CR Blog

Alison Carmichael: Exquisite Handjobs

Advertising, Graphic Design, Photography

Posted by Gavin Lucas, 1 April 2009, 16:17    Permalink    Comments (25)


Clean Me, the first in a new series of self-promotional prints. "We projected my artwork on to the back of the van so I could trace it in the dirt with my finger," Carmichael explains. Copywriter: Sean Doyle. Art director: Mark Denton. Photography: seanandben.com

Alison Carmichael has practically cornered the market for hand-lettering in UK advertising. CR's Gavin Lucas met her to find out the secret of her success...

Hand-lettering artist Alison Carmichael first came to our attention here at CR four years ago when we received a baby pink screenprinted poster bearing the word ‘cunt’, in beautifully drawn, ornately decorative script, along with the line, ‘words look much nicer when they're hand lettered’. The poster, which was conceived by Mark Denton Design, made quite an impression: we featured it in our March 2005 issue and it went on to scoop various awards at home and abroad includ­ing Best Direct Mail at the 2006 Design Week awards.


The infamous Cunt poster. Conceived and art directed by Mark Denton and sent out as a piece of direct mail in 2005

Since sending out that unforgettable poster to art directors and other creative types, Carmichael now has an agent, Jelly, and has been working consistently on high-profile print advertising campaigns in the UK for brands including Virgin Atlantic, Stella Artois, Cadbury's and the BBC. But it’s taken over a decade for Carmichael to reach this point in her career. “I’d actually been working for a good eight years before I worked on the Cunt poster with Mark Denton,” she says.


Virgin Atlantic Dubai ad from agency RKCR/Y&R. “When it was shown to an interpreter, we found if the design was tweaked ever so slightly, it read ‘soon’, which tied in perfectly with the message of the ad.” Creatives: Rob Messeter, Mike Crowe


The initial concept for this Peeterman Artois ad was that Carmichael’s artwork would be etched into glass. “In the end it was screenprinted,” says Carmichael. Agency: Lowe London. Creatives: Peter Reid, Carl Broadhurst

Carmichael graduated from Ravensbourne college in 1995 with a degree in graphic design and a penchant for hand-lettering – thanks in part to encouragement from one of her course tutors. A first job as a director’s/art director’s assistant to Harvey Bertram-Brown of production company The New Renaissance gave Carmichael the confidence to get a folio of work together.

“It’s a really hard thing to do,” she says, “to just cold call agencies, to know how to get in there, to know who you should go and see – so that process takes a long time.” But gradually Carmichael’s tenacity paid off. “I did quite a few freebies, honed my skills and had to learn to be completely versatile because that’s really the only way you can survive as a hand-lettering artist. That’s kind of what I learned early on because a lot of my early stuff was this very scripty, girly, curly hand writing. So I spent eight years really working on being able to pull off any style imaginable.”

This versatility, a lack of a particular trademark style, is now one of Carmichael’s most marketable assets, as those she’s worked with will attest. “I first worked with Alison about ten years ago,” says Paul Belford of This Is Real Art. “In fact I think it was her first commercial job, a Christmas campaign for Waterstone’s. Since then she seems to have almost cornered the market for hand-lettering in ads. The reason for this, I think, besides a supreme talent of course, is her versatility. I’m always impressed by the variety of styles when I look at her work. She can turn her hand to pretty much anything.”


This ad for Waterstones was Carmichael's first commercial job - art directed by Paul Belford

Director and designer Mark Denton’s reasons for working time and time again with Carmichael go beyond her penmanship: “The thing I like about Alison is that she’s got loads of energy, she’s fun to have around, she’s a great craftswoman and she’s got loads of different styles. She’s always keen to do stuff, whether it’s a paid job or not. If there’s a creative opportunity, she will leap at it. She always embraces the brief, does a great job – so why would I use someone else?”


