I’m in deep this time. My mum’s bellowing of my name from two floors up strikes an icy fear into me. I’ve been waiting for this. Seven years old was deemed too old to have Winnie the Pooh on my bedroom wall and I took the law into my own hands. Now this vandalism has been discovered and I have no way of explaining my way out of this mess.
My mum’s an artist and she painstakingly created a fantastic rendition of the cartoon yellow honey fiend for my pleasure. So why I took a marker pen to it instead of asking to paint over it, I have no idea. She’s upset and angry and who could blame her. Eventually, she forgives me, but the guilt is huge.
In my teens, I earned myself a ban from all UK branches of Woolworths when I stole a Corinthian football figure of Ian Wright, who ABSOLUTELY HAD TO BE IN MY TEAM RIGHT NOW. This was also very stupid and thankfully an isolated incident.
It took many years, but it started to occur to me that these moments were indicative of characteristics that were hardwired. Not stealing or vandalism, but compulsion, desperation, competitive spirit, dark humour. I could go on. Take your pick. They’ve all landed me in trouble at one point or other and a cocktail of them drove me to this act of rebellion. They don’t go away and nor should you seek to chase them off. It’s about pointing them in the right direction and transforming them into assets. I’m ¾ way through writing a follow up book to Champagne and Wax Crayons. The basis of the story is the symbiotic relationship between personality and creativity, the way you behave naturally in many life situations and how they influence the correct career paths. These nuances are invaluable, even if they manifest themselves the wrong way in formative years.
My parents, despite the hard time I would occasionally gave them, never sought to rid me of any of these traits, but sought ways to teach me where they might be applied. Within sense of humour alone, there is a huge myriad of individual quirks that nobody else could replicate. At 8 years old, I would build a tower of books and boxes to stand upon so that I could reach far enough out of my attic bedroom skylight window and fire snapped wax crayons from my catapult, at the opposing neighbour’s window. I found this funnier than what I could draw with them. In later years, the same irreverent humour has provided me with a creative voice and a way into editorial illustration because of the way I see politics, social issues and celebrity culture. It was my foot in the door with The Guardian and Channel 4 and raw energy that has enabled me to establish myself in a space that is my own. Every single one of us is hard-wired with individuality and creativity, but we tend to see creativity as something we have to work hard for. This couldn’t be further from the case. The hard work is essential to utilise the fruits of creativity, but is not essential to the fundamental practice of it. The most natural and valuable tools are the things you’ve been doing since an early age because that’s the way you are.
Even now, I regularly take jokes too far, burn myself out with the same compulsion that led me to steal as a teenager, but for all the times they lead me down a wrong path, there are many times I used them to great effect in an industry underpinned by individuality and authenticity.
I recently talked to several people who were taking their first freelance steps and some of the work they showed me felt too contrived, on trend. I told them this and explained why, comparing it to something that caught my eye further down the page. I asked them to elaborate on a piece they felt wasn’t finished or accomplished and when they told the story, I highlighted a number of reasons this was stronger and loaded with traits that they had disassociated from being creative. It’s a kind of therapy, but it’s always the idea, the message, what you have to say and how you express it that truly matters. Embracing the thing you consider positive and negative about yourself is an essential starting point to creating truly innovative work.
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