Category Archives: Poster Prize for Illustration

Commissioning art posters for the Underground

By Michael Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum since 1998. Michael was one of the judges for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration competition.

Transport for London and its predecessor organisations have been commissioning art posters since 1908, the first acknowledged art image being No need to ask a P’liceman by John Hassall.

No need to ask a p’liceman, by John Hassall, 1908

Frank Pick, appointed Publicity Manager for the Underground Group of companies in 1908, quickly set about applying high standards of advertising content, presentation and display on the stations. Pick recognised that low standards of adult literacy, static passenger revenue and station environments overcrowded with poor quality signage and advertising were destroying clarity. Good design in all its forms would help build a brand that symbolised quality and reliability, and of course stimulate more passenger usage.

Pick presided over commissioning art and design posters for use on London Underground and (from the formation of London Transport in 1933) on buses and trams. The images commissioned were primarily intended to inform passengers of events, places to visit, safety and behaviour messages as well as sometimes to add interest and intrigue to entertain and educate the travelling public.

Say it Underground with a poster, by Christopher Greaves, 1933

The variety of artists and designers commissioned, their artistic style, their experience, their gender and their reputation were of lesser importance than their response to the brief they were set. In a period where the only accessible media were posters, newspapers and magazines, the poster reigned supreme as a mean of mass communication and there was nowhere better for posters to be displayed and their simple messages understood by millions than on Underground stations.

It is acknowledged that the ‘golden age’ of posters ran between 1920 and 1939 (the period between the First and Second World Wars) and so many fantastic images by internationally renowned artists such as Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Freda Lingstrom, Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer were posted on the Underground.

Power – the nerve centre of London’s Underground, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1931

During the 1960s the importance of the art poster declined.  More people owned cars and televisions which in their different ways replaced the use of public transport for visiting cinemas, dance halls, shopping and days out in London or the countryside. There were more pressing priorities for the use of funds than producing ‘pretty’ images.

The art poster largely fell out of use from 1976 until 1986, when a new and enlightened Director of Marketing, Dr Henry Fitzhugh, was appointed and he revived the art programme with some stunning commissions including Tate Gallery by Tube and Highgate Ponds.

The Tate Gallery by Tube, by David Booth of the agency Fine White Line, 1987

With various intervening twists and turns of fortune, I was invited to carry on the tradition in 1998. I am a passionate believer in great poster art and its power to please, annoy or be hated, but never to be ignored!

We have a limited budget for poster commissioning, so it is with great care that we choose artists and subjects. The annual list of subjects reflects what are important objectives for London Transport Museum, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Artists and designers we employ are drawn from the huge array of illustrative and design talent that London hosts. Photographic commissions are largely avoided to differentiate the overwhelming output of that medium from the far less used illustrative approach.

Once a topic and appropriate artist is agreed, meetings take place to explore ideas, formats, budgets and timescales for delivery and display and a full written brief is issued. The chosen artist is invited to submit a series of rough sketches and suggested colour palette and a further meeting takes place to explore the final options for production. When the artwork has been delivered, the next steps are to employ in-house designers to format the artwork into a poster with the approved text and logos ready to submit to Transport for London and City Hall in time for approval.

Continuing the great tradition of commissioning art posters, we also host the biennial Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition, in parternship with the AOI. This year’s exhibition, London Stories, is on display at the Museum until 14 July 2019. The winning poster, London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood, will be displayed across the Underground network.

London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood

Art posters still engage millions of London Underground customers and doubtless persuade some to take additional journeys to featured destinations. These posters are sold in London Transport Museum’s shop to raise revenue to support its charitable objectives, and as we purchase appropriate copyright in perpetuity, we can assure these images will be available for the public to enjoy, and the Museum to use, for ever.

I am so proud to help maintain this ancient, honourable, but still wonderfully relevant job!

Poster Prize for Illustration – Bringing London stories to life

Artist Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, reveals how she brought London stories to life in her stunning promotional image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition.

Mid-century poster design has always been one of my biggest influences and sources of inspiration, therefore I was delighted when London Transport Museum approached me to illustrate their marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories exhibition.