Michelle Is A Slag ran as a sponsor ad for the Creative Circle awards 2007. Creatives: Trevor Webb and Ed Morris of Leo Burnett

Carmichael first met Denton when her husband, director Alex Turner, was on the same roster as Denton at production company Godman. “Mark loves working with craft and he has always taken an interest in what I was doing. He got me involved in a few of his projects, like prop making and hand-lettering endlines for some of his ads. We gradually worked on more and more stuff.” Since coming up with the Cunt poster idea as a way for Carmichael to promote her skills to ad agency creatives, Denton, in his recently relinquished capacity of president of the Creative Circle awards, has charged other creatives to write ads for her which have appeared in the last two Creative Circle Annuals. Paul Belford wrote the line we’ve used for the headline of this feature, “Alison Carmichael: Exquisite Handjobs”, for a prostitute card-style ad for her skills, and Trevor Webb of Leo Burnett wrote the ad that sees the words Michelle Is A Slag carved into a school desk. “My strength really is working with someone who can art direct and push me in the right direction, I’m not really an ideas person,” admits Carmichael. “I like to take an idea and hone it and make it what the art director has envisaged or influence the art director to take a project in a certain direction.”


“This Regaine ad was written by Sydney-based agency Clemenger/bbdo and it appeared on lots of blogs so gets referenced a lot. It feels like one of the most popular pieces
I’ve done,” says Carmichael. Creatives: Sean Elvin, Gary Dawson

As well as working on a new self-promotional campaign (with Denton art directing), Carmichael is determined to get into agencies and talk to art directors about hand-lettering, because experience tells her that the quality of the briefs she gets is dependent on the level of understanding art directors have of what her skills can offer. “It’s usually the younger ones that say ‘we don’t want to guide you too much because we want to see what you come up with – can you just do something cool for that endline?’ That’s not a brief! Look at my portfolio, there’s loads of things I could do.”


Alison Carmichael drew the logo for renowned farmers and butchers, Ginger Pig. Design: Allies Design


One of a series of ads created to promote Loyd Grossman cooking sauces. Agency: CHI. Creatives: Matt Pam, Simon Hipwell


Ad for a two-part vegetable growing guide given away with The Guardian and The Observer. Agency: Wieden + Kennedy. Creatives: Ben Everitt, Ida Gronblom

To view more of Carmichael's work, visit her site at alisoncarmichael.com

25 Comments

Alison is as adorable as her work. For the love of good, honest, hand-crafted, Great British lettercraft, commission her!
Henry Griffin
2009-04-01 22:44:47


These are amazing.
Jonathan
2009-04-02 08:28:26


Lovely Stuff.
The Doctor
2009-04-02 09:50:43


I will never forget the 'cunt' poster! Lovely stuff!

I think some more lettering based on Glaswegian slang will be splendid!
Tabrez Ahmad
2009-04-02 12:36:39


I think "cornered" is a bit much ... haven't we all seen some amazing work by Si Scott as well lately?
Ian
2009-04-02 17:23:45


Engaging ideas combined with a quality crafted execution, a winning combo. Some really nice letterforms. If you are interested in script based type, check out: http://www.sudtipos.com/home
Phil Garnham
2009-04-02 20:29:22


Alison Carmichael's 'Cunt' piece, although beautiful, has its genesis in a piece submitted to the NY Art Directors Club some 25 years ago. I can't locate a copy of it but I do remember it vividly. In a similar layout, a beautifully-drawn, ornately decorated "Shit" sits in the middle of a white page. At the bottom ran a single line: "Good execution can't save a bad idea."
Jim McGorman
2009-04-03 14:10:01


Wasn't it Eric Gill in 1919 who carved 'Soapy tit wank' in Corsham stone?
Tofurky
2009-04-03 18:52:29


I remember the piece Jim Gorman is refering to. I think it was in a copy of Upper and Lower case magazine in the early eighties. Herb Lubalin was doing that stuff in the seventies.What's new?
Peter Southworth
2009-04-03 20:02:07


