting with my gouache & liquid acrylics! At this time I was sharing a studio in Hackney with my good friends Mark Preston and Steve Rawlings. In his normal supportive way Dad loaned us the money to buy our first computer a Power Mac 8100/80.

As I said I was a bit slow to embrace computers graphics, but Mark & Steve quickly became computer whizzes which they may have regretted as I then used to ask them a zillion questions when I did eventually get started: thank you for your patience guys!
Later another good friend Andy Hamilton came and joined us in the studio, becoming part of the Maddigans Massive, good times : )

Dad was so supportive and helpful to us all, and always printed us free flyers that he would sneak on the edge of print runs!

Mark, Steve and I all worked at Superior CS during our summer breaks from University (in fact that's how Mark & I met Steve). For the first few summers Dad definitely didn't show any favouritism as I used to work in the packing department running the shrink wrap machine!, but I really enjoyed my summers there working with a really great group of people.

In my final summer at Uni I was allowed to progress to work in the graphics studio - yippee! I learnt so much that summer; this was still pre- or very early computers so some of it seems pretty old school now using the enlargers and tracing out photographs to show where items would go on the layouts!

Dad had always wanted a publishing company and had started "Fours", their first foray into social stationery. This then progressed to "Superior Portfolio" which became very successful: as well as their own ranges they produced social stationery for a wide range of clients including The National Trust, The Royal Academy, The V&A, Boots, W.H.Smith, Oxfam and Early Learning Centre.

That summer they were working on visuals for Christmas cards for Boots and they asked me if I would like to have a go at coming up with some ideas.
I came up with an idea of children doing a Nativity play and John Harris, their marketing director seemed pleased with my designs so they were included in the selection presented to Boots... who chose my design! I was super excited and got to produce artwork for six cards and a display box that were published in 1992.

Later I created some samples for Superior CS for a pitch for The Natural History Museum of some cute dinosaurs. The project didn't go ahead in the end, but I had them in my portfolio when I first came to London and was going around making appointments to see potential clients. In a serendipitous moment I went to see Alison Boyle at Two Can Publishing who published "Playdays" magazine and they were looking for a new illustrator to illustrate the story & comic strips for "Dilly the Dinosaur" by Tony Bradman. On the strength of the dinosaurs in my folio they gave me the job!. I illustrated Dilly for many years, the first one I did even got the front cover; I can't tell you how proud & excited I felt!! It was such a fun job illustrating all the new naughty things Dilly got up to.

Over the years I continued to submit designs via Superior CS and was lucky enough to be chosen to illustrate several ranges for WH Smith, Boots, National Trust, Early Learning Centre as well as ones for Superior Portfolio, which became some of their top sellers like their Bugsie, Farmyard Friends, and Heaven & Earth range.

Superior Creative Services grew from a few people to well over a hundred today. On the back of the new technology they had invested in their reputation grew. They were winning blue chip accounts and the business expanded rapidly; they Invested in a Scintex large digital press and bought a new warehouse to accommodate Superior Portfolio.

Dad was extremely proud of his company which has now become Superior. Since Dad's death the company has been sold, but the team who took over have moved into large digital output as well as maintaining the Litho side. His good friend Robin Thornton who was Superior's General Manager said Dad would applaud their vision and would be happy to see Superior continue in their capable hands.

To quote John Harris "Nic was an individual, rarely do you come across anyone with an understanding of operational technology together with creativity, he was one of nature's true gentleman",

and Robin Thornton "He was an extremely talented, entrepreneurial man who loved and embraced technology, it was his vision that built Superior and invested in MIS systems, colour management, Macs, CTP and digital print".

I'm so proud of what my Dad achieved: as well as a great businessman he was one of the warmest, most humble, funny, kind and gentle people you could ever hope to meet, and I'm so proud and lucky to have had him as my Dad, I miss him terribly. 

I hope he would be proud of what I have achieved, and I hope he knew how much he helped me along the way, and how much I appreciated everything he did for me. Thanks for everything Dad xxxxx

To Rob Thornton who met Dad in 1968 at Redwood and worked together with him at Superior from the beginning. Thanks for all your help on the history of Superior, technical info and bits I was too young to remember! You were such a great friend to Dad even through the darkest days, so thank you for everything and for your love of The Rolling Stones which must have rubbed off on me! x

                          Me in the pram.

My sixteenth birthday                                                                                            
with 80's hair!                                                                                            Me, Dad and my sister Sammy in Carnaby St 
(with Susan Bunny!)


No comments:

Post a Comment