My apologies for the Friends reference, but it’s just how we refer to London in my house when we are excited. I was made aware that I don’t share as much as I should when the following material was presented to close friends over the 2016 holiday season. The details are not important but let me just thank Ronnie and Greg for nudging me to get my act together and do a little more. I tend to go on so let me get started on the beginning so you can get to the end quicker.
In the last weeks of the summer of 2015 I traveled to London and spent some time working on a project for a dear friend. We have known each other for nearly 15 years. Little did either of us realize on our first meeting that it would be the start of a decade and a half long friendship that continues to grow each year. Work forced our introduction but over time we looked forward to our commissioned tasks if for no other reason than providing us time to be on the same continent and catch up in person. Our relationship began with—and will most likely always involve—books, but the stories and experiences that we share are what make the great tomes of our libraries come to life. In 2015 we turned the tables on our established structure as I found myself in England for the first time working with him.
Stafford Cliff is one of the greatest book designers (and illustrators) of the past 40 plus years. He is so because he takes it personally, living and breathing the material like no other designer I know. I would challenge anyone to look for a loosely designed book by Stafford and would be willing to bet good money they would never find it. In fact I am certain of it. Over the years leading up to my the trip we discussed his plans for a volume on this life’s work. By the grace of Blurb, in that time he had designed a half-dozen or more personal titles on his adventures around the world. This book he wanted to be little more akin to what we have done together, so we plotted its course. He didn’t reveal many details early on but I knew it would be something worthy of my time. We tossed around ideas about working across the pond but when I had the opportunity to head to London we decided to tack on an extra week and make a book happen.
I could go on for days about the greater qualities that reside in Stafford, and one day I would like to have a proper chance to do so, but for now I will leave it at this. Never have I seen him panic, nor have I ever seen him throw a fit. He stakes his claim on design with deep devotion and passion, but humbly makes no pretentious display of greater credit or dues owed him than he deserves, and he typically deserves more than he takes credit for as the list of titles he has had a hand in creating grows each year. He calmly, and Britishly, keeps an even keel as he gathers and organizes lifetimes of work and history into a respectable and distinctly beautiful volume.
During the time I spent with him working on his book I was unaware that in the background he had partially moved on. He toured me around Crouch End as he filled me in on his day to day routine and we ventured into the center of London for some site seeing and drawing. Spending a few days in his shadow I was given visuals for the places and names he has told stories of over the years. Back at his flat we laid out pages and did photo shoots to round out the chapters.
We got done in a short time what it takes many designers I know months to accomplish. This all due to his steady work ethic and simple and straight forward focus on the task at hand. I boarded the plane to New York having sent the book off to be proofed anticipating a copy in a week or two. When it arrived we made corrections via Skype and sent off the order. A few weeks later I received a package in the mail. Having built a great art and design library over time I know a book when I receive one, but I knew it wasn’t a copy of his from the thickness of the package. When I opened it I was shocked to find my British adventure collected in a hard cover tome, Pics Of Nick. Little did I know how silent Stafford’s camera is. Snapping shots of me working, shooting, and pondering around London; sneaking my drawings off for his own little photo shoots; and chronicling the trip day by day I was gifted with the first volume entirely dedicated to me and my work. Like the countless books he has worked on over his career, he organized the daily tasks we take for granted while living our lives and shaped them into a story that I will forever hold dear to my heart. It has been an honor to work with him and a blessing to have him as a friend. Keeping my gift close, I am reminded what dedication can bring when in the right hands. I hope he is planning another big book soon, there is so much more to tell.