Before we begin I’d like to get some housekeeping out of the way –

Do you know my Aunty Eileen? If so please under no circumstances let her read this. Ideally, I’d ask you to sign an NDA of some kind but that’d take too long so I’ll just have to hope you don’t forward this on to her.

Right here we go then…

“Oh, you’re an art director? You must be really good at drawing”

This is something that’s been said to me many times in life.

And this is a picture of some horses I did for my Aunty Eileen well over 20 years ago. She likes horses and she thinks I’m really good at drawing.

photo of a framed drawing of two horses

This is the book I went and got out of the library when she asked me to draw her some horses.

photo of a book on a table. Title is how to draw horses
Credit: Monstera

Now you might think the next bit of the story is about how I went on and learned to draw horses from this book, but nope. Somewhere towards the back of it are the exact drawings hanging on my Aunty Eileen’s wall.

I didn’t even learn to draw horses. I literally traced them and squiggled the lines a bit to make it look like a freestyle sketch. She still thinks I went and sat out in a field somewhere and captured their spirit on paper as they galloped and played in the sunlight! Shocking, eh?

So to answer the question above, no, I’m not really good at drawing. Truth is I can’t draw to save myself. But no one needs to know that and to be honest it doesn’t really matter anyway.

I’m an art director, not a horse drawer

I guess the red herring here is the word ‘art’. Don’t get me wrong I did do art at GCSE but then I also did French and the only thing I got from that was how to ask where the train station is.

To describe art direction in its simplest form is about creative problem-solving. Joining the dots that others don’t necessarily see to come up with a simple core creative idea. It’s a cliche but if it can be so simple that you can draw it on a napkin you’re onto a winner.

Then the magic happens—you gather a load of other people with epic talent and skills to bring the idea to life. Then you grab tight of the reins and make sure the core idea and the vision stay true and don’t morph into something else entirely. That’s kind of it for me.

Other things I can’t draw

I can’t draw someone keeping a balloon in the air.

black and white photo of a sketch book showing drawing of a balloon

But this one idea was at the heart of a strategic brand campaign that helped a global medical device company challenge the stigma of Type 1 diabetes and connect with their audience like never before.

The campaign was so successful, the brand doubled down, relaunching the campaign across the US and beyond.

  • 3,000+

    Earned ‘Balloon Challenge’ Social Posts

  • 91%

    Search Increase for ‘Diabetes’

  • 20%

    Ad Recall Amount People With T1D

  • 99%

    Positive Community Feedback

I also can’t draw people sitting around in a circle.

black and white photo of a sketch book showing drawing of people sitting around in a circle

But when First Bus asked for a campaign to change perceptions of bus travel for car drivers, we came up with the idea of a car user support group.

This allowed us to use humour as a vehicle to point out the burdens of car travel. The campaign not only met their objectives—it drove right on past them.

So to wrap up, art direction is all about the ability to communicate a message or a story in simple terms—a tale as old as time so to speak. Kind of like cavemen weren’t really good at drawing but we still know they used to chuck spears at mammoths

Back to my Aunty Eileen

You could see it as a bit naughty, dishonest maybe even plagiarism but as you can see it was probably for the best.

The ‘problem’ with her horse request was I can’t actually draw. But on a pretty low production budget, I creatively solved that problem and, most importantly, she’s a happy client.

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