An interview with Shirley Chantrell

27.09.13

In the history of British film posters there are few figures as significant and popular as the late, great designer and illustrator Tom Chantrell. After working on his first piece of poster art in 1938, Tom spent most of the next 50 years designing and painting many of the most iconic British posters for films ranging from Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars to European cult oddities like Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession. As Sim Branaghan, the author of British Film Posters (and a good friend of Tom) notes in his biography on the official Tom Chantrell website, the artist had an instinctive grasp of how to sell films to a mass-audience. Combined with his undeniable talent for painting dynamic, colourful images and capturing star likenesses, Tom found his talents in great demand from most of the production companies and distributors that had their offices in the bustling Soho area of central London. It is estimated that Tom worked on in excess of 7000 designs during his career (although not all of these would have seen the inside of a printing press).

Tom Chantrell stands holding the near-finished artwork for Star Wars, arguably his most famous work. Photo taken by his wife Shirley in 1977.

Tom Chantrell stands holding the near-finished artwork for Star Wars, arguably his most famous work. Photo taken by his wife Shirley in 1977.

It’s hard to believe today but it took over two decades before Tom accepted that his work was of any significance, having spent many years feeling that he was ‘just’ a commercial artist moving from job to job. It took the encouragement and dedication of one woman to make Tom realise that his artwork was something worth treasuring. That woman was Shirley Chantrell, his second wife, the mother of his twin daughters, Jaqui and Louise, and his constant companion for just shy of 40 years. Shirley herself has had something of a remarkable life from her beginnings as the daughter of a horticulturist in Singapore, with a brave and fateful voyage to London just shy of her 18th birthday that eventually resulted in a chance meeting with Tom, altering the course of their lives forever.

Shirley Chantrell sitting in front of the original artwork for the Elvis Presley film Wild in the Country, which was painted by her late husband, Tom Chantrell. Photo taken August 2012.

Shirley Chantrell sitting in front of the original artwork for the Elvis Presley film Wild in the Country, which was painted by her late husband, Tom Chantrell. Photo taken August 2012.

Although Tom passed away in 2001, Shirley’s insistence that his work had value beyond just the payment he received for it meant that the Chantrells had amassed an archive consisting of over 40 years worth of material, including original artwork, sketches, posters and plenty of reference items that Tom used to create his work. Having carefully preserved this material since Tom’s death, Shirley decided it was time to share the archive and allow fans of his work to view and purchase select pieces. Last year Chantrellposter.com was launched in collaboration with the respected memorabilia dealer Michael Bloomfield and the result is a treasure trove of Chantrell artefacts that is well worth a visit.

Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of spending time with Shirley and from our very first meeting it became clear that her life story was intrinsically linked with that of her husband’s and that hers had been no less remarkable. Furthermore, I knew that it was a story worth sharing with others and this resulting article is intended to give the reader an insight into Shirley’s life and the four decades she spent with Tom. I have included plenty of never-before-seen photographs, including some amusing reference images that Tom used to create his work.

Shirley, I’d like to start with your early life, if I may. You were born in Singapore?
Yes, in 1944, the year before peace!

What did your parents do?
They were originally from China and my father worked in horticulture and he used to grow seasonal flowers for wholesale. My mum helped with the business and together they would tend to the plants all year round. If there were a big festival coming up they would be calculating how long it would take each flower to get ready for the show and plan everything meticulously. They were growing flowers like Dahlias and Gladiolis and I remember the bulbs were from countries like Holland. Even at a young age I was keen to know all about these other places that seemed so mysterious to me.

Shirley Chantrell (right) and her sister Wai-Chee, aged around 2 years old in 1946.

Shirley Chantrell (right) and her sister Wai-Chee, aged around 4 years old in 1946.

My father used to look after European family houses and he used to grow these lovely flowers in the gardens. He would enter competitions by sending them off to exhibitions and he was so good at it that he actually won several Silver Cups, which he was really proud of.

I remember that when my father was making deliveries around the city he would place me in this big basket that was full of all these flowers, and he would cycle it around with me sat there in the middle of these beautiful colours. I have this vivid memory of a time he passed by the Singapore River to show me these huge boats and we rested and had a coffee together by the waterside.

