They say, with the exception of AOL dial-up Internet access discs, the best things in life are free. Upstairs, at the Apple Store Regent Street, a 64-seat theatre area plays host to a variety of one-hour workshops each day, all free of charge. These range from the simple pleasures of drag-&-drop to the sheer brilliance of Final Cut Pro HD. Although these workshops are planned well ahead, it’s worth turning up on spec to once again be pleasantly surprised by the sheer potential scope of the Mac.
And believe the hype, on a recent visit to the Regent Street store the queue for the newly revamped iPod Mini stretched nearly to the door. I know, I was in it, hoping against hope for that last gold iPod. While Regent Street cannot compete with the Apple Stores dotted around the Los Angeles area, which attract Hollywood actors and musicians alike, it does have its fair share of beautiful people. What better way to be seen than running a finger across the sheen of a 30-inch monitor? The Apple UK flagship store should introduce a singles night, and will replace Tesco in Covent Garden for potential star-spotting.
The workshops appear to attract a mixed bag of spectators, from bemused tourists clutching Harrods bags to hardcore Apple enthusiasts iChatting away, as well as potential switchers. Next to me a guy fashionably slouched is poking a stubby finger at a Dell laptop computer like a monkey trying to type Shakespeare. I’m not sure what he’s doing here – and neither is he by the looks of it, but he’s welcome. The crowds are generally attentive, the presentations from Apple store representatives uniformly excellent. You can study help files, read books and forums, but the best way to learn is to watch somebody else do it first.
Thursdays at 7pm prompt is the place to be for a series of ‘Made On A Mac’ seminars. Creative professionals, filmmakers, photographers, designers, and musicians discuss how they create using a Mac. Recently these have included Nick Hayes, from dynamic design duo Identikal, Ron Ganbar, Digital Compositor at Blue Goo and a number of members of the illustration collective 741 Illustration. Paul Shipper, Myles Talbot, Kevin Hauff, Sarah Coleman and Jill Calder have all showcased their expertise to appreciative audiences in recent weeks. People will and do pay good money to hear this sort of hands on knowledge, as anyone who has attended a creative training course will testify. Here 741 Illustration offer tips and tricks learned over the years for free, helping to demystify the process and inspire those in attendance. All have embraced digital means of working from a traditional background, demonstrating the smooth transition thanks to the Apple Mac ease of use. Watching 741 in action is worth the price of a tube ticket into town on a wet and windy night alone. If you're free, make the effort, offers this good don’t last forever.
Macworld spoke to the members of 741 Illustration.
Who first approached the other?
Apple UK approached 741 to contribute to their 'Made on a Mac' talks after 2004's MacExpo. We were at Expo at the invitation of Adobe, demonstrating our various creative styles and how our traditional workflow is seamlessly integrated with the digital platform, particularly Creative Suite.
What do you feel Apple get out of it?
Apple enjoys the association and endorsement of their products by the very creative types who use their machines professionally, and who traditionally make up a large section of their market. Potential users of Apple products are inspired to purchase, after seeing the astonishing results the marriage of creativity and powerful software can produce.
How does 741 Illustration benefit?
We're marketing enthusiastically and the Mac presentations are a healthy addition to that campaign. We love what Apple is currently doing with its new products; we all use Macs so we're excited to be linked with such a great company on a business-to-business level. By association, we can reassure clients of our professionalism and status in the marketplace.
What do you try to achieve during your presentations?
To communicate how the Mac and the Adobe software can be used and adapted to anyone's and everyone's own creative agenda; also to energize and inspire by demonstrating individual working practices, and show that even when working with a history of traditional artistic media and crafting techniques, one can use technology to adapt and evolve a new style of work.
You've already done presentations at last year’s Mac Expo. How do the two compare?
Mac Expo was different. It was a more direct experience, in a conference room separated from the throng of the expo public. The Store's space is bigger and more frenetic, but this is easy to overlook as the presentation progresses. The presentation facilities – equipment and projection screen – are much better and bigger in scale than at Expo. And of course, physically and geographically, you and your audience are aware of being at the very core of Apple's retail activities in the UK.
Do you think the Apple Store is a good space for presentations?
It's a very relaxed atmosphere with people coming and going. They can stand and listen at the sides, or watch from the back, which is actually part of the busy store. As long as you are comfortable with the coming and going of curious audience members, and the noise from the shop floor, then it's fine. It’s a nice relaxing place to do a presentation.
What type of audiences do you attract to the Apple Store?
A huge cross section of people, ranging from passing Apple customers to students to fellow professional creatives who attend specifically to hear about 741 and the illustrators' work.
Do you think Macs lead to creativity or do creative types tend to choose Macs?
Interesting question. The answer is both. A computer can never replace ideas – it's an artistic medium that, in the right hands, can produce stunning and beautiful work. In the wrong hands… well, the tutors in the group in particular are only too aware of the consequences of easily gained digital style over content. In reality, though, the two are inseparable.
Most of the 741 group are from a pre-Mac era, and the transition to the Mac has been a completely natural progression, because the Mac is so intuitive. As artists, we appreciate the design that drives Apple's aesthetic. 'Form follows function' is only part of Apple's design mantra. The styling, constant innovation and ideas behind Apple products are inherently bound up with the creative process; you want one in your home, you want one in your office. As we've seen with the iPod and the Mac Mini, just like Italian cars or Dyson machines, Apple has become not only the best tool for the job, it's become a brand you desire. People are uniquely passionate about Macs. Apple has introduced aesthetics and choice where before there was just a sea of beige – something which has also undoubtedly encouraged more female buyers into the rather straight-edged digital world. In summary, we'd have to say that having a Mac on your desktop can't help but fire the creative juices.
Do you think there are any real differences learning say Photoshop and Illustrator on a Mac than a PC?
Mac users report 'struggling to even negotiate the (PC) desktop', while some feel PCs infuriate the creative process, rather than let it flow. But actually, no – there are virtually no differences between Illustrator on a Mac and Illustrator on a PC, other than the look of the buttons. All the shortcuts remain the same, as do the palettes. If you're a creative person, you'll be creative regardless of the platform you choose to work with; it's just another tool. However, creative people are stimulated visually, and there's no PC in the land that could ever compete with the style of the Mac. And the stability of the operating system allows the creative professional more time to keep creating, and less time fixing problems.
How is 741 Illustration different from other illustration groups?
741 is a true collective, owned and controlled by the people who work in it. All equal partners, we have a collective responsibility for its future. We iChat weekly as a group to decide business issues, and for the day-to-day running we use email and the phone. Decisions are voted on and the majority carries, usually unanimous because we all have the same ambitions for the future. Each member has their own contribution to the group too; Ali runs the office in London, Jacquie runs the Web site and Myles does the Artwork for promotions, and so on. Obviously, nothing is entirely equal in real life, but because we all understand that, it works; we all have a vested interest in making 741 succeed.
Are any of the 741 group secret PC users?
Well yes, but it's no secret – one of our members proudly uses both on a daily basis, the rest are all 100 per cent Mac – but we'll leave it up to you to try and guess who!
As professionals what advice would you give students or those starting out buying a computer?
If you want to do database and accounting, then buy a PC. If you want to do something creative, buy a Mac! Seriously, though, buy the best and most future-proof piece of kit you can afford, load it with RAM and buy a large, quality monitor – stretching your budget now is an investment in your future ability to evolve. If you intend to work in the creative industry, especially print, then the Mac is the recognized weapon of choice.