LIVING THE PERFECT DREAM:
HOW I BECAME A GRAPHIC DESIGNER
We all have a decision to make on what career we want to pursue when our schooldays are done. For some, it’s a difficult decision for others it’s pretty straight forward. Back in the late 1970s, most people in Mansfield would end up in the coalmines or in factory work, but I had bigger dreams!
This is how I became a graphic designer.
I was due to leave school in the Summer of 1979, and I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer. I had always been good at art and for me, it was a real passion – I didn’t want to do anything else! I’d already enrolled in the local art college to move this forward, but sadly after a few weeks I was called into the Principal’s Office and told my exam results didn’t live up to their expectations, so I now had to rethink my future!!
I had to go and sign on the dole which for me back then was £7 a week. At least 2-3 times a week, I called into the Job Centre to filter through the jobs that were available. At least once a month, I had to report in to see the Disabled Employment Officer who was a nice lady called Evelyn Bagshaw, who knew I was restricted to what jobs I could do because I couldn’t stand for great lengths of time because of my artificial leg.
Before you knew it a year had passed and in January 1981, I signed up to join a group of local people looking into problems disabled people had in accessing shops, cinemas, pubs, etc. This did me a world of good because it brought me out of my shell a lot and gave me a chance to get out of the house 5 days a week too, which was a Godsend for both my mum and me ‘cos we were driving each other barmy!!
It was a government scheme that was supposed to last for 12 months, but it eventually came to an end in April 1982, where we finally produced a report with our findings for Nottinghamshire County Council. However, I must say I enjoyed the experience and met some wonderful people too. After that, it was back to the Job Centre and Mrs Bagshaw, to renew my search for becoming a graphic designer!
I remember it was on a Thursday morning, I had another meeting with Mrs Bagshaw at the Job Centre. I think it was towards the end of May 1983. As usual, we’d speak about various office jobs, but I would always end up talking about graphic design. She bluntly told me, as she did on many previous occasions, there wasn’t much call for graphic designers in Mansfield, so I asked her to persevere and she said she would.
I’d caught the bus home as usual and I’d barely stepped through the door when the phone rang. My mum shouted me and said that it was Mrs Bagshaw on the phone. She wanted me to go straight back down to the Job Centre as she had something I’d be interested in!!
So wasting no time at all, I went back into town on the bus to the Job Centre. Mrs Bagshaw saw me coming in and called me straight into her office. She said that she didn’t want to tell me anything over the phone as such, but gladly announced that a graphic design job had come in within minutes of me leaving the Job Centre earlier that day! Who could believe it?
As I took a seat, she announced it was for Mansfield District Council, but it was only a 12-month government scheme. I didn’t really want to go on another government scheme, but it was graphic design and £50 a week – what did I have to moan about?
At this point, I have to mention that a pint of beer was only 50p and a pack of 20 cigarettes were only £1, so £50 a week was a princely sum to me! Mrs Bagshaw got straight on the phone and arranged an interview for me the following Monday afternoon.
As far as I was concerned, the interview could not come soon enough. I had to go to see a certain David Denton, Head of Leisure Services who was based in the Old Children’s Library at the side of the alleyway that leads to Mansfield Museum. My interview was at 1.30 pm and at first, I was a little nervous, but everything went really well.
After getting home later that day, I received another phone call from Mrs Bagshaw at the Job Centre, who told me that she received a call from Mr. Denton who said he was ‘blown away’ by my interview and wanted me to start the following Monday. He also told Mrs. Bagshaw that he didn’t want to interview anyone else because I was ideal. I was thrilled to say the least.
I remember my first day, as if it was yesterday. I reported for duty at 8.30 am and was greeted by Mr Denton who introduced me to all the staff before leading me out of the office and into a dark and dingy side room, which was full of old council ledger books which he wanted me to tidy up as they were scattered everywhere!
He then pointed to a pile of hardboard sheets and to a room further down where I’d find a joiner who would lend me a jigsaw and a drill. So there I was stood in a suit with a shirt and tie, etc and my first day on the job was spent sawing up all these hardboard sheets and drilling holes into them!!
In fact, it wasn’t until later that first week that I actually got to do any graphic design work and one of my first tasks was to produce a poster advertising a Fun Run. This poster would then be printed off and glued to all the boards I had made earlier that week which would then be tied around lamp posts as route markers! It was at this moment, I knew that I decided to dress down to go to work in the future, ie jeans and a t-shirt as you never knew what your day would involve!!
Also, back then creating something as simple as a poster was not as easy as it is today! There were no computers or anything. I started off with a few packs of Letraset (transfer lettering) and as much paper as I could eat!!
Thankfully, we had just acquired a photocopier that could reduce and enlarge, so this made life a little simpler because I could create larger headlines and sub-headlines without too much bother. Once I’d got these, I could sit at my desk and map out my design and paste it all into place including drawing my own illustrations!!
From there, the final paste-up design was put onto the photocopier and enlarged to print A3 posters or reduced to make A5 leaflets usually on some bright coloured paper. That was the old way, that was how it was done before computers arrived on the scene in the late 1980s.
Before I knew it, my year at the Council had flown by and it had encompassed many different things including producing a local poetry magazine called ‘Musings from Mansfield’ and to top it off I even got to stage monthly poetry evenings too!
Whatever I did that year paid off. I was taken on temporary contracts for another 3 months before I was made a permanent employee, but not at Leisure Services!!
My services were courted by Robert Salmon who was employed as a printer at the Manor House depot of Mansfield District Council. We had met within a few months of me arriving at Leisure Services and he always wanted me to come and work alongside him, so eventually, in June 1984, he got his wish.
I HAD MADE IT. MY DREAM OF BECOMING A GRAPHIC DESIGNER HAD COME TRUE! So much so that I spent 24 years working for Mansfield District Council until redundancy forced me to leave on 26th January 2007.
Armed with a year’s wages to go with, I decided there was only one thing I wanted to do and that was to continue as a graphic designer and so Cloud 9 Design was born and I was on my way to becoming self-employed.
13 years+ down the line and I’m happy to report that I am still here doing the job I was born to do, the job I will always love doing until my dying day! No qualifications, no college, just self-belief, hard work and the ability to learn new things on my journey. But in saying that, I will always be eternally grateful to Evelyn Bagshaw at Mansfield Job Centre and Robert Salmon at Mansfield District Council for always believing in me!
To give you a clearer idea of what graphic design was really like in the early 1980s, watch these videos ...