colours of the chameleon

In the urban jungle of Edinburgh designer Gavin Bonnar
has created a cyber showcase of art and design.
David Hunter logs on and prepares to meet the beast.

'Chameleon (Kam-meal-yon) small lizard that changes colour according to its surroundings.'The standard dictionary definition for chameleon is familiar to most people. But from a small flat in Edinburgh freelance designer Gavin Bonnar is seeking to change that definition in creative circles for ever.

Chameleon Design Creative Services is an on-line creative gallery launched by Bonnar in October 1996. The site boasts a selection of talent from every aspect of art and design. Ranging through illustrators, photographers, animators, sculptors and more, the site reads as a kind of creative Yellow Pages.

Specialising in graphic design, Bonnar himself has worked on a number of freelance projects, including The Big Issue in Scotland website and a mixture of CD inlay covers, corporate literature, logos and even producing a 12hour television documentry about the Vietnam War. It is Bonnar's facination with the internet however, however, which has lead to this virtual gallery of creative talent.
"I noticed a couple of years ago that the general public were not really aware of how to contact designers." remarks Bonnar.

"This site serves to provide the potential customer with whatever kind of work they desire." And it might just do. With 44 separate artists on the site, there is not only a wide choice of disciplines, but a choice of different styles within those disciplines.

Take the illustration section for example. The Chameleon website currently lists twelve individuals, including the site's author, with examples of their work and background information on each illustrator. Any potential client visiting the site has a variety of different disciplines available to them, with any desired illustrator only an e-mail away.

Having such a range of designers to hand also brings other advantages. For example Chameleon offers the possibility of combining designers from different sections to work on a project: photographers and illustrators furniture designers and blacksmiths, all at the whim of the client. "You can literally buy anything from this site, from a brooch to custom-made furniture, to a portrait for your house." claims the Website's founder.

"part of the reason I called the Website "chameleon" was because it shares the creatures ability to adapt and change when it needs to." Yet, despite the range of services it provides, the Chameleon Website remains relatively low-brow, cursed, despite its uniqueness , to appear alongside a thousand other sites when you type the word DESIGN into your search engine. How do you market a site with as many services as Chameleon has? Bonnar has, on occassion, tried placing advertisements, but to little avail. The main problem seems to be the difficulty of conveying in an advert all that is on offer on the website, and where do you place the ad? An Art magazine? Bonnar shrugs, "I've tried advertising once, it was a lot of money for little result."

With advertising out of the picture, how can the site's profile be raised? One way is to feature the work of high-profile and acclaimed artists such as Edinburgh's Rob Maclaurin and French-based illustrator Peter Weevers. Maclaurin's work has featured in London exhibitions and in the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, while Weevers has displayed considerable talent in the children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Examples of both men's work can be viewed on Chameleon.

Bonnar also involved Chameleon in the recent "Unknown Artists" exhibition held in Edinburgh, which was also supported by Scottish advertisisng heavyweights Faulds and The Leith Agency. Bonnar designed the posters and flyers for the event, as well as feauturing work form the website. The gallery turned out to be a success for Chameleon, with two painters, Damian Callan and Michael Laing making sales of their work.

There have also been other scattered successes for the site including over £20,000 worth of work for Chameleon's Damian Callan when a Swedish business man hired him after seeing his work on the site. illustartor Peter Weevers' work was spotted by a New York publishing company and, through Chameleon, Peter was contacted and made a sale.

So what does the site's author and administrator gain from helping these artists? A massive down payment of cash? A 60% cut of any sales? No. For entrance onto the Chameleon Website an artist/designer pays an annual fee of £20, for which they can update their work at anytime, and pays 10% of any sales made through the site to Bonnar.

"I've done this for my love or art, which I'm obsessed about," states Bonnar, who sports a Chameleon tattoo on his right arm, " as well as my appreciation of other people's work."

That appreciation is driving Bonnar to ensure that, unlike its namesake. Chameleon Design doesn't blend into the background.  

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