To get to this good news, first of all I need to put in the context of some bad news. Last year a friend of mine, Alex Ciccui/Arpaillange, a talented designer (and so much more), sadly passed away too young. You may have seen the blog I wrote at the time, and if not, you can read it here.
As I mentioned in that post, Alex visited the set of the IT Crowd a couple of years ago when they were shooting series 3, to hand out his ‘We are Phi’ t-shirt designs to Graham Linehan and the cast. Here he is pictured with Graham, which I know was a very proud moment for Alex.
When he passed away, I met a number of his friends and family at his funeral, and we wanted to make sure that we tried to do something positive with the creative endeavours he had started. He was in the process of giving his ‘We are Phi’ pattern (which takes inspiration from the golden ratio and can be seen in the photo above) to various illustrators and designers to see how they would develop/and or devolve it.
At that time the illustrator James Downing, aka Couk had created a custom version, and it turned out that his was the only other design that was printed onto tees. You can see his awesome (and rather sweet) version below:
We had been hoping to be able to produce more tees in the future in memory of Alex (and would still like to), but then earlier this year I heard that they were preparing to film the fourth series of the IT Crowd. This was just through following Graham Linehan on Twitter, and then ‘IT Crowd Support‘, which was how the production team were trying to find lots of nice things for the set. It seemed like a natural thing to see if I could get some of the remaining t-shirts sent to the set, in the hope that one of the characters might wear one during one of the episodes.
I got word back that whilst they liked the design, Graham didn’t feel that a t-shirt featuring it was appropriate for Roy’s character. Still, they asked if I’d be able to send the pieces as posters instead. I got straight in touch with the ever-reliable Ripe digital, and got James’ custom design printed at various sizes, along with the original design, and then two more custom designs. The first one you can see below was done by the talented Alex Smee, and takes the piece in a totally different direction by creating a face. This is what he had to say about his creation: “I made my ‘vs Phi’ illustration for Alex in late 2008, when he was commissioning the first series of custom tees. It’s a portrait of / tribute to Japanese painter Kawai Gyokudō of whom I’m a fan, and it was literally a case of having been looking at his work earlier that day before starting the illustration. When I decided to try and turn the Penrose pattern into a character, the angular edges seemed perfectly suited to illustrating an older face, so with Kawai Gyokudō in mind I thought that would make an interesting approach. In the end Couk’s excellent design was the only one to be printed, but I’m really pleased that Alex asked me to make a design and, most of all, that he told me how much he liked it.”
The second one, the apple, is my own creation, which came about after I started thinking about what I could take away from, rather than adding to, the original artwork. The only new element I added was the apple stalk, and for everything else I simply re-coloured or removed the existing shapes.
Sorry, I know this is rather perambulatory, but I am getting to the point I promise! So (as you know from way back when you read the title of this post) it turns out that the artwork made it into the show, and we couldn’t be more stoked! This is such a perfect way to pay tribute to Alex, who was a huge fan of the series. And in case it wasn’t obvious already, I am too. All three pieces are in there, and here are some screenshots from the 360° set panorama to prove it!
The first episode can be watched online now, and we get a glimpse of all three pieces. Alex Smee’s artwork in particular can be seen nice and clearly on the door behind Roy’s desk!
So there we go then. Yes, it’s just background artwork, and naturally the vast majority of viewers won’t notice or care, but for myself, and for Alex’s friends and family, it’s such a fantastic thing. A huge thanks to Chris Jones at Talkback Thames for his support, and naturally to Graham Linehan, for creating such a great show in the first place, and for being happy to have the artwork on the set. I really enjoyed the first episode and can’t wait to enjoy the rest of the series!
We know that there are other designers out there who may have started on their own custom designs before Alex passed away. If that’s you, or if you know of someone, please do get in touch, and maybe there’s more that we can do to honour his memory.