On 22 July 2011, a little delegation of Two Riverlings – Sally Mortimore, Karen Mosman, John Froy and me – went to Norfolk to visit wildlife artist Robert Gillmor and his wife Sue at their home. Robert had been commissioned by the Post Office to produce a series of linocuts for four sets of Post & Go stamps featuring native birds of Britain, and, to our delight, had approached Two Rivers to see if we wanted to work with him to make this into a book.
I think it’s fair to say we were all a bit starstruck. It felt surreal to see the studio where it all happens, to find myself sitting in Robert’s conservatory, original artwork spread out on the dining table.
Robert is a quiet man, courteous and soft-spoken, a warm and welcoming host who quickly put us at our ease, regaling us with wonderful anecdotes of bird encounters, of his time teaching at Reading, of his grandfather Allen Seaby whose love of birds and art he inherited in equal measure, of doing colour separations in his head while sitting in the bath. Then Sue made him pack it all away again to delight us with a home-cooked meal.
We set off back to Reading armed with three folders’ worth of Robert’s drawings, sketchbooks and notes, and Robert’s only set of the prints, which I took home to digitise them for the book.
Then I spent many terrified weeks worrying I might get burgled, hiding those invaluable prints under my bed (because burglars would never think to look there), and pulling them out every day to check they were all still there as much as to admire them.
Going through Robert’s original artwork to make a selection for the book was the most enjoyable and the hardest of tasks. Every now and then a postcard or a letter would arrive from Robert, an avid correspondent who refreshingly shuns email, in his even and beautiful hand, to give feedback or make suggestions on my latest designs.
Relieved as I was to return his things to him at the launch of Birds, Blocks & Stamps (which coincided with the opening of his an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Reading), I found I missed having them. I would have loved to see the Magpies on my living room wall.
Shortly after the launch, a thank you card arrived from Robert, congratulating me on ‘a good job’ – and if you know Robert, that is high praise indeed.
I might not have got to keep the Magpies, but I framed that card and put it up in my kitchen.