Shirley Chantrell stands with a selection of toys, aged around 6. Shirley: 'These weren't even my toys - I think they belonged to the children of one of the houses that my father looked after!'

Shirley Chantrell stands with a selection of toys, aged around 7. Shirley: ‘These weren’t even my toys – I think they belonged to some friends of mine.’

You were one of how many children?
I was number six and my mum actually had nine in total. My brother is the eldest and then there are two sisters above me but there were originally two boys who sadly didn’t live past the era of the Japanese occupation of Singapore; they perished because of a wartime epidemic. Below me I have three sisters.

So you were born at the end of the war? Did you understand how tough things had been during it?
Well my mum made it clear that food was scarce. I think they were lucky though because my brother was already eight or nine years old whilst the Japanese were there and he was clever enough to learn to speak their language. They really liked that and used to give him bags of rice, which really helped our family.

When the Japanese came my family were really worried that they’d see we had a connection with those European families – especially the English – so my father actually hid the trophies he’d won in a pond because he’d have been punished if they’d found them. After the war he couldn’t find the trophies again so they must have been taken or gone rotten maybe.

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An interview with Sam Smith, AKA Sam’s Myth

19.06.13

Nashville-based Sam Smith, who works under the moniker Sam’s Myth, is an acclaimed graphic designer and artist who has worked with multiple independent film distributors on official posters for films as diverse as the brilliant 1977 Japanese cult oddity House (for a 2010 re-release) and the sprawling biopic Carlos. In addition, Sam has designed and illustrated screen prints and unofficial posters for film screenings at the likes of Nashville’s celebrated Belcourt Theatre and San Francisco’s famous Castro Theatre.

A true cineaste, Sam’s portfolio overtly reflects his taste in movies since he’ll often elect to work on a poster for a cult, independent or little-seen film of his own choosing, plus he regularly works on packaging and disc menus for the much-loved video label Criterion. On top of this, Sam is an accomplished musician who has drummed for the likes of Ben Folds, Tristen and My So Called Band, and when not working on design projects he can be found on the road with one of these bands. Work on record covers, gig posters and other music-related projects also feature in Sam’s folio.

I first became aware of Sam when I purchased the superb re-release one sheets for House (see below) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sci-fi epic World on a Wire in 2011, and I’ve been following his work ever since then. I wanted to interview Sam for the site at the same time as adding those two posters to my site and the resultant article is below.

The designer, artist and musician Sam Smith, June 2013

The designer, artist and musician Sam Smith, June 2013

House one sheet

The US one sheet for the 2010 re-release of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, designed by Sam’s Myth

 

I’ve split the interview up into six parts and you can use the links below to jump directly to a section, should you wish.

Part 1 – Origins and starting out
Part 2 – Film and music
Part 3 – 
Working methods
Part 4 – Criterion
Part 5 – Posters in detail
Part 6 – Influences, advice and future plans

Part 1 – Origins and starting out

I’d like to start with your origins, if I may? When and where were you born?
I was born in 1981 in Nashville, TN. I’ve lived in Nashville for the bulk of my life, aside from going to school in New York City and touring around the world off and on for the several years after that.


I understand your father is also a designer? Can you talk about his work?
He was and still is an artist who has worked in different mediums, never as a designer per se, but a painter and woodworker and found object artist… All kinds of things. For a period in the 80’s he worked with airbrush creating large, colorful abstract landscapes, patterns and conceptual imagery. His drawing and illustration style has always had an enormous influence on my art. He fostered my obsession with all things visual. Now he lives in the country and makes furniture and things out of reclaimed wood, writes novels and short stories, and draws from time to time.

Before Sunrise and Sunset by Sam's Myth

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset screen prints by Sam’s Myth – Available to purchase here.


