Easy as ABC? NOT!

Easy as ABC? NOT!

Remember last week, I spoke about my can of P’s? And we looked at Predicament? Well, this Tuesday, I thought we would take a look at Product. What is it that you want to produce? Do you want to make something yourself? Or do you want somebody else to make it for you? When we start out, unless we are the Big Cheese, we tend to opt for cobbling it all together ourselves, don’t we? For me personally, I wanted control of my own product – quality and style – so I opted to learn how to do something rather than give the job to another and then give him or her all the money for doing it! 

So Tuesday’s blog rolls back the hours, and I want to take you right back to 1993. Wow! I was living the dream, in Monterey, California. Grace and Mark were nippers. I had walked away from the language school in Germany, lock, stock and barrel. If you missed the post on Predicament last Tuesday, you might want to go back and catch up…You will soon understand why I gave up a booming business! So here I was in America, with a US military lawyer for a husband and not one but two little kids. And my oh my, were they beautiful! I think that these years, before their Dad moved on to greener pastures, were the happiest and best.

I realised whilst over there, that many American children weren’t that familiar with their Nursery Rhymes, and having a linguistic background, I knew that Rhythm and Rhyme were essential for learning to read. Grace and Mark, having an English mother, would recite and chant our little ditties, but their American friends were baffled, and asked, “Who’s Humpty Dumpty?” They were into Barney, the purple dinosaur, and Sesame Street. I had an idea, a lightbulb moment.
 I decided to illustrate a Phonic Rhyme Chart, to help them along a little. In other words, Baa Baa Black Sheep would sit on a B, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would sit on a T, etc.
I wanted it to have an authentic Victorian flavour, because I knew Americans love all things traditionally British.
Then I would write the Rhymes on the back of the chart for the adults, because obviously these poems were not getting handed down, and the parents needed a prompt. 
It would be like a poster, a whole ABC of nursery rhymes, with the letters in the background, and the nursery rhymes on the back. This subliminal Phonic concept was very new at that time, so that was my USP, my Unique Selling Point. You need one of those!  Oh! And it was to be laminated, so that it was robust and could be handled. 

Problem was, I had absolutely no clue how to go about it. Didn’t know the first thing about printing or camera ready artwork. Computers were only just coming in, and life was still pretty mechanical.
So I asked around and found out what I had to do. I think that is important to do. There is always somebody who knows the answers to your questions. Mostly people are more than happy to help and share, so never be afraid to ask.  Apparently, a mechanical paste-up was required. I could see what I wanted in my head, but how to deliver what a printer needed – now that was the challenge….
Sometimes, the only way to learn is to have a go. And that’s just what I did.
Firstly, I decided which Nursery rhymes I wanted to use for my poster. Some of the Mother Goose Rhymes were a little dark, and there just weren’t any for some of the letters, so I wrote my own!
Next, it was drawing time! I printed out a large letter on my Classic Mac (ahh, those were the days…)
Then, I drew the nursery rhyme figures into the shape of the letter on vellum with my old friend, a black micron pen. Here, for example, is Sing a song of sixpence.
Once I was happy with the illustration, I laid another piece of vellum over the drawing and blacked in the actual letter, so that the letters were separate to the pictures.
This was how I learned to create overlays.

Then, when I had illustrated the whole Alphabet in this way, and each layer was stored on a piece of cardboard, and protected, it was time for the mechanical paste-up. This meant buying a great big light table! I remember it as if it was yesterday! I positioned each letter on a huge piece of card, like A1, with remountable spray. Then, I overlayed another piece of huge A1 vellum, and stuck the next layer, the images, down, exactly over their respective letters. Then came the challenge: there was a third A1 layer which had to be taped on top of the other two. And it was this layer that I water-colour painted. So the letters, the images and the colour were all on separate layers, controlled by crop marks. This was what people told me to do, and I just kept asking daft questions until it was obvious even to me.

I liked that it was all in pieces, too. That way, if I made a mistake, or I wasn’t happy with a part of it, I could redo that without having to start all over again. 
 Nowadays, I see how Photoshop and Corel Draw and Illustrator totally work like this. But to figure out a mechanical paste-up of this magnitude was probably the best training camp I could ever have inflicted on myself.  It took many weeks to complete, and not all the artwork passed muster. I think I have a whole second alphabet of letters I changed my mind about!
But look how they are all still pristine in their cardboard sleeves, protected by tracing paper! 20 years old, and still like new. 

 I was sooo excited! 10,000 copies, complete with the poems on the back. That was a lot of money for me, a big investment in those days, so I needed to have a selling plan.

