Mr Bingo’s amassed the sort of fandom a lot of artists envy; his fans seem willing to part with their pennies not just to buy his illustrations, but to ‘buy’ his phone number too, to take a train ride with him and, most bizarrely, for the ashes from his fireplace (really). From his early days as an illustrator for hire, Bingo now earns a living from the outsized persona he has created.
If you hang around London’s Shoreditch long enough, you’ll see Mr Bingo walking around in bubble-gum pink or neon green shorts. He stands out even among East London’s eclectic mix of characters, not for the shorts, which actually aren’t that outlandish in those parts, but because he’s the sort of chap people stop in the street to get selfies with. There’s even an Instagram account called @watchingmrbingo which collects crowdsourced images of Mr Bingo spotted in the wild.
He’s amassed fans all over the world, has a large social media following (over 100k between Instagram and Twitter) and has inspired a wealth of fan art. His claim to all this fame? He makes drawings. They’re sometimes rude, sometimes weird, mostly hilarious. While the drawings themselves win him a lot of love – fans even tattoo his art on themselves – what seems to resonate with people beyond the art is the man himself – or at least the version he presents to the public. Being Mr Bingo has become his full-time occupation.
And people can’t get enough of it. Bingo once famously crowdsourced £135,000 via a video of him rapping in amusingly awkward, ironic style. The money raised went toward publishing his Hate Mail project in book form. With Hate Mail, Bingo had offered to send postcards featuring lovingly-crafted, bespoke and spectacularly filthy illustrated insults to a recipient of the purchaser’s choice. It was hugely popular.
Much before the rapping, Mr Bingo worked as a commercial illustrator, doing commissions for brands and businesses. After 15 years of being a gun for hire, he decided to give it all up and work exclusively on self-initiated projects. He makes and sells art via his online shop, doing everything from coming up with the ideas to popping prints in the post all by himself. We talk to him about how it all works.
Creative Review: What sort of financial plans did you have in place when you stopped taking on commercial projects and decided to focus solely on self-initiated work?
Mr Bingo: I made sure I had enough money set aside to live on for a year. That money has always stayed there, and I never touch it. It makes me feel (mentally) safe and that I don’t need to worry about where next month’s rent is coming from. The bigger your buffer money is, the more free you can be. I guess the idea is to have enough set aside so that you never have to take a job you won’t enjoy again just because you need some quick cash.
I worked as a commercial illustrator for about 15 years and slowly and steadily gained ‘fans’ over that time period until I decided to quit my commercial illustration career in 2015 and go it alone as a 100% self-sufficient artist. I made a decision to never work for clients again and I was very serious about it.