A Day With Alexandra Taylor – By @Benedicttatham

Benedict Tatham

By Benedict Tatham


A Day With Alexandra Taylor.

Today was one of the biggest learning curves of my time at SCA.

Alexandra Taylor joined the Art Directors for a masterclass in everything visual.

There was a slight air of apprehension and uncertainty before she arrived.

Some students were nervously crowded around the printer in an disorderly queue, whilst others franticly pinned there work to put up on the wall before Alexandra arrived.

And with the last pin going in just as she walked through the door, she turned her head, glance at the wall and muttered, ‘Good.’

Well as we expected, she was a straight up, no bullshit kind of woman.

And she would admit to us early on in the talk that her personality would sometimes make her a little unpopular around the office.

But Alexandra was never in the ad game to be liked, she was in it to make great work, whatever the cost maybe. Ultimately that’s why she’s so respected and why her work was so fantastic.

Not only was her work fantastic but she was also a brilliant lecturer.

A lot of the great Ad people who come to SCA chat a bit about this and that, give some vague impression of their work and then sell their book to us at the end.

But Alexandra, perhaps more than anyone else we’ve encountered on the course, dissected each piece of work with meticulous detail.

This was what really made the session so invaluable for me. I’ve learned more about Art Direction in one day than I have on the entire course.

Everything matters on the page, nothing should be overlooked. We as creatives have to keep justifying our work.

Why that type? What does it say about the brand? Could it be bigger? Smaller? Could the colours be stronger? Could we split the page up? Turn it upside down?

There are a million and one variations that we should all be exploring and this is something we all know we haven’t been doing enough.

Get off the Mac! Scamp scamp scamp scamp scamp, scamp, then Mac, then scamp scamp scamp scamp scamp scamp, scamp, scamp, scamp, scamp, then craft the hell out of it.

Print it out in twenty variations, put it to one side and try another route. Repeat the process.

When doing this we have to attempt to push the boundaries and strive to make something ‘new.’

There was a lot of emphasis on the ‘new’ and this came across most frequently amongst the Art Directors in the interviews she played us.

The interviews were very insightful as well. I can’t go into detail about those because I’ve just realised that I’ve got ten pages of notes in front of me and I haven’t even glanced at them yet.

So I better make a list or you’ll be here forever.

1. Everything must have a reason to be there and it must enhance the communication of the piece.

2. Experiment to the nth degree, print everything out, if it’s not printed it’s not real.

3. Surround yourself with the best – Alexandra knew that Paul Arden was the only person she wanted to learn from.

4. Know everyone and everything about the industry. So that’s your favourite poster is it? What do you like about it? Who directed it? Who wrote the copy? Who shot it? Where was it shot? What year was it made? What agency? What font is that? Why is the logo there? etc.

5. Be kind to accidents because they might just be a sprinkle of unexpected gold dust.

6. It’s always your responsibility to make sure the works good, no one else.

7. Be pedantic about everything in your work – why that tea cup? Why that pattern on it? What does it say? It’s not quite right let’s get another one. What about the saucer? Does it make the picture feel too dated? Could we move it two inches to the left? What about the table cloth? In one campaign Alexandra looked through eighty ties before she got the one she wanted.

8. Don’t cut corners. Go out and buy exactly what you need to make sure you get the shot you want. Alexandra made sure she had real Army men for her British Army Ads because she knew it would (A). Make it more realistic and (B). They would respond well to instructions.

9. Alway’s aim to have one frame that will be remembered by the viewer.

10. Start with the end visual – it sets the tone.

11. Keep thinking, ‘Where is the eye taking me?”

12. Every great ad has to have a great idea behind it first. (Not always for Fink, but you’re not Fink)

13. Throw yourself in the deep end. Alexandra directed her first TV ad for the British Army barely knowing which way round to hold the camera.

14. Take inspiration from everywhere and everything. You never know when it could will help you.

15. Interrogate the problem – Alexandra nonchalantly said how she interviewed her cast for the British army every Friday morning to get the details she needed.

16. Learn it all, shoot, direct, illustrate, design.

17. Every art direction problem is solved by looking back at the problem**

18. Rob Gage make copy that stands out “Hitler was right”

19. Newness is something that you’ve never seen before.

20. If you wish to be adored by everyone around you your work will probably suffer.

21. Get the right pen

22. The copy doesn’t have to be big. If they like the visual they’ll read the copy.

23. If you’re stuck for layout than find a photocopy of something and just blow it up twenty times.

24. ECD’s are very very rarely pleased.

25. know your history.

26. The best advertising might be on your local street. E.g The market stall man who put his tomatoes on tissue paper instead of big trays. Same tomatoes, different result.

This is by no means everything but it’s a start.

The passion, the wisdom, the drive and energy she gave was truly inspirational – did she even sit down the whole day??

One thing I would like to say is that it was really great seeing everyones work up on the walls today.

It was the first time all year that we really chatted openly about each others work, no one got hurt or offended, it can only help!

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