I enjoyed reading a recent article on vintage tea towels and it has prompted me to get around to writing a long overdue blog about the work of Belinda Lyon, a talented illustrator who created tea towel designs for Oxfam during the 1970's.
Belinda Lyon trained at a London art school and started her commercial career in advertising. Illustrators were in strong demand during the late 1950's and early 1960's and advertising was where many young graduates of the era started their careers. Iconic illustrated adverts and posters the early 1960's are now highly collected and many talented and now sadly anonymous illustrators started out in advertising before television and photography took over during the later "swinging 60's".
Early 1960's adverts relied on illustrators to create the "look"
These typical examples are from 1962/63
Belinda started her commercial freelance career circa 1965 with illustrations for short stories and books. Almost from the start of her career, her commissions were for books aimed at children and teenagers, featuring advice for young people, crafts, sewing and fashion. Some of the books and cut out dolls she illustrated in the first few years of her career are fantastic retro time capsules 40 plus years on.
Short story, book and cut out doll story illustrations from 1966 - 1968
Belinda Lyon is more well known to 1970s retro fans for her lovely tea towel and fabric cut out designs which became part of the massive Oxfam retail success story. Belinda's first design for Oxfam was a colourful Christmas card illustration in 1966. In 1967 Oxfam introduced their first "own brand" products consisting of the first two tea towels. The elephant and giraffe were initially produced in three colours and were selected for the London Design Centre - at this time still known as the Council for Industrial Design, prior to the opening of the Design Centre shop in 1971 which had people flocking in to buy the latest trend setting products.
The first 2 Oxfam tea towels were produced in 3 different base colours.
The elephant and giraffe tea towels were an instant hit and new designs were added to the range each year with 20 different animals available in the series by 1979, most of which came in two different colours. Oxfam were the very first UK charity to introduce a retail commercial model to their shops and as the number of shops grew so did their gift range.
Fox, Dandy Lion and bull from 1969 - 1972
Belinda produced very popular designs for Oxfams successful retail gift range throughout the 1970's and her work very much reflected the colours, trends and themes popular with children at the time. Belinda produced over 60 designs for Christmas cards, tea towels, cut out dolls, pillow cases, cushions and toys which continued to be sold in Oxfams shops into the 1980's.
4 of the "Great lovers of the world" tea towel series from 1973 - 1976/77
Belinda Lyon's first 2 cut out doll designs for Oxfam issued in 1972/73
Other designs for Oxfam included cut out cushions, toys, and pillow cases
Belinda Lyon's designs also appeared on tea towels sold by a few other companies during the 1970's.
As a published children's book illustrator, it seems a natural progression that Belinda Lyon went on to become a successful comic illustrator. Most of her later career during the 80's and 90's was spent illustrating for Twinkle comic, and lots of grown up girls will remember with fondness one of her most well known Twinkle comic characters - Jenny Wren. Sadly, weekly comics started to decline during the 1990s and Twinkle stopped production in 1999.
One of Belinda's last commissions before she retired from commercial work was for a lovely children's book by Nicola Baxter, still in production as far as I am aware, which contains many of her highly detailed humorous illustrations.
Belinda Lyon, like many other talented illustrators from her generation, has been mainly unknown for the last 20 years until the growing retro interest in the 1970's and the current sewing craft revival has brought her designs and illustrations "back on trend" and her designs are a reference source for several of today's retro inspired designers.
You can find lots more examples of her work on my flickr photostream.