How did you start out designing? Did you study it at university?
I’ve always just made art on my own, due in large part most likely to my dad and I working on creative projects all the time when I was a child. I would draw all of the characters and things I was obsessed with– Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Dick Tracy, Roger Rabbit… By the time The Simpsons hit, I had been cartooning and drawing my own comics for several years. In high school, my love for posters began I guess, as I would draw and paste-up posters and flyers for all of my bands’ shows as well as all major school events. I “designed” the album art for my band’s releases, combining art I made, found images and photographs with type, and I found this very enjoyable. I went to New York University for the Cinema Studies program, went on tour after that, and literally stopped making visual art for several years.

What was your first real break into the world of professional design? Was there a first major client?
My first real break was the House poster. After touring for about four years, I had a long break and decided to do something about the fact that I had let my art skills atrophy so severely from not drawing or designing anything for years while I focused on other things. My mom had just built a small art studio in the back yard of the house I grew up in, and I holed up for a week there and forced myself to just crank out some posters. My love for film had grown so much at college, where I earned a degree in writing about film from an academic perspective.

My Neighbor Totoro screen print by Sam's Myth for the Belcourt Theatre, Nashville. 2009

My Neighbor Totoro screen print by Sam’s Myth for the Belcourt Theatre, Nashville. 2009

While touring my writing also declined and I didn’t have a lot of interest in being a film critic. So I figured that making film posters would be a great way to channel my love for films (and for reading and interpreting films) into a visual art project. I made eight to ten designs during those several days that are still some of my favorite things I’ve done. I took them to my friends at the Belcourt Theatre, Nashville’s historic art-house, and showed them what Mondo was doing with collectible movie screen prints in Austin, thinking we could try something similar.

Testing the waters, they agreed to print up some posters for a couple upcoming films– I made screen prints for My Neighbor Totoro and The Human Condition, which was being re-released by Janus Films. Janus also had a digital version of House booked at the Belcourt as a midnight movie and I made a poster. I knew that Janus was supportive of what we were doing at the Belcourt and I’d always dreamed of working with them and with Criterion, their home video wing. My initial goal was to create 25 different posters for HOUSE just to increase my odds of landing on something great that might catch Janus’ attention, but I only made it through a few ideas, and the cat poster was the best. People really responded to it, and the midnight screenings at the Belcourt were a smashing success, so much so that Janus went ahead and planned to strike a new 35mm print and give HOUSE the full run in other theaters.

Janus asked if they could use my poster design as their official one-sheet. That led naturally to a relationship working with Criterion and Janus on an ongoing basis. So I feel I owe everything to the Belcourt and to Janus for giving me that opportunity to see myself as a professional designer of posters.


Have you always been freelance or have you worked in an agency?
I’ve always been freelance. I enjoy the challenge of maintaining a steady stream of professional work but doing so on my own schedule. I do fantasise sometimes about combining powers with other artist friends and forming a sort of collective, all working out of the same studio and sharing gear and tools, helping each other out and, most importantly, playing ping pong. I’ve never really considered working for an agency but wouldn’t rule it out, particularly if it were a movie poster agency which would have its own interesting challenges.

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Tyler Stout on the making of his Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan screen print

29.04.13

When Mondo, the incomparable limited-edition screen print outfit, announced they were opening a gallery in their hometown of Austin, anticipation quickly reached fever pitch, with fans desperate to see what artwork would be on the walls when the doors opened for the first time. The answer was kept secret until the evening of March the 10th, 2012 when the opening night was held and the theme of their first show was revealed to be that of classic sci-fi. Most of Mondo’s premier artists turned in some incredible pieces for the show, as can be seen on this recap blog post on their website and on this SlashFilm post.

One of the highlights of the show was fan-favourite artist Tyler Stout’s print for arguably the best Star Trek film of all time, 1982’s The Wrath of Khan. A brilliantly composed image featuring ‘s unforgettable, titular bad guy, the poster was printed in two flavours; a red and gold regular and a silver and gold variant. Whilst adding the regular version to the Film on Paper collection I wanted to interview the man himself about the creation of the poster.

Tyler Stout's screen print for Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan (1982). This is the regular version.

Tyler Stout’s screen print for Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan (1982). This is the regular version.

