Like Pierre de Courbertin’s oft-quoted 1908 Olympic adage, “The most important thing is…not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well” – artists and designers often derive most pleasure from the act of making and not the finished product. Being the enquiring type, I often find equal if not greater pleasure in seeing a skilled designer at work than in looking at their completed work. Understanding how something is made, having an insight to the way in which a person perceives and thus gaining some appreciation of how they develop a design fascinates me. Seeing how a particular effect or technique is enacted gives me, if only for a moment, the hope that perhaps “I too could do that”. Small steps understood create sometimes an ambition to emulate. This is how we learn. It is sometimes difficult to unpick the many elements of a finished work. Many of us can identify with the experience of standing in front of a painting, pondering how it was done and trying to get inside the mind of the artist. With complex works this can be challenging. Deconstruction requires us to hold ideas of context, motivation, emotion, perception and many other things in our minds at the same moment. Seeing the work as it is being made or having access to the materials of its making can help us to see beyond its surface and appreciate it in a new and deeper way. One of the enduring joys ( and exquisite frustrations ) of looking at original work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh is that I can never quite understand how he did it. I have learned to just enjoy being in the presence of something which, if I see it often enough, may reveal some of its maker’s intentions. After seventeen years of giving tours to visitors at 78 Derngate I was still seeing new things in Mackintosh’s work there. A few years ago at a Mackintosh symposium in Glasgow it was interesting to hear that he was known to be a “quick worker” at the drawing board. Mary Sturrock ( 1892 – 1985 ), who knew Mackintosh personally, described how he was not like other people. “With one or two lines, with a pencil… he could make you almost tremble…he had this special extra power”. I have been privileged to see many original drawings by Mackintosh and they indeed attest this speed of draftsmanship. An extraordinary ability to convey in design drawings, often with just a suggestion of a line or detail, his vision for the finished piece. Printed greetings card for Mr and Mrs Bassett-Lowke. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. c.1922 (lithograph) Image: The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery In 1922 the owner of 78 Derngate, a small terraced house in Northampton which was remodelled to Mackintosh’s designs in 1916-17, commissioned a Christmas card design from him. Christmas – themed works from Mackintosh are rare – ( here is an earlier one ). The 1922 design is not an obvious seasonal subject but may, in its origins, be a reference to a well known Christmas carol. It featured a stylised land and seascape featuring the trains and ships which formed the mainstay of the client W.J Bassett-Lowke’s model engineering business in Northampton. “Sailing Ships”. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. c.1922. Image: Eleanor Ferguson via Instagram, taken at The Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery. Hunterian catalogue information. This Christmas card design drew upon another ( possibly preparatory ) work by Mackintosh, “Sailing Ships” made around the same time. Now in the Hunterian collection it shows, again in a heavily stylised seascape, three ships. The dominance of the horizontal stripes used to represent the sea is broken by the rhythmic waves which are drawn at sharp contrasting angles. Perspective is conveyed through the ever narrower stripes as the scene recedes and with the arc of abstracted green sea foam disappearing into a sharp point. Using just two colours with a tiny square of red for the ship’s flag, an exciting and dynamic composition has been made. The work is rightly regarded as being amongst the most avant-garde British graphics of the time. It is a delightful piece of great style. This delight is extended by a clear developmental thread which can be seen from a third work, the preparatory drawing of a ship; the same one which was eventually used in the forefront of “Sailing Ships”. However this ship does not appear in the Christmas card where its dominant place has been sacrificed to the client’s greetings inscription. The other two more distant ships are retained. The arc form has now been greatly developed into sea cliffs, an undulating landscape and four railway lines complete with little trains making deco smoke puffs as they speed into the distance. The latter, no doubt, a reference to Bassett-Lowke’s interests. “Sailing ship”. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. c.1922 (pencil drawing) Image: The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery Stylised striped motifs seen in other Mackintosh works from this period include numerous textile designs, a wall treatment at 78 Derngate [ 1917 ] and another in The Dugout at The Willow Tearooms the same year. In “Sailing Ships” and the greetings card the stripes become the seascape. The inclusion of the schooner in “Sailing Ships”, then its removal in developing the greetings card give a sense of Mackintosh’s process of responding to a demanding client. These surviving drawings tell the story of how a polished and original commercial work evolved. Bassett-Lowke considered Mackintosh’s Christmas card as his favourite from all those he commissioned over many years. At the time of its making this work was at the cutting edge of British graphic design; we can see the emergence of an ‘Art Deco’ style in what was to be the final period of his working life. When compared with the style of the young Mackintosh we can appreciate how far he had come and what might have been had his design career continued.