A Christmas confession

Note: The following story was originally sent to my subscribers on Sunday December 18th 2016.

It’s time to lay a demon to rest. It’s about this Christmas card:

This vintage piece dates from 1981. It was my entry for the annual school Christmas card competition.

At my primary school, this was a big deal. There were no age categories – it was every child for themself, regardless of what year they were in. Competition was fierce and everyone got involved, driven by the thought of the prestigious prizes.

And the prizes were:

  • First prize: The winner would receive 150 prints of his/her winning Christmas card.
  • Second prize: 100 prints
  • Third prize: 50 prints

Prints were special back in those days – much more memorable that modern photocopies. Fresh off the press, they were warm and had a sweet chemical smell that will bring back nostalgic childhood memories to many of us. Rather than black and white, everything was dark purple on light pink. I’ve just spent 10 minutes researching this and apparently they were produced by a process called spirit duplication. So imagine that – 150 warm, smelly spirit duplicates to take home and enjoy.

So, perhaps you are wondering if I won. Well, I am very happy to report that I did. The “Santa’s Here” design that you see above beat over 250 other entries. It featured in the school magazine and for a whole week before Christmas, I was the golden boy of the school.

I remember the praise from my teacher and also from my architect father: “Wow! Such a simple design. But what incredible technicality for a 9-year-old boy. What an eye for form. Perhaps he too will grow up to be an architect one day.”

I took the praise and I enjoyed my moment of glory. I genuinely felt that I had earned it.

But enough is enough. I can no longer bear this terrible burden. It is time to come clean about a dirty secret that I have lived with for the last 35 years. It involves my favourite children’s Christmas book – a picture book called Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs who is probably best known for The Snowman.

I loved Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Rather than being a jolly Christmas lover, he is a reclusive and overworked, grumpy old man who hates everything about the festive season, except perhaps the brandy.

And here is my Christmas confession: Raymond Briggs’ book was the inspiration for my winning Christmas card. If you look very carefully at the following image, you might just see the similarity.

So what do you think about that? You can see that I had a bit of difficulty with the face. I seem to have given my Father Christmas an overgrown black beard in order to conceal my lack of artistry.

There are two ways to look at this and I really can’t decide which is the correct way. First of all, was this dishonest? I am really not sure. On one hand, I remember having no feelings of guilt whatsoever. But on the other hand, I remember that I didn’t tell anyone that I had copied the image. I took the praise in full knowledge that the truth would probably have invalidated it.

But I also think that copy and remix are essential for any individual to develop drawing skills or indeed to develop any creative process. So perhaps there was something honest, or at least necessary and natural, going on here.

Who am I trying to fool?
Happy Christmas!

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