As anyone who knows me moderately well will tell you, my favorite illustrator is Gerald Scarfe. I absolutely love his work, and as well as his ability to make it work successfully in so many different markets. Editorial illustration, political cartoons, character design, animation, set design--Gerald has done it all, and done it all very well. He is a true inspiration to me. And, weirdly enough, we both felt pressure not to pursue art by our fathers. He was talked into banking, and for me it was forensic science--both were horrible ideas. In Gerald’s case he failed his interviews and ended up as a graphic designer at an advertising studio. While it taught him to draw everything under the sun, he was upset at the idea of drawing everything in an idealized way when he really wanted to tell the truth. He wanted to break away from commercial art and go back to the cartoons he had drawn as a child and a teenager. Unsure of how to go about it, he planned on getting advice from his favorite (and rather prolific) illustrator, Ronald Searle.
So Gerald would ride his bike to Searle’s house, all the time thinking of what to say as he was riding. He would finally arrive at the house to be met at the gate by an ominous doorbell which, by that time, he wouldn’t have the courage to ring. After riding around in circles for a bit he would finally return home. Many years later Gerald’s wonderful wife Jane set up a surprise birthday meeting between Gerald and Ronald Searle and his wife. When Gerald arrived there was a small package on his plate. He opened it to find a doorbell mounted on a small block of marble with a note attached: “Gerry Scarfe, Please ring--anytime. RS” How do I know this story? Well, several ways. One, because I read it in Gerald’s book, Drawing Blood (which I highly recommend), and two, from Gerald himself.
My first year at SCAD I was required to conduct an interview with a working illustrator as part of an assignment in one of my illustration courses. I emailed Gerald, fully expecting to never receive a response because, hey, he’s a pretty busy guy. I was pleasantly surprised to get an email back answering all of my questions and wishing me luck with my career. My department got very excited that Gerald had responded to one of their students and sought to try to bring him out to SCAD for a lecture. He came the next April, and because I had been responsible for initiating contact, I was allowed to accompany him, his wife, and several of my professors to dinner. While there Gerald related his story about going to visit Ronald Searle, with one little addition--when he reached the part about arriving at his house he said, while putting his hand on my shoulder, “…and unlike Anna, I didn’t have the courage to ring the doorbell.” That was about the best moment of my life…until my trip out to England.
Thank you, Gerald, for making my ridiculous tuition payments worth it...Gerald has a great in-home studio. It’s large with lots of natural light, and plenty of wall space for posting up mock ups of drawings and such. It was actually pretty distracting for me since I was surrounded by work I respect and love so much, in addition to the person that produced it. I could turn to my left and see a model for one of the masks from the Los Angeles Opera’s stage version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and then look to my right and see a mask from the film version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Gerald told me about his upcoming projects--two separate shows in Germany, plus he’s helping to curate an exhibition at the Tate Britain next year, and is in talks with Pink Floyd for putting together a book of all the illustration work he’s done for them. I also got to show him my portfolio, as well as the children’s book I’m working on getting published.
Since I was going to be in the neighborhood, I decided to email Gerald to see if there was the possibility of meeting up for another visit. As luck would have it, Gerald was able to spare a bit of time to see me. Even better, I got to visit him in his home studio. Meaning I had to ring the bell when I arrived, of course…
So the moral of the story, kids, is to never be afraid to ring the doorbell because you never know what might happen.