Tom Eckersley The Father of all Poster Illustrators
Tom Eckersley was born in Lowton, Lancashire in 1914. He spent much of his childhood drawing, and at 16 he enrolled at Salford School of Art. Here he was awarded the Heywood medal for his dedicated approach to his work. Eckersley was greatly inspired by the work of commercial artists such as A.M. Cassandre and Edward McKnight Kauffer. He had seen their work at an exhibition of avant-garde posters, which turned his attention to graphic design and began to shape his stylistic attitude. It was at this time that Eckersley met Eric Lombers, a fellow student who shared his passion for progressive poster art.
After leaving college in 1934, Eckersley and Lombers went to London to embark on a career together as freelance poster designers. In May 1935 their Principal at Salford, Harold Rhodes, recommended them to Frank Pick, then vice chairman of London Transport. Pick had played an active role in securing high-quality poster art since the first pictorial poster was commissioned in 1908. By the 1930s, London Transport was one of the country’s most significant patrons of graphic design. The company commissioned dozens of pictorial publicity posters every year, which were exhibited to a much wider audience than was possible in a gallery or publication. ‘Eckersley Lombers’ submitted some samples of its work to Christian Barman, Pick’s publicity officer. This led to the partners’ first commission, for a small Underground car panel poster advertising the London Zoo. The team went on to secure commissions from other commercial patrons such as the General Post Office, the B.B.C, Austin Reed, and Shell, all of whom shared L.T’s enthusiasm for innovative developments in style and technique.
Eckersley described this period in design as: ‘that stimulating time when certain artists, supported by enlightened clients, saw opportunities to use their art and their vision to solve communication problems. They began to realise the many exciting visual possibilities that could be derived from the major art movements taking place in Europe between the wars’.
By 1939, Eckersley Lombers was well established and both artists lectured in graphic design at Westminster School of Art. However, at the outbreak of war their working partnership was ended when Eckersley joined the R.A.F. and Lombers joined the army. During the war, Eckersley worked as a cartographer. He also produced a number of striking ‘war effort’ posters for the Ministry of Information and National Service, the G.P.O. and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. After the war he returned to teaching, and continued freelance commercial design. His contribution to British poster design was formally recognised in 1948, with the award of an O.B.E. In 1957 he became head of graphic design at the London College of Printing, where he spent 20 years inspiring new generations of progressive designers.
While teaching, Eckersley continued to design posters for a range of clients. He was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (R.D.I) in 1963, and became a Fellow of the Society of Typographic Designers and the Society of Artists and Designers, and an honorary Fellow of Manchester College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art. His poster designs retained a striking and immediate impact. Their bold simplicity and flawless clarity of purpose was the key to prolonged international success. He showed great variety of technique and development without losing his individuality.
In his book, Poster Design, Eckersley wrote ‘The good poster, that is one which does its job successfully, is one above fashion …. Really fine work never dates: it is only the posters which depend solely on the particular techniques of their period which today appear dull and dated’.
Images are taken from the University of the Arts site (VADS) here, the London Transport Museum site here and information is from 20th century London site. Many thanks for their use. What an inventive and creative mind.