I was told that the image would need to be multi-layered and encompass many narratives and stories. The task in hand seemed rather overwhelming at first, where to start? The list of stories that could be included was infinite. Luckily, I also work in a library, the perfect place to begin. I borrowed a pile of books, made lots of lists and began scribbling ideas.

Julia Allum’s promotional image for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories

I wanted the various elements and stories to be interwoven with one another, and thought pages of an open book would be a way of linking everything together. The design developed organically, the patterns and shapes created from the pages dictated the direction it took. The final image includes about thirty different stories, narratives, myths, landmarks and references to film and literature, plus a parakeet from my award-winning illustration for 2017’s Prize for Illustration: Sounds of the City.

‘Surprise City Sounds’, winner of the Silver Award in 2017’s Prize for Illustration competition

The majority of my illustrations continue to be simple geometric designs, so it was good to push myself out of my comfort zone with this brief for London Transport Museum. Not only has it encouraged me to experiment more and introduce a few more detailed pieces into my portfolio, it has also led directly to new commissions.

Artist Julia Allum.

I’m really looking forward to visiting the upcoming Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition to find out how other artists responded to the London Stories brief, and see their amazing work on display.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, launches on 8 February at our Friday Late. Join us to find out who the winners of this year’s competition are, and immerse yourself in an evening of exciting talks, workshops, and activities to celebrate the many stories of our beautiful city.

Prize for Illustration: Notes from a winner – by Julia Allum

Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, and the artist behind this year’s promotional image, shares how her winning artwork was created, what it was like to take part in the competition and how her career benefited from it.

The AOI’s Poster Prize for Illustration was a competition I had been meaning to enter for quite a few years, but for some reason or another never got round to until 2016. When the call for entries was announced, a commission I was expecting had just fallen through and so I decided to put the extra time to good use.

The theme of the competition was ‘Sounds of the City’, and I wanted to tackle the brief from a different angle and produce something that wasn’t too obvious. After brainstorming several ideas, and being inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens, I decided to focus on wildlife living and thriving in the city. Parakeets seemed the ideal choice: not only do they have a distinctive, incredibly noisy sound, they also bring a little piece of the tropics to urban London.

‘Surprise City Sounds’

The final poster design was a long way from where it began. The image initially developed through scribbles. I then spent a lot of time moving shapes around, and  the design evolved from birds featuring within a cityscape to them being the main focus. I am fascinated by pattern, symmetry and repetition and enjoy exploring shapes and how they fit together to create images. What began as trees, slowly morphed into Transport for London’s roundel, and the final design began to take shape. Influenced by my love of Art Deco posters, my work has changed substantially over the years, it has gradually become more simplified and stylised.

When working on this design I was still in the early stages of this new style and a little unsure about it. In fact I was so unsure about my entry – thinking it was too simple to count as ‘proper’ illustration – that I didn’t tell anyone I had submitted it. It therefore came as a great surprise when I heard that my piece had been shortlisted; never in a million years did I think I would go on to win one of the awards!

In the eighteen months since, I have concentrated on producing work as much as I can; work I enjoy doing, and forging a style that is uniquely mine. In turn this has led to more enquiries and collaborations, including commissions for interior vinyl graphics, travel posters, editorial illustrations, a shopping bag for a national US chain and of course the marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration. Furthermore, towards the end of last year I was in discussion with some dream clients, so I am looking forward to what 2019 may bring.

The Poster Prize for Illustration is such a wonderful platform for illustrators to showcase their work and further their career, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in organising it.

Besides receiving enquiries and commissions, the most important thing I took from the award was confidence and self-belief. This opportunity gave me the push I needed to take my career to the next level. Having my work acknowledged and praised by industry professionals, plus seeing my poster on the London underground gave me such a boost.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, opens at London Transport Museum on 8 February 2019. On the same date, we invite you to join us at our Friday Late launch event, where you can find out who the winners are, and join us as we bring London’s stories to life, engaging the senses through captivating talks, workshops, and activities.