I can safely say that never, not once, during all the hours spent working in my bedroom, where the days merged into one infinite spell of freelancing frustration, did I EVER think that people in Minsk, Belarus, Tokyo and Osaka would be laughing at or taking notes from my journey.
It just doesn’t enter your mind. When you’re in the tiny microcosm of the universe, which you inhabit as a creative professional working independently, all that exists is the current worry, panic or deadline. So you get on with it.
Then the strangest thing happened. The blog posts I wrote as a way to channel my emotions during high times and the lows attracted readers. These tended to be other internet dwellers who liked my illustration style and happened to see the links I posted to my diary style notes. They told me so and it gave me confidence. So I kept producing them. Eventually, one conversation led to another and I signed a publishing deal for Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries. The book came out, received strong reviews from readers and the creative press. Even The Times, The Guardian and The Independent picked it up. All of this, of course, was tremendously exciting.
Things really got strange when I received an email from the British Embassy in Minsk, asking if I’d like to come and do some talks, live drawing and workshops around the international book fair. Admittedly, Minsk was not a location on my list of places I wished to visit, but the opportunity to travel to a new place brought about by my creative work was not something I would consider turning down.
It all felt very surreal. Snow fell on a city full of fascinating differences in more extreme temperatures than I am accustomed to and the thrill of adventure underpinned the whole thing. A whirlwind few days flew by with two talks, a live drawing event plus numerous trips to visit local designers, illustrators and entrepreneurs.
Dusting myself down, I tried to make sense of it all. I received some great feedback on the book and listened as the local arts community explained how things work in Belarus. They are playing with a different set of rules and whilst this was valuable to learn, it also dawned on me that I had gained a sense of how I was perceived in different lands.
In 2017, we operate in a truly global industry and whilst the market can feel massively overcrowded and fiercely competitive in the UK, understanding how you fit into different cultures can be very valuable.
Six months later and I’m in Japan for the official launch of my book, now fully translated and published with a brand new book jacket. In Osaka and Tokyo I talked to a brand new audience with an interpreter and benefitted from insights into the Japanese market.
What became apparent quite quickly was, my psychology and methods of starting and surviving as a freelancer were not so common in Japan. We traded notes and each party came away with new things to think about.
It’s a beautiful, invigorating feeling, seeing what aspects of your artistic words, style or story people pick up and see if their own way can be complemented by it.
Since then, the publisher and I have worked closely to maximize one huge asset: difference. The stories I told in my book about studios I shared, newspaper offices in which I panicked, childhood passions I used to fuel my practice and clients I worked with all held a different kind of currency than they had to UK readers. So we shape our marketing techniques accordingly, seeking feedback from Japanese creative professionals, book stores, students and fans of the book.
It’s been tremendously exciting to experience Minsk and Japan, but it has also opened my eyes to the fact that people from other places will perceive your own individual journey and characteristics very differently. This does not guarantee success or damnation, but it can help you see your work from many new angles, building a stronger platform from which to shout to the world. In places we never even considered showing our work, there may be a demand or appreciation of it way beyond what we are able to achieve in our homeland.
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