We’ve got a lot of time for Robert ‘Bones’ McGhie. Amongst other things, he looked like he could have walked straight into a classic Aztecs or Coloured Balls line-up, no questions asked. A short while back, we had the good fortune of spotting some extremely fetching T-shirts featuring Bones’ sweet visage. Not without coincidence, this happened during our first live show at The Corner Hotel in Richmond. A couple of gents in attendance were sporting them, and the design was fantastic to say the very least.
Through the modern fancy of Twitter, I began a correspondence with the man behind this fantastic Bones shirt, Chris Rees from down Hobart way. Chris has produced cavalcade of other great designs– Vinnie Catoggio, Gary Dempsey, Peter McKenna, and Geoff Blethyn to name but a few. The full extent of his design prowess can be seen here. We love the romance of footy and art and all that hi-falutin’ stuff here at Presentation Night Towers, we really do. We asked Chris to write us a little something about how the original Bones design came about. He’s such a gent, he went ahead and did it.
About two years ago I noticed an Australian fella had started designing some really sweet soccer t-shirts; very simple but beautifully executed designs, sometimes using famous players’ silhouettes. The company is called 3Nil and their stuff is really worth a look – it has heart, is well printed, and in short, was quite inspiring for me, a graphic designer who loves sport.
I thought at the time that it was a shame that the only footy paraphernalia that I found visually appealing was the vintage stuff. I would not be seen dead in a piece of official AFL merchandise. I started thinking about my footy card collection and the possibilities of taking those images and spending some time refining and stylising them to a similar effect. There were plenty of players I remembered fondly, but also many who I only really knew from their footy card. I collected the cards from about 1974 – 1979, but I have a few dozen older ones too.
In recent years I have really studied those cards, and thought a lot about the actual process of producing them. The photographer arrives at training one evening, a select dozen blokes are ushered down to one end of the field, and they run through their paces for him. In some cases (eg Essendon 1970) it looks like he got all the players to do the same thing (kick a mighty drop punt while he pointed the camera up their shorts). Other players seem to have determined for themselves what the pose would be. Kevin ‘Hungry’ Bartlett was always photographed handpassing – this did not seem as funny to me in primary school as it does now. Peter Bedford always sold the dummy for the photo (well, twice).
Robert ‘Bones’ McGhie just stands holding the ball with no pretence of action. He stood out for me due to his tatts and his bikie black moustache. As a kid I was aware he was a tough guy – he had tatts after all. No-one else did in those days, except Kevin Murray. While McGhie’s footy cards are not particularly striking, the pictures of him by renowned photographer Rennie Ellis are outstanding. It is Grand Final Day 1974: Bones has a smoke while he re-ties his boots, sitting on the grass pre-game; Bones drains a tinnie on field after the win.
My first design featured an illustration based squarely on the pre-game Ellis pic. I fiddled with Bones’ tattoos, which are hard to decipher in the photo – then had the idea of simply repeating the arabesque squiggle I was using for his ciggy smoke. His Richmond guernsey is not actually black and yellow – it is the 40 years-faded version of those colours that I see when I look at the old cards. At this stage I was trying to limit the number of colours because I imagined it as a screenprint. I just couldn’t get it to work with less than 6 flat colours.
I got some quotes for printing 100 or 200 shirts – it was going to be a huge investment, and then I would have to dedicate time to selling the things. I pictured myself with a shed full of them, forever. When I sounded out some fellow Tiges fans they thought the design was great and would sell – at least to them.
It was bothering me that my design rested heavily on the work of the great Australian photographer Rennie Ellis. Rennie died in 2003, so I contacted his gallery to talk about copyright. They quite reasonably suggested that I would have to pay heavily for rebooting such an iconic image, so I decided to just use Rennie’s pics for reference. I took the rollie cigarette, the lace-up guernsey and the sharpie haircut that had not been apparent on the footy cards, and I redrew him completely, so that I would not be haunted by Rennie’s larrikin ghost. I used North Melbourne ruckman Barry Goodingham as the model for the final design.
Around the same time I discovered RedBubble – a site where you could upload a digital image and immediately start selling inkjet-printed shirts, as well as cards, iPhone covers and so on. I was particulary taken with the idea of Bones on a size 0 romper suit. As I was creating the artwork digitally anyway, this site seemed a perfect fit. Now my number of colours were not limited, and in fact large areas of flat colour were discouraged. This opened the door for one of my favourite design clichés – grit. I gave Bones a layer of grime and stains, and completed the design with a big mud-coloured number 12 in the top corner. Then I uploaded him and ordered one for myself, which I am wearing as I write.