I will never forget the day I watched the posters being printed. It was recommended to me that I always be present at the start of a print-run, to check colours and quality. Top tip. Squeaky wheels get oiled…
And then we bought an industrial laminator and started selling them. And they sold like hotcakes. From coast to coast.  It went crazy! How did we do that? I found a really good sales rep, an old boy, who was totally in love with the product. I think that was key; a good rep. He charged 5% commission on all trade orders. And the fax machine just kept churning out orders. Nowadays, with the power of the Internet, it is so easy by comparison. In those days, we had to pound the pavements. 
We used Grace and Mark to model for us, too! They were on our Business cards, Business Postcards, Mission Statements, everywhere!
My brother came over from England to help me, and we would have to laminate at night in the garage, because the high power machine kept knocking out the electric in the neighbourhood! 
And I guess, that is what I love to do: have an idea and take it through to market.
I remember sitting in a really cool Bookshop in San Francisco, and seeing our laminated Rhyme Charts hanging on their beautiful Display (which we also handmade, and which was also key – to give the shops a Point of Sale), and being so proud. To take an idea, a concept, through to completion and then even sell it, was magical. Especially because I hadn’t had a clue what I was doing!
It was about that time when the old boy, the rep, said to me “What now? You need to follow through.” And I had three possible doors to open:
More rolling back the hours and looking at the business of art next Tuesday. Next week, maybe we should look at P for PRICING…we never know what to charge, do we! 
But tomorrow we will take a look at something new…

51 thoughts on “Easy as ABC? NOT!

  1. Barbara,
    Wow us correct, what a wonderful sharing of yourself. I love your chart and you continue to amaze me, I think Tuesdays may be my favorite blog day. Thanks for today. One day at a time and isn't today fantastic?

  2. Oh I so wish I could express myself as well as you do. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. The beginning that got you started, pictures of your lovely children when they were little and a promise of the next installment. The artwork is as ever stunning. Xx

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this one with us. As a teacher, I learned that if our children learn their nursery rhymes, then they are equipped with something like 80% of all the basic language they will ever need in their lives. My daughter creates her own alphabet and number cards for any new child in the family or among friends – all done the hard way, cutting and pasting. I reckon it could be time to recreate that nursery rhyme collection, perhaps as a set of stamps for us to add our element of creativity to your brilliant artwork. I would certainly buy them. xx Maggie

  4. Barbara, you're even more amazing than I already thought you were. Talk about making things happen. PLEASE make that beautiful alphabet into stamps, I'm so sure that lots of us would be rushing to buy them. Can't wait for the next instalment, Tuesday is definitely my favourite day.

  5. your ramblings are just so inspirational and at times so sad. Lovely to see your 2 as children, you must be so proud of them. Such a wonderful story and look forward to next week. thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences . MaggieC has a very good point, a set of stamps would be wonderful. A new great granddaughter has arrived, so this would be ideal for her. Thanks again for sharing. xx

  6. Wow, Barbara, I do admire your tenacity to get something done, I'm not sure I could have done it, even given that I can't draw like you! LOL. Look forward to more posts, I'm enjoying getting to know you.

  7. WOW Barbara you never cease to impress me. What a fabulous read this is, such an insight into how a real Artist thinks and works. What a daunting task you had set yourself and yet you knew you could make something of it. Just to be able to do such lovely Art work in the beginning must be great. I have always loved these stamps – they are on the ever increasing list – but to see the original concept and how they were produced in poster form makes them even more special. Its so great to be able to take a little ride on the Barbara Gray Train. Can we still get hold of one of those posters? Sam

  8. You are such an inspiration – just goes to show that a little spark of an idea, imagination, determination and hard work can achieve real results. The alphabet poster is so beautiful too – agree with the others, they would make great stamps for the little ones!!

  9. As usual you never cease to impress and we can see the gleam in your eye and the smile on your face through the words that you write. What inspiration you give to us all.
    When is the book coming out? That would mean we wouldn't have to wait till next Tuesday for the next installment. I think it is fair to say that we all just love you more x

  10. Wow I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story x
    You are one clever lady..to come up with the idea, draw it all yourself and then sell it!
    You don't do things by half x
    You have to start somewhere, work really hard, follow it through and then maybe one day 'make it' and that's what you've done.
    Just pure magical and good luck to you x
    Sometimes we forget that well known crafters etc did start at the bottom and work there way up, they just didn't 'make it'…Blood sweat and tears no doubt on the way x
    Thank you so much for sharing with us. Looking forward to next Tuesday already x

