My Big Break: Bill McArthur, cartoonist and painter

BILL McArthur was The Herald’s cartoonist between 1992 and 2002 and continues to work, on a freelance basis. But he has also turned his hand to oil painting and has an exhibition of his seascapes opening in Edinburgh on Thursday, at the Coburg House Gallery, Coburg Street, Leith.

He still produces a cartoon for the weekly Fishing News newspaper.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

It was never a particular ambition but, at university in Edinburgh, I was involved rather more heavily than perhaps I should have been in student publications, ending up as editor of Gambit – taking over from the late Michael Shea.

What was your first ‘media job’?

I was asked to illustrate an article in a now long-dead business publication published by the Scottish Council for Business and Development.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

I attended art college at the same time as the University of Edinburgh, and afterwards I went to work as a junior art director for the ad agency, J Walter Thompson in London. I then returned to Edinburgh and started a screen printing business called Inprint, which I ran for 11 years.

Next came my ‘midlife crisis’, when I sold up the business, bought a fishing boat and a croft in Orkney. Talk about stepping off the property ladder! Over the years, there weren’t many types of fishing that I wasn’t involved in. For example, I worked prawns in the Minch, landing into Lochinver. Scallops round Skye, the Uists and on the East coast in the Moray Firth, landing into Wick. Then, in the late summer, we changed to creel fishing around Orkney but travelling west to North Rona, the Butt of Lewis, the Flannans and, a favourite of mine, St Kilda.

Indeed, many of the paintings in this, my first solo exhibition in Edinburgh, are based on the experiences involved in fishing in a small boat in these exposed, far-flung places.

Latterly, when working from home in Sanday I developed a market for Porbeagle sharks. This came to a head in 1992, just as I was starting with The Herald, when I caught rather more of these 20-stone fish than was wise… in a 20ft boat.

The boat sank, I floated off and The Herald gained a cartoonist.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

In February 1988, I was offered a job as the cartoonist for Fishing News, the national newspaper for the industry, and have done a cartoon every week for them ever since.

In 1992, Arnold Kemp asked me to do a pocket cartoon for The Herald and, when George McKechnie was editor, he asked me to take over the Opinion page political cartoon in 1996. Probably the sweetest moment as a cartoonist came as I sat at the editor’s table at the Scottish Press Awards and won the Cartoonist of the Year a month after the then editor Mark Douglas-Home had sacked me.

Last year, I was invited to become the Charles R. Mackintosh artist-in-residence in Collioure, France, and spent an extremely interesting month being taken well out of my comfort zone… some of the results of this are included in the exhibition on Thursday.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

The late Arnold Kemp, Harry Reid and George McKechnie. Also, Tim Oliver of Fishing News.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

The late John Duncan once said to me: “Never get used to having money”. And in the present state of the newspaper industry, it was timely advice.