my mum, aged 23
tomorrow, march 10th was my mum's birthday so i thought i'd celebrate her a bit and show you the lady who made me!my mum's name was jill, she was a petite, redhead whose lack of height was made up for in personality. she had a quick wit and was a knockout at quiz nights and crosswords, and i have her to thank for the enormous amount of trivia i know as well as my creativity. of course i could talk forever about how fab she was, but i'm going to focus on her work, because i think about her and her work a lot now i'm in a similar position. further down i'll tell you about my mum's own thoughts on her work at the age i'm at now.
at 21, on her wedding day
mum left school early to go to art school, where she studied to become a graphic designer. she worked in a number of companies - ad agencies, a television station, a children's footwear company and a technical college where she worked for 20 years! it was always so much fun to visit her work and admire all the tools she used before computers. my favorites were the letraset, the windsor and newton inks (which still have the same packaging!) and the pens and compressed air used for airbrushing. i liked the way ice formed on the air can, and i learned the hard way that if you're gonna lick that ice, be prepared to be marched down to the water fountain to have your tongue defrosted from the frozen can: embarrassing!
snakes on a dame: on honeymoon in bangkok.
i used to visit mum's office a lot, and spent lots of time there during school holidays. she worked for the government in a technical college, making their educational materials. the department she was in comprised of all kinds of fun stuff aside from the designer's studio. there was the film studio (with prop and costume departments!), the editing suite, the audio studio and an excellent photography department, so holiday visits there for me were a wonderland of activities. i used to hang out with the audio guys and they'd make tapes of me singing nursery rhymes, or i'd play in the editing suite and go crazy using the chromakey (green screen), i made animations in the film studio and developed my blurry photos of my feet in the dark room.
photos of my mum, a lithograph by her, and her bamboo page art brush
mum's work was just as diverse as my amusements. though she was principally a graphic artist, she was also called on to direct, edit and even write some of the educational videos. i used to love spending time in the editing suite with her, it was so dark and quiet. it was a good place to talk. i still have a fondness for studio egg crate style insulation foam, peg board and the smell of tape and electrical equipment, not to mention design tools! when my mum died i inherited her tools, so i really relish the opportunity to hand draw something knowing i'm working with her french curves, or her brush etc.
mum working at her desk, from the "register of women in non-traditional occupations"
she was even featured in a book produced by her work in 1978: "register of women in non-traditional occupations". its quite funny to look through now, considering a lot of the jobs talked about are no longer particularly exotic: real estate agent, lecturer, politician etc.
the index listing the "non-traditional occupations"
the page featuring her says:
jill is a graphic artist in an educational organisation. she is 27 years old.
"my work involves visual work for television - any lettering, illustration or animation needed for a television program. i won a scholarship to art school while i was still at school and did five years at art school working freelance in advertising agencies and industrial design firms. the qualification gave me a wide range of training and gives me access to employment"
"my being female was a bit of a handicap in private industry, but not in this organisation. people didn't take me quite a as seriously as they would a man. if i had wanted to make a career in advertising its doubtful if i would have been able to become an art director. the women tended to be given the quick paste up jobs, not the long term or demanding jobs that required liaison with the client. here i have more freedom to do that work.
i haven't thought about being in an unusual situation, despite my previous experience of being the only women in the workplace in private industry. i would like to set up my own business eventually and see myself as someone committed to a career. people with whom i work still assume that i'll leave soon and have children, but i'm a permanent worker. i assume i'll continue to have a career, not just a hobby, and i'll fit in all the other things i do in my life as well."
way to go mum! she was a permanent worker, too. after i was born she returned to work and my dad was the one to stay at home with me, which in 1982 was not unheard of but quite out of the ordinary. its so interesting to have this record of what it was like for her at work, and what she expected from her job and life. its very easy to take being a female designer for granted these days. that book was published four years before i was born, when my mum was 27, the same age i am now. its interesting comparing our lives, in parallel.
so happy birthday ma, wherever you may be. i'll be having a pimm's and dry ginger in your honor.