The romance of the #Cornish Riviera. The drama of #Dartmoor. The tang of #Somerset cider. Does this roll-call of #West Country attractions, resonate with you? If so, you are not alone. Despite fierce competition from home and overseas, the rich and varied charms of the #South West peninsular mean that it still retains its place as England's pre-eminent #tourist destination.
The magic still works for me. I first came here over forty years ago as a free-lance #artist and #illustrator actively promoting the region's charms, and I've never really left. Naturally, given my particular interests, this has meant keeping a keen eye on our visitors' tastes and buying preferences and recently I believe I spotted a significant gap in the market.
Browsing through a huge selection of greetings #cards in a Torbay gift shop, it struck me as odd that while our visitors could buy cards on almost any subject under the sun- every category of age, relation, and occasion was catered for- I found nothing that really related to the region they had actually come to see. True, there were a handful of cards with very localised views but, none with what I would call a true West-Country theme.
I suspect there are two reasons for this. Firstly the urban, centralised, nature of the greetings industry and secondly the sheer size and regional variety of a peninsula that stretches almost two hundred miles from Bristol to Land's End with mostly rugged cliffs to the North, golden sands to the South and everything from lush valleys to high moorland in between.
And the natives don't conform to a single stereotype either. The life-styles of Cornish fishermen, Dartmoor shepherds and Somerset dairymen may appear quite different but, I believe, that this diversity is superficial and just adds richness to the mix. The truth is that most visitors to the region still tend to see it and its residents as a homogeneous entity. They just need to see the bigger picture. And, I decided, I was the man to show them!
But how to do that quickly in an appealing and innovative form? As an illustrator and occasional cartoonist, humour seemed my obvious choice. Especially because, thanks to the fictional Uncle Tom Cobley, and entertainers like The Wurzels and Benny Hill, the locals seemed already saddled with a comical, national persona. Such rusticity, I reasoned, could provide the underlying theme for a diverse range of amusing cards.
Just how amusing, depended of course on hitting the right note, humour-wise.
Actual jokes relying mainly on printed punch-lines didn't really seem appropriate so I opted instead for what are generally called 'sight-gags'. These also have a caption but here the picture 'carries' the joke and they tend to be classed as 'smile' humour rather than the belly-laugh variety.
Putting theory into practice, I began to draw up a list of (hopefully) comical 'goings-on' that the Great British Public could visualise happening somewhere in Cornwall, Somerset or Devon. I had to strike a balance here, not allowing local diversity or specialism to obscure my over-arching West-Country theme. Basically, my topics were anything I could conceive of as 'Western'. With that proviso, I assembled an eclectic mix of subjects as diverse as thatched cottages, farmers' markets, sea-gulls, cream teas, and fishermen.
Stylistically, I originally intended to go for the current, minimal, 'naive', look but somehow these rural subjects seemed to call for a bit more in the way of realism so I went for a more detailed approach, trying to project a rustic charm whose appeal didn't rest entirely on the underlying gag idea. And, of course, this had to be done without sacrificing the overall 'house-style'. Achieving this balance while striving for the sort of impact necessary in the very crowded greeting-card market proved probably the most difficult aspect of the whole undertaking.
I must admit, now it's completed, that this project was actually more of a struggle than I had anticipated. What started out as a quick fix to exploit a marketing loophole proved something of a marathon. In the end my proposed range amounts to only ten cards yet each one represents more hours labour than I care to remember.
And now finally, on the threshold of publication, the biggest challenge lies directly ahead. Is the West the best? In this highly competitive field, it remains to be seen whether or not WestizBest can really beat the rest!
Patrick's WestizBest card range will shortly be available for purchase in his Paint Box Gallery, Tavistock, Devon. For enquiries please email email@example.com