Tyler, thanks for agreeing to talk about the creation of this fantastic print. Firstly, I wanted to ask if you were you given free rein to choose the film you wanted to work on for Mondo’s gallery opening show?
I’d actually had Wrath of Khan on my schedule for a while and it just takes me forever to do things sometimes. It ended up getting done around the time of that show I think. I could be completely mis-remembering it.

Is The Wrath of Khan your favourite Star Trek film?
I like many of them, including The Voyage Home with the whales and I really liked The Undiscovered Country with Christopher Plummer as a Klingon. I also enjoyed First Contact since I’m a big Next Generation fan.

Can you talk about your initial design ideas for the poster? Did you always intend to have Khan as the most prominent figure?
For me, and probably most people, Ricardo Montalban’s the standout of the film. I believe I started with him and then kinda designed the poster around his portrait.

A close-up view of Tyler Stout's portrait of Ricardo Montalban's bad guy Khan.

A close-up view of Tyler Stout’s portrait of Ricardo Montalban’s bad guy Khan.

Was the composition something you arrived at quickly? Were there certain elements or characters you knew had to sit next to each other?
It went through a couple versions, mainly the smaller side figure versions, but the overall look stayed pretty consistent.

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An interview with Tom Beauvais

03.04.13

British designer and artist Tom Beauvais is the man behind several classic British posters, including the quads for Fantastic Voyage (1966), Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) and the cult horror film Zombie Flesh Eaters (pictured below). In a career that lasted over forty years, and continued for twenty more after his ‘retirement’, Tom applied his considerable talents to working on marketing for many of the biggest film studios and collaborated directly with filmmakers such as the late, great Stanley Kubrick. In addition, Tom is also a highly skilled architectural illustrator and it’s this area of work that he concentrated on since leaving the design studio that bore his name, Chapman Beauvais Ltd, in 1992.

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to meet and interview the man himself about his life and career and this article is the result. It contains many exclusive images of Tom and his work, including a handful of never-before-seen concept designs for films such as Star Wars and Blade Runner. I have also included images of his detailed architectural illustrations and other relevant photos which I hope the reader will enjoy.

Tom Beauvais stands with the quad poster for Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters, which he both designed and painted in 1979. Photo taken in 2012.

Tom Beauvais stands with the quad poster for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (AKA Zombie), which he both designed and painted in 1979. Photo taken in 2012.

Mad Max - UK one sheet

The UK one sheet for Mad Max, designed and illustrated by Tom Beauvais, 1979

I’ve split the interview up into seven parts and you can use the links below to jump directly to each part, should you wish.

Part 1 – Origins and starting out at Bateman Artists
Part 2 – The art of film marketing
Part 3 – Time for Change: Chapman Beauvais Ltd.
Part 4 – Working with Stanley Kubrick
Part 5 – Architectural illustration and the genetics of artistry
Part 6 – Iconic posters and unused concepts
Part 7 – A kind of retirement

 

Part 1 – Origins and starting out at Bateman Artists

To begin, you were born in 1932 in Belsize Park, North London?
Yes, that’s correct. In 1939 I was evacuated with my sister and we went with our school to Hertfordshire for a couple of years to avoid the blitz. After that our family moved to Egham in Surrey, so I came back from the evacuation to join them and that’s where I had my schooling. I was only about 10 at the time and, well, I failed the exam for the secondary school. I blame the war because I’d missed several years of education.

I ended up going to Kingston Technical School and I did an engineering course for a couple of years there, which was not a great help for an artist but it did give me a really good grounding, and I enjoyed a lot of the practical side of it, which included woodwork, metalwork and that sort of thing. I did reasonably well there and when I left I imagined that I’d become a draughtsman.

Is that what you’d hoped to become when you first chose the course?
Yes, well drawing was always my strongest subject but when I left the college my father, who was a commercial artist himself, told me that there was a potential job going in London. Somebody he knew was on the look out for a junior to join a studio called Bateman Artists that was part of the Allardyce Palmer advertising agency. I remember going along there with specimens of my work and meeting the boss, Bill Bateman. I recall him saying that I shouldn’t worry about drawing and illustration as they had ‘plenty of people who can do that.’ He told me I should learn to do lettering, how to work with typography and practice designing layouts for adverts and posters. ‘With those skills…’ he told me ‘you’ll never be without a job,’

The Allardyce Palmer studio, circa 1955

Tom Beauvais (front) working at his desk in the Bateman Artists studio, circa 1955. Behind him sits Tom Chantrell (left), Sid Townsend (right) and Les Coggins in the far back.

