Artwork Production?

4th December 2015 / Howard Griffiths / Design

Has any category of the design industry changed more over the last thirty years than the dark, mystical and often misconceived field known as artwork? If so, how has it changed? Interesting questions!
If you ignore the cutting edge web development vocation, linked with the advent of the world wide web and internet, a faction that most commonly doesn’t have an end result involving a printing method……probably not!
On the other hand, you could argue that any information relayed on a screen, be it a laptop, TV or mobile devise needs to be formatted and laid out for maximum visual appeal, even if it will never appear in print!
So, is this artwork, creative typography or a design layout and if so where, if any, do the cross-overs occur?

To acquire a better understanding of how artwork production has changed and how a creative artworker has had to adapt and develop their skills for the current digital industry, we firstly need to travel back in time to the mid 1980’s and seek out an old school senior artworker and discover how on earth, prior to the introduction of Apple Mac’s, was an artwork generated!

That’s easier said than done. Sadly my knowledge of theoretical physics and quantum mechanics are lacking a little. I blame my old high school science tutor who seemed more intent on teaching me how the ancient world affected modern science and why Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle’s theory on inertia was so revolutionary. Consequently, my final term project on time travel never seemed to gain any momentum and my planned career as a time lord ended in secondary school.

Fortunately, we don’t need the assistance of Doctor Who and his Tardis to resolve this issue, as I myself left art college and started a career in art and design in 1986 and am blissfully aware of and can recollect with dismay, how things were done in the ‘pre-mac’ days!

So, lets start at the beginning…………
A typical Monday morning back in 1986, firstly lets quickly consign all memory of the popular fashions and trends of the time to oblivion (especially mullets, moustaches, shoulder pads and leg warmers)!

A hand drawn visual has just been dropped into my grey, plastic ‘in-tray’. The message on the attached post-it note, written using the thick end of a red magic marker says ‘needed urgently – Friday am’!! Four days…ohh heck…that’s going to be a little tight! (Yes really)! Better start on this job straight away.

Luckily, the design uses a photo image that is already existing and has been used before, therefore, I just need to search the file archive for the original transparency. Once found amongst the hundreds of other trannies belonging to the same client, the transparency is double checked on a light box to ensure it is in fact the correct image to use, then put in a safe place.

A brisk visit to the office reception area is next on the list, not just to say hello to the girls manning the telephones but to pick up the fax received from the client. Unfortunately, the ink ran out halfway across page two of the transmission! New ink cartridge installed and new faxed sheets printed, I return to the studio and to my large drawing board, switch on the desk lamp and retrieve my typescale ruler, a fine line pen and a layout pad from the draw.

A hastily prepared, hand drawn type spec is then created. The type spec is a scale drawing of the design with all the typesetting requirements. This includes typeface styles, point sizes, line lengths, line leadings, character spacings and word spacings, plus exact areas for all the text, which in turn, correspond to the received fax data. A call is then put out for the job to be picked up by one of a dozen local typesetting companies. Once in the hands of the type-setters, we have to wait for this side of the job to be returned, normally, turn around is 2-3 days.

In the meantime, I top up the ink in my 0.2 and 0.4 rotring pens, cut a suitable piece of mounting board to size with my scalpel, remembering to avoid the small nick halfway across my drawing board’s parallel motion! Don’t want to end up with my name in the accident book and a large plaster on my finger again!

Mounting board cut (without incident) and taped securely to my drawing board using masking tape, it’s now time to measure and confirm the finished size of the design, draw the cutter and add the cut marks and registration marks.

The approved design includes the clients logo and strap line so its back to the archive folders again to retrieve the clients master black & white logo artwork. The scale is calculated to convert the master logo file to the correct proportion as drawn on the visual and a note marked on a post-it note.

Another trip away from the drawing board to the camera room and a plea to the darkroom camera operator to have a bromide created of the logo to the new, required size. Depending on the inclination of the camera operator and how many spare ‘dolly mixtures’ I have to bribe him with, my job may end up on the top of his work pile, or at the bottom!

Our typesetting supplier pulls out all the stops and the setting, printed on photographic paper, gets delivered on the Thursday morning. The first and most crucial factor is to have the new setting proof checked again against the clients original, faxed version. Proof checking is always done by the typesetting company but it‘s always wise to have it double checked.

Given the all clear by our in-house proof checker, it’s now time to start the next stage, commonly called paste up. The type set blocks of copy are trimmed and neatly cut out, as is the logo bromide from the camera room. The artboard is firmly positioned on the drawing board again with masking tape and centre guides are marked in pencil. The logo bromide is given a light coating of spraymount and placed in postion. Using the drawing boards parallel motion the bromide is checked and re-positioned until it is perfectly horizontal. Each section of copy is then pasted into position and each time, checked again to guarantee it’s perfectly straight and correctly aligned.

With all the text and graphics pasted down, it’s now time to hand draw and replicate the scroll effect outer rule boarder that was drawn on the visual and is part of the design. Using my 0.2 rotring pen and an indiscriminate number of the curved plastic drawing guides, the boarder’s outer two rules are replicated, then carefully filled in with a 0.4 rotring pen. Replicating complex paths and shapes by hand is one of the most time consuming jobs in a studio. One slip or ink spillage can ruin hours of work! Once dried, the boarder is checked and any minor mistakes are tidied up by scraping the ink from the board with the scalpel or by touching up with white paint and a fine paintbrush.

So, that’s the base section now complete. Next the colour overlay and tranny guides need completing so the repro department have the colour details to separate the artwork and make their films and printing plates!
Using a clean sheet of lay-out paper, each and every section of the design is partially drawn and coloured, using marker pens. The corresponding pantone or cymk colour split guides are noted against each section drawn. The overlay and the original transparency is then taken to the grant enlarger, basically a very large microscope that looks a little like a small ‘Punch and Judy’ theatre. The picture image is enlarged to the correct size, following the visual and an outline drawn on the overlay. This shows the scale and position of the image. Finally, the masterpiece is nearly complete. The colour overlay is securely attached to the artboard and a protective cover attached.

A final check over by the studio manager and the artwork is ready for the client approval stage. Photocopies of the base artwork and colour overlay is either delivered via post, dropped off by hand or in this case sent by fax, as it’s an urgent job!

With any luck the client will approve the artwork and it will be released to the repro department, that’s as long as the client doesn’t decide to make any changes…….and that’s about it! All this work for just a single page artwork.
Can you imagine how much work and time was involved in creating a brochure or a multi-page magazine?!

So, there you have it! An insight into the inner workings of a 1980’s design studio. What a time consuming, lengthy process it was! With many of the materials and components having to be paid for, it was often an expensive process too!

Back to the original question though……..and how the process of creating artwork has evolved and the dramatic changes that have taken place.
To compare the two periods, we now need to seek out a present day senior artworker and discover how on earth, a piece of advanced artwork is created on an up-to-date Apple Mac………..I think I know just the person!

The concluding part of this epic saga is coming soon!

By Howard Griffiths

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