’ve been freelancing for almost three years, full time. It’s been a knife-edge mental health version of Mario Kart, no shells or cartoon bombs, but times where I’ve been pretty damn near throwing the towel in with hatred for all things creative and times where I’ve been looking over my shoulder thinking ‘Where’s Beadle?’ because things have gone remarkably well.
One of the questions I’m most commonly asked by people who know me well and people who don’t know me at all is, ‘How do you get yourself out of bed each day when you have no boss?’ The bottom line is, there is no right answer. Like most things in the whimsical world of modern day media, each person has their own views and methods. But I think there are many lessons to be learned in what inspires a person, within and outside the creative industries.
I’m often approached by students and asked to help them with essays, projects and tips for getting started. They almost always ask, ‘Which designers or artists inspire you?’ Usually I answer ‘none’ – that I draw my creative juices from fruits that grow outside galleries and design books. Of course, that’s not entirely true but my point is that each and every creative must take their own experiences in life and forge them into their own craft in order to fulfil potential.
To mimic will inevitably lead you to obscurity – a stinking, washed-out imitation of the master of the style you attempt to clone. I spent the first year of my degree trying to become the next Ralph Steadman. No disrespect to Ralph, but I realised I was in danger of farting on my own Weetabix in this futile pursuit and so turned my attention to being the first Ben Tallon. No surprise it was the start of me finding my feet as a creative. Sometimes it takes a few frank words from a fresh viewpoint to blow away the ego-dust.
Use your experiences
When I was around 15 years old, I rediscovered my boyhood love of professional wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation. Most people I know rip the shit out of me but I have such an admiration for the dedication required to succeed, or even exist, in the pro-wrestling business. Three-quarters of the year on the road, six shows a week taking a physical beating. I draw inspiration from this and channel it into my own toils. Some would question the wiring in my brain for comparing the harshly contrasting realms of spandex giants with pixel sculpting geeks, but I’m sure I’m not alone in using unconventional tools to skilfully dodge the ‘snooze’ trap each morning.
Indeed, this past weekend I visited Denmark and the stunning Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art where a strange thing happened; I came out the other end more inspired than I have felt for some time. But the thing is, I didn’t grow up looking at galleries. I grew up getting made to scrape excess mud off my school trousers by my mother after another needless sliding tackle on a lopsided pitch, or legging it after firing stones at a car from a 79p catapult, just for the thrill of the chase. Granted, I was a little bastard for a short while but these are the things that shaped me as a person, and these are the experiences that have come together over 28 years to comprise my creative style. This is something that any successful media practitioner has to do.
In times like this, when work is at a premium and most creative practices are seen as a luxury, it’s simultaneously harder than ever to stay inspired, but it’s also a time rich with meaty material to pick from the bones. I’ve had more frequent lows than ever in my career thus far over the past month or so, but pulling through each of them, I come out hardened from the dip in confidence.
There’s something very Jekyll and Hyde about my current mindset. When a couple of jobs drop in the all-too-barren inbox, I’m all fired up again, like some kind of weird dog that knows scraps are forthcoming from its owner, sweeping my snout all over my Excel spreadsheet database equivalent of the kitchen floor, optimistic that the overdue cascade of treats must surely follow. Yet three barren days go by and suddenly I’m twitching as I skitter past Job Centre Plus, hood up, stubble and everything, whimpering with each click of the refresh button that yields not so much as a new Twitter follower.
And look again
Leaving the Louisiana, I’d felt the urge to crack out the acrylics and go Apache on the easel for the first time in years. David Hockney’s Me Draw On iPad exhibition was a superb example of a veteran artist utilising just another tool to stay ahead of the game, much like Damon Albarn recording the Gorillaz album, The Fall entirely on the same device whilst travelling the States. Sculptures, installations, it was all happening in that Danish suburban idyll and I learned that it’s crucial to look everywhere in the hunt for inspiration treasure, even to those that you might have written off, or never even considered.
With the dole queue at its longest, there is no time like a recession for feasting on a banquet of fear-fuelled material to get those ideas ticking to stay afloat. It takes a strong character to survive, but when was it any different in this warped industry?
Ben Tallon is a freelance illustrator who has worked for The Guardian, Channel 4 and the Wall Street Journal. This is an edited version of a post from his new blog, On the Edge: A Freelancer in the Recession, which is online at bentallon.tumblr.com. See benandink.co.uk