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What larks. The rise and demise of Cool Grey 2 (From 2010)

11th April 2019

An ad for the brilliant Sparks in 1974.
A pencil and ink drawing by stablemate John Bonis


I still enjoy graphic design probably more than ever. I love the Mac and its universe of essential tools, the software that enables me to do so much that was inconceivable when I started in the early 70s.

Now I can set type, import images and retouch them without having to wait for a courier, or a type rep from Apex or Conways, or the airbrush salesman (one of whom, a true gent from DeVilbiss, found himself fretting, in his shirtsleeves, trying to help me create a silver plate on a Procol Harum in-store display – he left at eight, telling me to eat properly and sleep well, otherwise I’d get an ulcer. But I was, and remain, an overtime glutton).

When the Mac first started hushing-up the graphics studios, an air of thoughtful creativity took over. Gone were the days (before mine, even) of the jovial, post-pub lunch pranks from the pissed paste-up artists, blowing perfect smoke rings out of Cow-gum tins and Christ knows what else… In New York, in Mad Men days, a bored Madison Avenue agency art crew apparently enjoyed fishing for pigeons from its corner of a sky high playpen… What larks.

The cool studios like Pentagram, of course, were famously creative and quiet; but not as hushed and thoughtful as the ubiquitous flat screen makes everyone today. I know that fun has left a lot of studios, like it’s left a lot of things. You can tell by simply looking at what’s going on in posters, shopfronts. You can see that designers aren’t looking at each other over a pile of markers (“Who’s got a Cool Grey 2?” you’d shout at least twice a day.

I worked with John Bonis, who was the only person in London capable of holding a light to Barney Bubbles, of Stiff Records fame. He’s featured in the Intro page.

So, thanks to my Mac I’m writing this in the vague hope that it will be read and understood, and people the world over will think, “That was funny. He’s very clever, he’d be great for…” But then you have to join the weird, awkward virtual parties of the social media, like Facebook, like the dreary Linkedin, or a  glossy, designery one like Google+ (Facebook for professionals) where most people who talk loudly about nothing much still get high-fives from others who want to be their friends. I’m with him. He’s like so fun. Mmmm. But he’s actually not. He’s got a cat. Oh, it’s fallen asleep… (This was written before I started on Instagram, which is the only place I want to be; I can follow a genuine genius like John Cuneo, (who writes as well as he draws which is saying something) as well as photographers, jazzers and painters. And architects. And New Yorker…

Unfortunately you still have to put up with some weird pointless stuff, but like Dylan’s country station, it’s nothing, really nothing to turn off.

One interesting thing about Magic Markers was the way they provided a quick way for an idea to be put onto paper. Copywriters had as much chance of getting an idea approved as their visually sophisticated art director counterparts. Clients were definitely more visually aware; they had to be to interpret a copywriter’s scribble as the core of a new campaign. Stock photography was a way of deciding a style; not an idea. At least, I think that’s true. Anyway, where’s that Cool Grey 2? Anyone?