I do love this stuff but I'm with Ian - 'cornered the market' is definitely a bit much. Si Scott, Alex Trochut, Ruth Rowland, Inky Mole, Peter Horridge, Jill Calder (the last four also working hands-on as well as digitally) - there are plenty more out there, all with an amazing array of styles!
Jenny Toolen
2009-04-03 22:18:24


Alison's work rocks! I have worked with her on several commercials and music videos, and everything she touches turns to gold. Nothing phases her when it comes to hand lettering, she is happy working in and on any medium: across china, egg shells, scratching words out of wood, working in chocolate syrup, glitter, even lettering across naked bodies... all genius and all produced perfectly and with maximum efficiency. She is truly inspirational.
Harvey
2009-04-05 15:13:42


It’s so refreshing to see original, creative and exquisite work. Carmichael’s talent and versatility is impressive.
The ‘secret of her success’ is obviously hard work and
a dedication to her craft that has made her talents sort
after in the competitive arena of advertising and design.
Stephen
2009-04-05 23:22:56


I'm not sure any comparisons with Si Scott and Alex Trochut are particularly helpful here, they're equally excellent but completely different in both style and execution.

I think Alison's greatest asset is her adaptability; when I see a piece by Si Scott I instinctively know it's by Si Scott, and the same goes for Alex. No bad thing, but I think that's what makes them illustrators as opposed to typographers, certainly in the sense of how I see Alison to be a typographer. But I ain't no guru.
Words are Pictures
2009-04-06 09:18:58


Also, Marian Bantjes showed some nice things at the Design Indaba this year.

Look here: http://www.bantjes.com
Robert
2009-04-06 09:33:30


Alison, tattoo me!
Gavin Martin
2009-04-06 12:03:02


I think Alison's talent is in her versatility, it's amazing how many styles she creates and in so many mediums – clever lady.
Lucy
2009-04-06 22:23:29


Can she hand pluck the word ouch onto someone's cunt next time. You have to keep pushing the idea dontcha. P.S. She rocks.
Jonny
2009-04-07 15:27:24


Its very rare that commercial Artists are as adaptable and willing to collaborate with other creatives like she is.

I love her and I adore her work.
chris
2009-04-08 11:57:58


i think a wise man once said...

"go to bed with itchy bottom...

...wake up with smelly finger."

i rest my case.
bathe with me
2009-04-08 13:42:34


i think the difference between alisons hand-lettering work and a lot of other typographers is the (hate to say say the buzz-word) but organic process in which it's under-taken. this by it's very nature is artistic, no control "z" function, just her, pen and paper. not only has she the most amazingingly varied portfolio but this it's this natural approach that still remains so refreshing in time of technological advances and over saturation of vector-based art.

like my grandad used to say..

"they don't make em like that anymore."
the back street dentist
2009-04-09 10:19:32


Wooooow!

Imagine what she could do with a few of them clown balloons...

Can i pre-order a badger?
matt pam
2009-04-09 14:16:38


Amazing letterings! I love the work Waterstone and Michelle Is a Slag. Thanks for sharing their images.
Brochure Printing
2009-04-15 05:52:20


Am I the only one that noticed the headline, or is it some kind of inside joke that I just missed -__-
YK
2009-04-22 04:45:43


In hindsight, I guess it could be the writer trying to be clever? I hope so
YK
2009-04-22 04:46:18


Hello back street dentist...just to reassure you, they DO make 'em like that... I'm one of them!

Organic nibs, pencils, felt tips, pens, sticks, brushes, finger-ends, crayons, paper cuts, cake icing, embroidery, print...you name it, I've made my type with it. Oh there is a Wacom pen in there of course, but it's just another tool.

It's left to the likes of Alison and I to keep those traditions alive. Long may we wield our autographic toolboxes.

;)
Sarah J Coleman
2009-05-05 18:31:02


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