Dodo Design - Then and Now
The Dodo Pad was invented by Sir John Verney (JV) - soldier, artist, illustrator, writer and building conservationist - first going on sale in December 1965 with the 1966 edition. Still going strong in 2022, how much has changed in the creation of Dodo Pad between then and now?
We have recently had the opportunity to get an extraordinary insight into the creation of the early Dodo Pads. Hidden in the loft of Rose Verney - daughter of JV and herself once a Dodo Pad compiler and illustrator - were boxes of early Dodo Pad material, the ‘Doderie’, to which she has kindly given us access.
Rose Verney has talked to us about how JV created the Dodo Pad each year; and we will hear from the current compiler and illustrator, Naomi McBride, how differently - or not! - she approaches creating a Dodo Pad today.
Getting started on something can be hard for us all and JV didn’t always enjoy beginning a new years Dodo Pad, approaching this ‘huge chore’ with his ‘habitual groaning resignation’.
The completed artwork had to be with William Collins Ltd (who published the Dodo Pad 1966 to 1994, with a gap in 1972) by September each year to be printed and go on sale in December, which meant work starting late spring of the preceding year (when the current Dodo Pad is already on sale!)
A Dodo Pad isn’t created in one go, with material constantly being collected. JV would keep a notebook and make jottings all year round. He would also capture thoughts and sketch ideas on bits of paper - old bank statements and bills, whatever came to hand. Often these were held together with a bulldog clip. He worked ‘surrounded by a sea of scraps’ and nineteenth century periodicals acquired from bric-a-brac shops alongside a large book of anniversaries and dates.
Apart from the edges of the page, the ‘grid’ on the right hand side and the doodle page on the left are the only fixed points and have not changed. After that, the Dodo Pad is free to go off in every direction and follow every flight of fancy.
The ‘grid’ format remains the same today. July 1966 and July 2022 - dates and days of the week are the same. And the theme in both years is water!
JV would rig up a sheet of glass with a bulb underneath to make a lightbox. Tracing, cutting, pasting, drawing, writing, typing, correcting fluid would all follow as each grid and doodle page was created. At the end would emerge a set of Dodo Pad boards ready to be sent to the publishers in Glasgow.
Looking at Dodo Pad ‘boards’ from the Doderie, each page is made of many layers, made clearer today by the differential aging of the different papers.
Inside backcover 1985. The illustration is made up of a old periodical sketch, augmented left and right - ‘Dodo Halt’, the bush and wall are all hand drawn with the right hand lady cut out at the back of her dress - plus the placard and trunk label pasted on top. Does anyone recognise the original sketch? It is possibly from the Illustrated London News, mid to late nineteenth century - but I could be very wrong!
July 1976. Clearly a bit of colour was added later!
The only change to the grid today has been to make the vertical lines a little less pronounced for those who want to write all the way across
How different is creating a Dodo Pad today? Is it all databases and digital design software?
Whilst the Dodo Pad has modernised, much is still as it was in the beginning.
Naomi McBride - illustrator, painter, restorer of fine works of art and a first rate polymath - finds that, “when I start work on the Dodo Pad in late summer it always puts a spring in my step. I love doing the Dodo Pad more than anything I have done in the last thirty five years.”
Naomi McBride, through whose hands Lord Dodo works today
Today the Dodo Pad goes on sale much earlier than it did in the early days. While JV needed to complete the Dodo Pad by September the year before, Naomi has to have it finished by January the year before.
Whilst producing the artwork for the Dodo Pad is an intense four months of activity, gathering the material is an all year round occupation.
“I have a folder for each week of the year and into that I put interesting anniversaries, quotes, cartoons - anything I think might have a place in a future Dodo Pad. I am sending myself emails with ideas all the time”
People often send her their thoughts for the Dodo Pad and odd snippets that they consider amusing. These can come from DodoPadlers, friends or from the small Dodo Pad team - we even have a WhatsApp group to share ideas and thoughts!
Every Dodo Pad ‘spread’ needs to start off as an idea. An anniversary or event, often obscure, will be married to a cartoon, a quote, a dreadful pun or a thought to create an amusing juxtaposition.
Thin paper is pasted over the ‘grid’ and a hand drawn weekly spread comes to life. Once complete this is then electronically scanned and uploaded into image management software, where it is tweaked, coloured in and generally tidied up.
If things are going well two spreads can be produced in a day. Not everything goes so fast and Naomi finds it best, if a week is not ‘working’, to go onto the next and return with a fresh mind later. “About two thirds of the year flows well and then I need to research anniversaries and go back through old material for inspiration for the remaining third. I don’t like re-using old material - although some of it is very good! - but it will often spark an idea.”
There is then a lot of proof reading to ensure that holidays are correct and facts are right - if a fact or quotation is wrong a DodoPadler of keen eye and sharp mind will certainly pick it up!
What is Naomi’s favourite spread from the new 2023 Dodo Pad?
“I was particularly happy with the expression on the faces of both Bacchus and the Dodo contemplating his meagre plate of raisins - and I always like to be able to include the odd art historical reference.”
Whilst the cover has changed, the grid remains the same, perfect for organising yourself, your family, your dogs, chickens, holiday lets or anything you choose and always, as a Dodo Padler recently commented, "chock full of whimsy."
The very first Dodo Pad, published 9th December 1965, and the very latest, published on 23rd June 2022
Each year the Dodo Pad remains hand illustrated. A labour of love for all involved, it is a work of art in itself.
The precious Doderie is sitting here, at Dodo Pad HQ, carefully stored, as we slowly catalogue its extensive contents.
One day we hope this unique insight into an illustrator’s way of working can find a long term home in a public collection, where more people can see it and appreciate it; or be part of an exhibition that celebrates the work of Sir John Verney and his living legacy that is the Dodo Pad today.
And don’t forget, if you have an idea for the Dodo Pad, email Lord Dodo at email@example.com. All ideas used will get a free Dodo Pad!