With the help of new artist Stephen Wagland, we’re bringing the personal touch back to the company Christmas card.
It’s that time of year when the daily collection of envelopes dropping through the letterbox begins to look a bit more interesting. Among the scary brown envelopes, the junk mail and those of the white, windowed self-seal business variety, we start to see a lot more red, green, gold… and sometimes even glitter.
Believe it or not, this year marks the 175th anniversary of the Christmas card tradition – at least as a commercial enterprise. The idea itself is much older, but in 1843 British civil servant Sir Henry Cole commissioned his artist friend John Callcott Horsley to design the first Christmas card that could be reproduced and sent in the post.
If you recognise Henry Cole’s name, that’s because he’s often credited with introducing the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, as well. That’s either a handy coincidence for his future career plans, or possibly some shrewd cross-selling. As it’s the season of goodwill, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Since then we’ve been scrawling our best wishes on cards depicting robins, snowmen and Dickensian village scenes and sending them back and forth to one another in countless numbers. Last year, people in the UK bought almost 100 million Christmas cards, spending £1.7 billion along the way.
Christmas isn’t about numbers
Christmas cards are definitely big business. There’s a more socially responsible side to them too. In the UK Christmas card sales raise an estimated £50 million for charities each year. That’s something we believe in too, but we’d also like to revisit the idea that Christmas cards are meant as a personal wish for good health and fortune. This Christmas we thought we’d try to bring back that personal touch, so for this year’s Citywide card, our artist is very close to home.
Stephen Wagland, older brother of our own Client Services Executive, Stephanie Wagland, is responsible for the design, which he produced at the Ashtead branch of Conquest Art. Stephen lives with a range of conditions that reduce his mobility, including Pseudoachondroplasia, a disorder of bone growth, scoliosis and osteoarthritis. It means that going out and meeting people can be difficult, so Stephen goes to the fortnightly art group to socialise and get in touch with his inner artist.
Uncovering hidden talents
Conquest Art is a collection of groups run around the country, helping people with disabilities, mobility issues and long-term illness to meet people, explore their creative side and in many cases, exhibit their work. The groups take a mixed ability, non-competitive approach that encourages everyone to create from their own imagination and develop their unique style.
They provide all the art materials required and they can source specialised equipment for people with particular needs, such as head pointers, scented pens for visually impaired people and specially adapted easels.
What the organisation has found is that people are often surprised by their own results in a field they may never have attempted before. But confidence builds quickly and several students have seen transformative results in the work they produce.
Stephen is among those to see rapid results – freely confessing to being a “stick-person artist” to begin with. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it served L.S Lowry well enough, but Stephen’s work has dramatically improved since starting with the group, as has his confidence in his own artwork. The Christmas card commission will be his first published work, putting him on a par with Vincent Van Gogh, who sold just one painting during his lifetime. At 27, he’s got plenty of time to beat that record.
For Stephen, the Christmas card comes as welcome recognition of his work, albeit unintentionally. He sent the design to Stephanie, who then shared it with colleagues at Citywide. The design made its way around the offices before emerging as a clear frontrunner for this year’s card.
It’s often the way – sometimes success finds you when you’re not really looking for it. That said, we never miss an opportunity to underline the importance of good investment advice. In 1843 one of Henry Cole’s cards would have cost you a shilling. In 2001, an example sold for £22,500.
We can only speculate as to what his work, and Stephen’s, will be worth now and in future.