Community arts, health & well-being and education seem to be where I gravitate in my creative work. Over the last 20 years I’ve often been engaged by councils, usually via their Community Arts or Community Development teams, to facilitate workshops, youth or community arts projects, or provide illustration such as promotional art, logo design & educational material.
In Tasmania, I’ve collaborated with at various times with Huon, Hobart, Kingborough, South Midlands & Glenorchy Councils since moving here in 2001. As with teachers, I have great respect for the dedicated individuals who work at the forefront of community development. They are often very caring, creative (and resourceful!) people who genuinely want to enable positive opportunities for their communities, despite the bureaucratic restraints of the system they work within.
From 2007 – 2016 I enjoyed a longstanding working relationship with Knox City Council’s community arts team, providing the branding for the annual Knox Arts Festival, illustration for various community education resources, and artwork for what became an award-winning public transport advocacy campaign.
I was first engaged by Knox in 2007 via Anthony McInneny, who I’d previously worked with on a Youth Arts project for Glen Eira Council. I was asked to create a bold, colourful and slightly Seuss-ish look for the Knox Arts Festival marketing, and for the next 7 years this style continued as the festival brand. Each year’s festival had a different theme that tied together community, diversity, environment and the arts. My illustrations were used across all advertising materials, posters, postcards, programs, on canvas banners and even on aprons, T-shirts etc. I also ran continuous cartooning workshops in Ferntree Gully library over the festival weekend. There was something deliciously subversive about being almost completely anonymous at the event, surrounded by my artwork trumpeting itself all over the festival on banners, signage, and the like.
In 2009, as part of Knox’s Waste Education program into the community and primary schools, I was asked to design a family of characters respresenting the 3 different household bins used in the Shire – ie household waste, recycling and green waste. The Bin Family were used as mascots across various print media and on the Council’s website, and I also designed a deck of playing cards based on the ‘Happy Families’ card game of old, except the families were representing different categories of rubbish eg the Can family, the Bottle family, the Hard Waste family and so on. The cards could be downloaded from the Council website, printed and stuck on cardboard, for school students to play with.
In fact the cards were a favourite with my own kids for many years. They’re not on the Knox website anymore, but you can download the whole deck here (If you glue them onto fairly thick cardboard, the cards will last years – ours are still going!)
‘WHO’S ON BOARD’ PUBLIC TRANSPORT CAMPAIGN
In 2010, Knox Council’s communications team devised and delivered a public transport advocacy campaign titled ‘Who’s on Board?’, aimed at getting firm government commitments to better public transport in Melbourne’s east in the lead up to the 2011 State election.
Knox Council briefed me to design a central “mascot” character and a selection of supporting images around which all the marketing would be built. The campaign was a huge success. It generated enormous community interest and media coverage and would go on to win the Best Communication Award at the 2012 Government Communications Australia awards.
In the award submission prepared in support of ‘Who’s on Board?’ (download here), you can see some of the far-reaching applications of the mascot (named Barney Boardman in a Knox schools competition). I was surprised to note that while the document acknowledges that their decision to use cartoons was integral in their marketing strategy (as a way of engaging the community in a potentially dry campaign), nowhere in the document am I credited as the artist. There is a passing mention of the artwork being created “in-house”, which is incorrect: Council out-sourced the art to a professional illustrator (me) who lives interstate and was probably a cheaper option than local illustrators. Sadly this reflects common attitudes about freelance cartoon illustration – that in being “merely” functional, it’s not a particularly valued artform or skill, and the artist’s contribution is expected to remain anonymous unless of course you generate some kind of celebrity for yourself…an option I’ve always found unappealing as I’m really not of a chestbeating temperament.
I like commercial illustration jobs that involve some element of education, that require a clarity of line in order to communicate an immediate message, in a style that is perhaps innocuous but warm enough for people to connect with the content. As an artist who is no stranger to creative complexity, I relish bringing deliberate economy to this style of cartoon drawing, making every small symbol or cliche matter, a hand, a glance in a particular direction, the space between two lines, finding balance with minimal expression.
This particular brief, a booklet on Road Safety for families dropping off / picking up their kids from school, was all the more satisfying because it was about keeping kids safe – something I feel very passionate about.
Professionally, I was challenged by the fact that in the 80s another cartoonist had already illustrated essentially the same booklet, which Knox Council had supplied me & were really just asking me to copy and “update” his work. I felt a moral tangle – solidarity with the previous cartoonist, compassion and yet guilt at my own betrayal, concerns about copyright, my desperate need to pay bills and my disgust at it all being reduced to money and survival. As I applied my own skills to the job, I wondered a lot about the other cartoonist and his life, and this added a whole other depth to my process.
Well, someone has to care about these things, at least momentarily, because generally most people don’t….
Once again, despite my signature on all the drawings and the fact that the booklet is comprised entirely of nothing but artwork, there was no creative credit for myself or the previous artist – “produced by the Local Laws Department, Knox Council”. Perhaps I am a Department of Laws unto myself?
You can download the booklet here if you wish to share it with your school. Personally I think the booklet is a fantastic idea and relevant to the safety of all our young kids.
RESIDENTS RATES BROCHURE
Earlier this year, Knox produced a brochure for residents of the Shire, outlining a breakdown of where spending of rates was occurring. I provided an assortment of generic images that were then placed in the brochure. Knox got the design idea from another council’s rates brochure, but I do think they did a better job on the design of this one, much warmer and user-friendly.
SIDEWALK MOBILITY POSTCARDS
My last job for the Knox team was this series of illustrations which became postcards delivered to Knox residents. The drawings basically depict before / after scenarios reminding residents to keep their gardens off the sidewalks so that people in wheelchairs, scooters, walking frames, strollers etc can enjoy a more pleasant mobile experience as they traverse the suburban thoroughfares.