I started the job as an apprentice and in the beginning I was making cups of tea and buying cigarettes, as well as running studio errands all over London. After a while I was given jobs like trimming out bits of artwork and I was learning all the time about the business of creating graphic art. I recall there were about twelve artists working there and before I had started my father had told me that they were a clever crowd. True enough, you’d look over the shoulder of one of them working, perhaps doing some lettering or retouching a photograph, and it’s amazing how quickly you could learn just by following their example.

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An Interview with Brian Bysouth

20.12.12

British designer and artist Brian Bysouth is responsible for some of the most iconic film posters ever printed. In a career lasting over forty years he lent his considerable talents to a wide range of design projects, including product and service adverts, editorial, TV storyboards, VHS and DVD covers and hundreds of fantastic film posters. Over the past year I’ve been lucky to get to spend time with Brian discussing his work and career and I’m very proud to present the following interview article that details his life from his beginnings as a fledgling artist through to his retirement in 2002. It features many images of his brilliant work, including early sketches and the original artwork for several posters. There are also a handful of unused designs and concepts, many of which have never been seen before online.

Brian Bysouth with the original sketch for The Living Daylights poster, 2012

Brian Bysouth with the original coloured rough (sketch) for The Living Daylights poster (1987), photograph taken in 2012

The British quad for Big Trouble in Little China, designed and painted by Brian Bysouth, 1986

The British quad for Big Trouble in Little China, designed and painted by Brian Bysouth, 1986

I’ve split the interview into seven parts and you can use the links below to jump quickly to each section if you wish.

Part 1 – Origins
Part 2 – Starting out – Downtons
Part 3 – Rapier Arts and then a return to Downtons
Part 4 – Going freelance
Part 5 – Bysouth and Hayer Associates
Part 6 – FEREF
Part 7 – The end at FEREF and retirement

Part 1 – Origins

I’d like to start with your origins and I understand you were born in October 1936 in London. Your mother was a fashion artist?
Yes, I remember when I was very young seeing some of her work and, looking back, I think it was pretty good. She worked for a firm just off Oxford Street in London, which was the capital of the rag trade then. This would have been whilst my father was away during the war. She always encouraged me to draw and often gave me paints and paper. Most of my time was spent sketching or drawing something.

I had an old watercolour box that a relative had given me and sometimes at the weekends I would fetch some paper and sit up in bed to draw and paint instead of getting up. I really enjoyed it and it absorbed most of my time.

Incidentally, when my mother died a couple of years ago we were clearing out her things and we found one of my old paintings that she had kept. When I was about seven she took me to see the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and afterwards I painted a picture of the dwarves’ mine. It was studded with great gobs of paint, which were meant to represent the jewels.

You’d spend every moment you could sketching and painting when you weren’t at school?
I suppose I did, but I was out with my friends playing cricket and football and later on getting into mischief. I think painting in my spare time subsided a bit in my early teens, but I was encouraged at school by our art teacher, a Mr. Thompson, who was a very nice man. He’d been in the RAF during the war and had a huge military moustache. I think he liked some of the lads in the class that he judged to be talented. He would sometimes pick out our work and say to the class, ‘this is how you should do it.’

Eventually the Eleven-plus came around and I didn’t do very well. I suppose I was reasonably good academically until about the age of nine or ten, but I remember when my father came back from serving in the war it was quite a traumatic time. He’d gone away in 1939 when I was three, and had been involved at Dunkirk. When he came back my mother persuaded him to apply for a commission and he was posted to India, then to West Africa and I didn’t see him until the end of the war. By that time I didn’t really know him and he didn’t know me. After he came home my two sisters were born and my parents were so occupied with them I was allowed freedom to neglect my schoolwork.

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