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A n d   S o m e   * * * * * *   

H a s  S t o l e n   I t   

F r o m   M y   O f f i c e ! 

Back in 1989, when I began painting, I was searching for a buoyant niche art market and a subject matter that interested me. To answer those two criteria, I plumped for motor racing and in particular, the world of rallying. Somehow or other, I wanted to put as much  movement as possible into the cars, careering along the roads – a basic requirement I felt was absolutely necessary, if I was to paint successful action paintings. I knew it would be hard, especially since I had just started painting, however, having 'discovered' acrylic paints, I could see and imagine the medium allowing me the flexibility of techniques to achieve the life in the picture that I wanted to capture.

I assembled some great research material to do with the RAC Rally, and I decided to have my first car, a Lancia Delta HF Integrale, driven by Juha Kankkunen, ploughing through a river and causing a water splash, driving straight at the viewer, with all of its lights blazing.

Having painted the picture, which I felt had turned out reasonably well, I decided to have an expensive lithographic print run produced for sale through racing magazines; I chose a fantastic firm in Abingdon, which has now closed its doors, and has been replaced with a supermarket.

When the time came to check the proof at the print works, I followed the print manager down to the lithographic presses. I was staggered by the size of the gargantuan Heidelberg Offset Litho Printing Machines - they were absolutely intimidating.

The manager led me to a large inclined light table and showed me my painting printed off by the Heidelberg. I stared at about 5 samples and he asked me to comment on them and, if satisfied with the reproduction quality, to sign off one of the samples, which would have all the colour technical specifications attached to it. I thought deeply about this: Sign it off to print it for real? Oh, my gawd! I looked around the Heidelberg press and its technicians. Oh, no! They're all staring at waiting for me to say yes! I felt like the guy in the Del Monte advert, as I continued to stare helplessly at the prints. They all look the same! I picked the one I thought was the nearest to my original, swallowed hard and said, ‘This one... I think.’ I could see the print manager's eyebrows rise in the air, but he didn't say anything. He reached over and took the print and put it on his large cutting table. With a craft knife he carefully cut off the whole of the white border and then put the shrunk print back alongside my original painting. ‘Now what do you think?’ he confidently asked, his question filled with all-knowing printing experience.

I stared at the print, then the painting, then the print, then the painting once more. I could not believe my eyes – the whole print was too red, suffering from an overdose of magenta – it looked awful! ‘You see,’ he said, ‘the white border plays tricks with your eyes; never EVER have a white border around your picture to assess its colour match with an original.’

That was a fundamental and valued lesson I learnt from my printing expert – and I have NEVER forgotten it. The manager adjusted the magenta setting at the end of the monster Heidelberg and then pressed the print button for what seemed a few seconds. In that time at least 25 prints appeared in front of me. Wow! It was so quick! We repeated the process of checking the prints, without the white border and with the new setting. The manager seemed satisfied with the colour balance of the final prints, and I was happy with it too, seeing how pretty darned close to the original it was. Another lesson I learnt, was not to expect an exact replica of your painting – it would always be a compromise – a pretty good one in my case due to the expertise of the press operator. The dreaded magenta seemed to be the colour that can make or break your print.

The Heidelberg was finally set alive just for me, and my pile of prints arrived in front of me in a few seconds – it was again astonishingly quick - but then, these presses were used for large runs of books, magazines and brochures, and my run was so piddingly small!

Once my beautiful prints were delivered, I set about advertising them in motor racing magazines, crossing my fingers that someone would be interested in my picture. I held my breath – remember, back in the early 90s there was no internet, so all sales had to be through mail order with customers either sending in an order, filling in a magazine form, or phoning me up to get their print. It was also in the days of Visa card roller machines that used the multi-layer sale receipt – it was guaranteed to jam as you ran the roller across the crinkly paper, making a 'scrunching' sound as you prayed it made a legible impression of the card below. If someone phoned in an order, I had my own special card to use for that type of order.

Thankfully, AUTOSPLASH was a success and people wanted it!

One day I received a call from someone who wanted a print and he turned out to be the old format, Top Gear producer – the one that had Quentin Wilson in it. He duly received his print and several weeks went past. Then I got another call from him wanting one more print. I asked if it was for someone else in the office and he laughed and said, ‘No, it isn't, it's for me because some ******* has stolen the other one from my office!’ At least he could laugh about it.

     The final surprise connection of the AUTOSPLASH print with the TOP GEAR show came when I was watching the programme, and Quentin Wilson was doing a report about car insurance. He was seated at a desk in the Pebble Mill studio, looking directly at the camera. I could see the corners of a frame behind him, but I couldn't see the picture… until the camera started panning around to the left, and then... AUTOSPLASH gradually came into view! ‘Wow,’ I shouted to my family, with me jumping up and down in the lounge. ‘My print is on TOP GEAR!’


After my excitement, I thought, At least that one hadn't been 'lifted'... well, not yet anyway!