Art Director/Photographer Pete Denton spoke to and ran a number of workshops with BA (Hons) Creative Advertising. We caught up with Pete to find out about his time in advertising...

Pete Denton

When was Denton & Denton formed? 

I’m essentially a freelance art director/photographer and came up with the idea to use the name Denton & Denton around 25 years ago. Its first intention was to separate my sideline moonlighting projects, a time honoured creative activity, from my day job as an employed advertising agency art director. A bit like a band name really, a duo, me and my wife. 

The name stuck and I still use it now as it fits a virtual company ethos where different people can be involved depending on the size of the project.

I bought the domain name 15 years ago and look forward to plugging in my first website sometime this year! I’m always at the bottom of the priority list! 

Who are your clients? 

I tend to work for a mix of advertising agencies as a concept/visualiser man. Direct client projects of all persuasions go from script to screen and as a Photographer, I work for both. I’ve also worked for Getty Images in Seattle for over 20 years.

New York

Venice

What topics did you cover in the Creative Advertising Workshops? 

We covered both the theory and the practical, hands on conceptual drawing aspects of an art directors job, including: Pete Denton’s Portfolio Journey, ‘How to draw concepts & storyboards’ and ‘Photography vs Illustration’. Fabio, the course leader was keen that one of the key functions of my visit was to demonstrate how to put ideas on paper before involving a mac. ‘My portfolio journey’ was intended as a vehicle to talk about the advertising industry and how it’s changed over time from the perspective and first-hand account of a foot soldier in a much larger campaign. The scary thing for me was that because I went to Leeds Arts University in the early 1970’s and so I was able to talk about the industry over the last 5 decades!

Which for someone who’s spent a lifetime looking forward to the next trend was frankly embarrassing but at least my over active imagination allows me the refuge of denial, in my head at least I’m not much older than the students, it’s not much of a leap to remember what it was like sitting in the same place as the students in front of me! 

In fact here’s an illustration I drew when I was 18 of my classmates…I’m the one on the right and still in touch with some of the others today. 

Cartoon of students

What would I have wanted to hear from a visiting industry guy?  

I thought it might be useful to talk about the lowlights as well as the highlights for an insight into the everyday working life of an agency art director. The challenges of being responsible for spending a client’s big budget and how to make sure it all runs smoothly by making the right creative decisions, ensuring it doesn’t end up with you having to skip the country wearing dark glasses under an assumed name. 

Advertising is a contextual reflection of its time; it mirrors the hopes and fears of the society it serves, so to revisit campaigns from the past can be a useful way of informing your work in the present and in the future. 

Thankfully computers don’t have ideas yet (sure Mr Adobe’s working on it), so developing them is still the marketing world’s most valuable asset. That bit of the process hasn’t changed but the world they inhabit has, or as the Greek art director Heraclitus observed ‘Nothing endures but change’. 

Halifax

The portfolio journey section began along these lines: 

My first encounter with work straight after University happened when the country was on its knees in dire financial straits with people working a 3 day week and with a constant threat of power cuts. Smoking in the office was normal! Vinyl was the music format de jour and typesetting came in the form of hot metal. Against this backdrop I was given the job to put the ‘X’ in Halifax on the first 48 sheet poster campaign for the Halifax Building Society advertising campaign. 

Only I might add, because the Creative Director who penned the idea and senior guys like my mentor Alec Fowler had swanned off to South Africa to shoot the first TV campaign with film director Nicolas Roeg (of ‘Man who fell to earth’ with David Bowie fame) which was much more glamorous. It was the biggest account outside London at the time spending £14 million. The country needed a bit of extra help at the time and so did I. 

Jonathan Ross

Ripple dissolve to the 90’s where I mentioned a tiny graphic design budget job I did. Jonathan Ross’s manager shared office space with me in Hammer House, Wardour Street London. He’s known for his flash suits so I had a suit label made to attach to the letterhead. The history bit took a meandering path through various examples of work. 

GHD Visual

 GHD Finished

Leading up to the present day where I like to include what’s on my desk this week with attendant scribbles bringing me back to my comfort zone. 

Illustrations

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‘How to draw storyboards’ got us into the practical hands on side of things where we got to roll our sleeves up, exploring how to draw and make understandable marks on paper, skills that make us all, including me, more employable. I demonstrated a few drawing techniques which allow those who claim they can’t draw to produce layouts that communicate quickly with a bit of practice. 

Imax

Crabbies

The thing about storyboarding your ideas is to understand the principles of storytelling through a strong script, how a camera moves and the fundamentals of film making so that when you put pen to paper it can be used as a working document and isn’t just a series of pretty pictures. I showed a few before and after examples of storyboards that had turned into finished TV commercials and video’s. For me these sessions are always two way traffic where I come away having learned something too, through the process of having to stop, take stock and articulate clearly what you do, it’s a privilege to be involved. 

What advice would you give the students? 

I’m a bit reluctant to offer anyone advice. But, if you twist my arm I’d say accept change, stay childlike and never take creative work for granted, it’s a great way to make a living.