In my house I have my favourite Picasso and Gabo sculptures.

Also my favourite Magritte and Ruscha paintings.

And my favourite Hausmann and Starn Brothers photography.

Except I don’t, it’s all fake.

When people come over, I love to talk about it.

But not about the art that’s been copied.

I love to talk about the way it’s been copied.

For me that’s more interesting.

How it all started was I was copying an old oil painting from a book.

I wanted it 6 feet long by 3 feet high, so I scaled it up onto a canvas and started painting it.

I wasn’t doing a very good job.

Then a friend of mine, a brilliant painter called Chris, said let him do it.

And in a week he’d copied it perfectly.

But his copy looked too new, the colours were too vibrant.

I asked him if he could make it look older.

So, first he covered it in a layer of oil-based varnish.

Then he covered that in a layer of water-based varnish.

Water and oil dry at different rates.

So in a couple of days the entire varnish had thousands of tiny cracks.

Chris rubbed burnt-umber paint over the entire surface.

Then he cleaned it all off with white spirit.

But the burnt umber stayed in all the tiny cracks.

So the entire painting now looked at least two hundred years old.

I began to wonder what else Chris could copy.

In Paris, I’d seen a Picasso sculpture made out of rusty mild steel.

Chris couldn’t work in steel, but he knew how to fake it.

He made the sculpture out of clay, then covered it in dark grey paint.

Then he got several pencils and took out the graphite cores.

He sanded the cores down until they were just piles of dust.

Then he rubbed the graphite dust all over the sculpture.

The semi-sheen made it look exactly like mild steel.

And he painted spots of orange onto that to make it appear rusty.

Chris did a great job on everything I asked him to do.

Of course everything I wanted copied started life as someone’s idea.

That’s the white-collar part.

That’s the part that’s just about thinking.

What Chris brought to the things he made was the blue-collar part.

The understanding of materials.

The creative possibilities that exist outside mere theory.

That’s the part that fascinates me more than the art that was copied.

The way it was copied.

The ingenuity.

That’s what we seem to have lost from creativity.

No one comes up through the ranks anymore, so no one knows the actual skills involved.

Gordon Smith does.

He started as a messenger, then worked in the studio, then assistant art director, then art director, then head of art.

When Gordon asks someone to do something he knows as much about doing it as the person he’s asked.

Nowadays everyone goes straight onto an advertising course.

Then straight into a job as a copywriter or art director.

When they have an idea they have to ask a specialist if it can be done.

They don’t know what can and can’t be done, so they can’t be creative in that area.

And they lose out on an awful lot of creative opportunities.

Years ago, we had the LWT account.

We wanted to run a 48-sheet poster every week, for about 70 weeks.

But it took several weeks to print a single full-colour poster, because each colour has its own plate.

And each plate was a separate print run.

Because Gordon had worked his way through every level of the job he knew this.

He said, let’s print the posters in black and white, then it’s only one plate, then it’s less than a week.

The client said no, he wanted his logo in full colour.

Gordon said okay, we’ll print off 70 weeks of posters with nothing but a full colour logo in the corner, and store them in a warehouse.

Then each week take some of those and print the black plate.

That way we get a full-colour poster, but it only takes a week to print.

And it worked.

Over several years we won several D&AD awards with that campaign.

Which wouldn’t even have happened if we’d relied on white-collar creativity.


Luckily we used blue-collar creativity.