  11. Barbara, just found this blog via Network blog site, found your adventures very interesting, will you be doing the alphabet stamps fof us, would like to purchsse these xxx Marian

  12. You never fail to amaze Barbara. I am quickly writing this before I set off to our local library to do a Rhymetime session there. It is the starting point for our little ones .I am often surprised how many of our young mums don't know the traditional rhymes nowadays. Looking forward to episode 3 . xxx

  13. Barbara, just found this blog via Network blog site, found your adventures very interesting, will you be doing the alphabet stamps fof us, would like to purchsse these xxx Marian

  14. What a fantastic read…I was glued to every word….Thank you so much for sharing and the photo of Matk and Grace is adorable…looking forward to the next chapter…..Jo. X

  15. Brilliant informative and very moving I just love reading your blog on a daily basis. Please please please do the stamps we would all buy them and the poster as well x

  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, it makes such interesting reading. I'm only surprised that you aren't still manufacturing this poster as it is still very relevant to today's youngsters and would certainly appeal to parents, nurseries and schools. Worth looking into maybe?? x

  17. I bought my grandchildren a brilliant cd of nursery rhymes. it was produced and sung by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart because they were so disgusted at the standard of cd's available when their respective children were young. It is good, the words and the music is right. So they have been brought up on the right sort of nursery rhymes. xx Maggie

  18. In 1993 I was falling asleep in Business lectures. In 2013 I am getting a real education in business. Such stunning artwork and what a quality first product, it says it all. Such an interesting read.

  19. There just must be a book here somewhere!!
    Great adventure.
    Bought a nursery rhyme book for my great nephew for his christening in June, now his mum is finally remembering what she was taught and on it goes.
    xx Barbara

  20. thanks, for sharing all of this, I really appreciate it, it is very inspiring and you have done extremely well. You really are an inspirational woman


  21. Well Barbara what a wonderful chapter to your life! I read it then went back and read last week's and then back to today's again! You are blessed with a talent that few people have and that is to be able to engage us in your stories! It's like it leaps off the page and grabs you til you've read it! You really should write a book!
    Can't wait to read your next installment! Thank you so much for sharing! Hugs. Xxx

  22. Wow Barbara you truly are one very amazing lady !! I loved reading this blog and all the pics of how this came to be are fabulous !! I take my hat off to you the more we learn about you and your life just makes me realise how lucky we are to have you xx

  23. love these insights into your past. i always thought there was an amazing depth to your personality and now i'm getting miniscule glimpses into it. i think you should write a book. the writing is very versant and definitely reads better than e l james xx

  24. Barbara you are a true inspiration to everyone. Even the way you write has us all glued to your blog. I sense there is an author among your many talents x

  25. Well, many, many thanks for your kind words. Can I tell you a secret? My dream is to write and publish a book. Time is the missing ingredient, and we must be careful what we wish for…

    1. Hi Barbara, I just came across a framed picture of your 'Imaginearhyme' in a local charity shop and bought it immediately. Absolutely enchanting. My research of it brought me to your blog where I learned that all of the rhymes are on the back of the poster. However, this poster is beautifully mounted & framed and consequently the rhymes on the back are lost to view. How can I find out what the individual rhymes are so that I can share them with my future grand-children and keep the rhymes alive?
      If you can point me in the right direction I would be so grateful. Wonderful work!

  26. I am a teacher too and have just done Humpty Dumpty with my class. I would love to have been able to show the children one of your posters Barbara, what a wonderful idea. Hope the flu is on the way out now. Take care.

  27. As I said once before, your blogs are the beginnings of a book already. Thanks for sharing this Barbara, once again I'm in awe. As a primary school teacher myself, I'm amazed at how many children today do not know their nursery rhymes. So I think it may be time to revive your posters.

  28. That is such a stunning idea and even today it would be loved by the British Market, your colours are bright and I know from experience that my own children when they were small would have loved to have such a beautiful wall hanging. hugs Shirleyxxxxx

  29. How inspiring, thanks for sharing Barbara, I was recently made redundant and I'm struggling to find a new job, I was getting disheartened by the lack of success, but this has given me a lift, if you could manage all that with 2 young children then I can and will find something….sadly I'm not anywhere near as talented as you, so it won't be a craft based role, but if it funds my craft habit it will be a job worth having 🙂

  30. Just picked this up from your link in May 1st 2017. I won't say we've come full circle, because I don't think the story – or rhyme is going to end there. I admire your creativity, inventiveness and tenacity so much. You deserve every ounce of success x

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