A life-long fan of drawing from an early age, I only discovered that comics were actually drawn by people (not made in some factory by a machine) when I got my first set of American comics at the age of about seven. Unlike British comics, they had credits for the artists! While I loved the work of Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, etc. I soon discovered I didn’t have the patience to do a whole comic and resorted to single images.
At art school in Liverpool (where my fellow students included Henry Priestman, Peter ‘Budgie’ Clarke and Bill Drummond) I became interested in caricature and conceptual illustrations. After graduating I moved to London with the illustrator Yvonne Gilbert and ended up being her agent at Artist Partners. Shortly after this I co-founded The Artworks illustration agency where Yvonne joined me. I also represented Wilson McLean and Alan Lee, as well as discovering the wood engraver Christopher Wormell.
In the middle of resigning from the agency on a matter of principle, I received a telephone call from Roger Law who invited me to come and work on the ground-breaking television series, Spitting Image. I was one of a small group of caricaturists who drew and sculpted the clay heads that were then moulded in foam.
I had two brilliant years on the show, in spite of having to work in an unheated abandoned banana warehouse in London’s Docklands. Mocked for wearing gloves while sculpting (it was freezing!) Roger and his partner Peter Fluck (both quite tall men) used me to warm up the plasticine we occasionally modelled with. They had designed a workbench that was the right height for them, but too high for me. By placing sacks of plasticine on my chair, I was the correct height and the plasticine was warmed through.
I had done a little bit of teaching in art schools while I was an agent, but after Spitting Image I plunged headlong into academia, running the new postgraduate illustration course at Central St. Martins. From there I went to the University of Brighton, initially to run the illustration course, but later as course leader for both graphic design and illustration. I was blessed with talented students and amongst those I taught were James Jarvis, Jasper Goodall, Laura Stoddart, Jason Ford and Simone Lia, to name but a few.
I gave up my job at Brighton to bring up my daughter when her mother became creative director of Wedgwood. Working again as a freelance illustrator my clients included The Guardian, Evening Standard Magazine, The Telegraph, Tatler, Vogue, Penguin Books, Singapore Airlines and several European advertising agencies. When my daughter was old enough to go to school I went back into education, first at a little art school in Herefordshire then at Camberwell College of Arts in London, where I was the Dean.
While at Spitting Image I wrote radio comedy scripts with a fellow worker, Linton Bocock. We worked mostly on BBC Radio 4’s Weekending (a topical satire show) where we were lucky enough to be taken under the wing of the late, great Harry Thompson. Sadly our writing careers never flourished (unlike those of our contemporaries, Punt and Dennis, Newman and Baddiel). Linton’s theory was that we ruined it by attending the Weekending Christmas Party. All of the other writers kept asking me where Linton was and when I pointed out the pasty faced northerner, they looked a bit surprised. “They thought I was their token black writer, didn’t they?” said Linton, who from then on was referred to as Linton Kwesi Bocock. We tried to write for Spitting Image but were blocked immediately by Roger Law who succinctly summed up the reasons our scripts would not be accepted: “You’re a fucking caricaturist and he’s a fucking puppeteer. Neither of you is a fucking writer. Scripts are written by writers.” Sweet… Roger wasn’t that big a fan of my caricatures either. He took a completed head of Jane Fonda I had spent three days on and threw it in the bin then, for good measure, jumped up and down on it. He occasionally referred to me as the Lord Snowdon of caricaturists. I was just too nice to my subjects.
For the past year I have been working on two research projects: theories on how to teach people to be creative on demand (based on my years of teaching illustrators and designers) and the internationalisation of higher education. I am still fairly passionate about the values of education, in spite of the nincompoop bosses who seem intent on destroying it. I have also been to my first life drawing classes in over thirty years. Good, God, I can still draw!
P.S. If you came here hoping to hear about my work with Robbie Williams, Ian Broudie, Oasis and The Icicle Works, etc. then you don’t want Chris Sharrock the Scouse illustrator and educator, you want Chris Sharrock the Scouse drummer.