This email arrives and it’s from a student. One lovely upside to being semi-known in the world of illustration is people paying me compliments with occasional requests for advice. The first few times, I got all flustered and perhaps even blushed. I can’t confirm nor deny that, because I was working alone from home at the time with nobody to tell on me.
Anyway, this lad only gets a reply weeks later because he failed to write a basic, polite letter. Even then, it was only because I felt guilty. The reason I almost didn’t get back to him is because he failed to even use my name. His email simply leapt into the statement, ‘I’m hoping you can answer some questions.’ No, ‘hello,’ nor, ‘how are you?’ Straight to the point with a brutal lack of courtesy.
This is not uncommon. I get it - we’re artists and words are for someone else, right? Sadly, that doesn’t fly. Let’s take a look at this in facts. The lad was 17 years old, on an art A level course. I’m eight years into a full time visual communication career. My input at such a fledgling stage would be valuable, you’d think? I know it was and continues to be for me, when someone takes the time to help me, more experienced or not.
This isn't about arse-kissing. I couldn’t care less about being adored. I do this because it’s my hobby and I wanted to be paid do this so badly, so that I would enjoy my daily work. But there’s no escaping that when you ask for someone’s time, the chances are, they’re more likely to give you that if you treat them with respect.
Every time I am asked, I am inclined to help, because I believe that it will benefit the creative industries and it’s rarely beneficial to be selfish. Plus, people were always selfless in helping me, so I feel it is my duty to pass that kindness on to those in need. The thing is, saddling yourself with a handicap before you’ve even started is just silly and counter-productive.
Please and thank you, hello and how are you? Basic manners and being polite are weapons just as valuable as rare talent and blazing flair. It’s shocking how many approaches forget that and immediately wind me up. As my schedule grows bigger, I am less inclined to use any of it to write these replies. The ones I will get back to are not the people with the best work, but those who took the time to structure a professional approach.
I’ve knocked on some pretty heavyweight industry doors just lately and I took the time to write a personal letter, customise it in my own way and mail it to the client I wish to work with. I walked to the post office, bought stamps and everything. Most of them didn’t respond, but one or two gave me a meeting and there have been commissions won.
Nobody owes anybody anything in this game, where time is the most precious commodity, but a little courtesy and a few basics will help your cause. I accepted some time ago that the competition I’m up against for every single job is fierce and vast. So it would be silly of me to trip over my own laces. It has happened. I fell foul of mistakenly switching two names on my database and despite sculpting a well thought out and personal email with a view to giving a talk at a university, I addressed the lady with the wrong name. She lambasted me for it in a one-line, blunt reply. I felt it was harsh, since the rest of my email was well structured, polite and detailed, but there you go. Lesson learned. The thing is, I wondered why she couldn’t just point out my error without questioning my intelligence. Being rude or arrogant is a great and guaranteed way to sever networks!
In my case, I felt bad and answered the student’s questions, but not before switching into teacher mode and telling him (politely) why he should send a better-written and more courteous approach next time.
Ben Tallon is a freelance illustrator, author of Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries and host of Arrest All Mimics, the Original Thinking and Creative Innovation podcast.
He works with WWE, EMI, Channel 4, The Guardian and The Premier League among others.
Want to hear from Ben? His recent podcasts will resonate with freelancers and creatives looking to hear from likeminded leaders in the industry. Visit: https://soundcloud.com/arrestallmimics