‘I Shoot People & Solve Problems’
The first time I saw Martin Butterworth at work, he was sitting cross-legged on the floor of an office above Leicester Square tube station arranging a book layout for Dorling Kindersley. This was well over 35 years ago. Martin went to New York as a magazine art director, then was lured to London to work in my old company, Creative Partnership, designing film posters and handling everything from table menus to giant hoardings, T-shirts and bus sides, by making the message direct and attractive. Surprisingly, not all designers I’ve met want to to do this.
There are ones who produce impossible-to-read type and obscure graphics for their friends, and ones who simply don’t get movie design, or who fail to think of the practicalities at all. Over the years I’ve lost count of the movie posters and book jackets which have bombed because there’s no practical solution to the designer’s plans. As a consequence Martin is one of the few I’ll allow anywhere near my books, because what he builds can usually be made.
Virtually overnight, Martin came up with the design solution for the twenty ebooks coming later this year, and made me wish I had them lined up on a shelf. Twenty great matching covers – that’s the stuff of writers’ dreams. My publisher instantly fell in love with them. He often conducts special shoots for movie stars, which is harder than it looks. When they get before cameras, stars reveal insecurity, vanity, charm or simple rudeness. Last year he worked with the three dames; Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. He also worked with one huge Hollywood star who turned out to be so unpleasant nobody else wanted to deal with him.
He tackles any kind of design problem, no matter how bizarre; if a client wants a dirigible or a dinosaur he’ll figure it out. One of my favourite pieces by him is a gigantic candelabra designed to be strong, elegant, flatpacked and easily transported. Maybe it’s an East End thing (he’s an Eastender), this ability to solve problems so cleverly. It must be rewarding to know you’ve got it right.
Of course, he’s a highly eccentric person, as nearly all of my friends are. When he got married he got everyone to dress as pirates, except one guy who misheard the brief and came as a parrot, but typically, even that worked out well. I have a feeling that here, Martin (left) decided we all had to go to an event as clowns, and set about transforming everyone.
Martin occasionally takes on freelance work, and can be contacted by Direct Messaging me on Twitter under @peculiar.