Founder of Creative Studios, the longest established advertising agency in Bournemouth, illustrator Cliff Towler has masterfully intertwined artistic and business talents throughout his career.
The agency started in a garden shed and became a go-to company for the world’s biggest travel brands. Meanwhile, his wildlife paintings have been on display in many Dorset galleries. His success secret is simple: do what you love…
“My work is my life. Everywhere I have been, everything I have seen and everything I have done is reflected in my interpretations of the world in wildlife, animal, bird, pet paintings and portraits,” says artist, photographer, musician and designer Cliff Towler.
ANIMALS IN MOVEMENT CAPTIVATE THE IMAGINATION
He spends the lockdown painting studies of local wildlife. Red beaked puffins resting on the rocks, oystercatchers busy in search for food, or an osprey catching its prey.
Detailed, vibrantly coloured and gentle paintings capture the animals in movement.
“I enjoy capturing animals in action, in a unique moment,” Cliff said. During his long observational walks around Dorset, he built a big database of reference photography for his realistic paintings. Sometimes, he sits in a bird’s hide with a long lens camera waiting for the perfect shot.
He gained inspiration for his creative direction during an outdoor painting trip with his brother, Dorset landscape artist Graham Towler. “We were painting near Swanage, and I was working on a landscape scene. I raised my eyes and I saw terns flying over my head. Their flight, their movement captured my imagination,” he said.
Cliff’s preferred media are watercolour and acrylic.
The Poole-born artist always intended to choose a creative vocation. In his teenage years he worked an apprenticeship in a local silk screen printer shop. “I enjoyed it there, and I would have continued learning the skills. But unfortunately the business closed down and I had to reconsider my career,” he said.
He chose to study illustration, life drawing and art history at the Arts University Bournemouth. “In the ’70s, it was a very vibrant way to earn money. I could be creative and work on a variety of commercial projects. Being creative is not enough. You have to think how to earn a living,” Cliff said.
After his graduation, Cliff worked as a freelance illustrator, creating artwork for advertising agencies and printers. He briefly worked as a technical illustrator for Airbus Industries in Bremen, Germany.
AWARD-WINNING BUSINESS STARTS IN THE GARDEN SHED
While a student, Cliff and his brother Graham sat down around the family’s dining table and dotted business ideas for their advertising agency Creative Studios. Their first studio was a garden shed. Modest beginnings for the family-run business that became a go-to agency for the world’s biggest travel brands.
A big leap forward for the business was when Cliff designed a low airfare advert for a historic travel company Bath Travel. He charged £10 for it. “They liked our work, and we started 30-year collaboration,” Cliff said.
Over 45 years, the company designed advertising materials for top global travel brands, including luxury cruise liners such as Deluxe Cruises, Celestyal Cruises, and SeaDream. They also designed maps, property leaflets and information panels for most of the National Trust properties, informational materials for West Dorset District Council, South Somerset District Council and many others businesses and organisations.
The company received many awards for their creative and high quality work. “We focus on the quality, not on the quantity. We have fewer clients, but we make sure we provide them with the best service,” he said.
WITH THE BASS GUITAR AFTER WORK
Despite business success, work never took over all of Cliff’s time. He and his brother continued painting and opened The Creative Gallery in Wareham in 2005. The place is currently is run by Dorset potter, Fiona Kelly, but Cliff and Graham remain artists-in-residence and continue displaying their vivid, rich-coloured and lifelike paintings.
More than three years ago, a friend asked him to paint his dog’s portrait. Cliff willingly agreed and now he runs a successful Etsy shop where people can order pet portraits. “It just happened: one order led to another,” he said. He gets half-a-dozen orders a month and during the Christmas season he painted 20 pet portraits. “Depending on the image complexity, it might take me from half a day to three days to complete one painting,” he explained.
When Cliff puts aside all visual arts projects, he plays bass with RJ’s SoulCoaster band.
It is a nine-piece band that performs songs from the golden age of soul music. The band performed at The World Windsurfing Championships, Bournemouth International Centre, Poole Quay Summer Breeze Main Stage, and many other music festivals and private parties.
It might be that love for art and music is not coincidentally intertwined in Cliff’s life: “I share a birthday with Vincent van Gogh and Eric Clapton. They also are my inspiration,” he said.
Cliff believes that when you choose to do things you love you manage to find time for all of them.