Whilst preparing for his talk as part of London Design Festival 2016 (Ben spoke as part of ARTS THREAD on how recent graduates can market themselves digitally while on a super tight budget), Ben found a few old photos at his family home, which led to his thoughts on play, the focus of his second column:
“I stumbled across a chance couple of old photographs. It was mere coincidence, but in the first photo, I sit on the back steps of the old Keighley branch of McDonalds, face beaming with pride, holding my winning entry to the fast food chain’s 1989 colouring competition. In the second image, a few slip cases of prints and two years later, there I am in little red trunks, converse shoes, yellow vest and painted on moustache as I snarl at the camera, pretending to be former WWE wrestling star Hulk Hogan in a fancy dress competition.
“I find it strange that we are given the space, tools and encouragement to play in childhood, yet the moment we enter our teenage years, particularly in education, we’re drilled with this misguided idea that the same creativity is exclusive from academic progress and career success.
“The foundation of my talk was that the journey from my childhood hobbies of drawing and watching televised professional wrestling to a career in which I’ve created over 30 artworks and set designs for WWE, the world’s biggest professional wrestling promotion.
“I never let go of that playful exploration of the things that quite simply made me happy. As we entered our late teens, we all started to head out to pubs and clubs and many left behind the video games, the wrestling and other pursuits that might be considered immature during those image conscious years. Then there’s the parental influence to contend with, so often the pressure that squashes dreams and knocks people off course, sending them into a world of conformity and career confusion when they should be fantasising about all the world’s possibilities.
“In my case, I had a mother who would join in on the video games and watch the wrestling with my brother and I, joining in the conversation with friends who shared our love of the ridiculous grappling soap opera.
“I was told from an early age that I should never care what anyone thinks of the things I love, wear and the way I behave, so long as I am happy. That attitude has ensured I occasionally embarrassed myself, but always had fun and developed my personality enough that it underpins mycreative work and illustrative style. This has been the crux of establishing myself in the creative industries.
“At 16, I obsessively played Final Fantasy 7 on the Sony PlayStation. Whilst my GCSE results suffered, it was more indicative of my being drawn towards arts and a distinct lack of engagement with anything other than English, Design and Physical Education at school. My results were underwhelming, but the drawing of FF7’s protagonist was noticed on a work experience placement at the local art college and resulted in a place on the BTEC National Diploma in Graphic Design. It also subconsciously expressed an interest in storytelling, character design and visual communication. At university, my brother mailed VHS tapes of WWE television and my obsession deepened.
“Whilst my influences expanded from the exposure to new people, places, ideas and great tutors, I always held dear to what I loved most, even though others would laugh. I embraced my inner weirdo and became proud of that part of myself, because I started to see how it shaped my creative output. Nobody else could successfully replicate this unique journey, something we are all blessed with, but too quickly abandon when faced with the pressures of adult life. One of the biggest mistakes we make is to do what is expected, and not what comes most natural to us.
“We are told that a large salary and material assets equate to happiness, but this crazy journey, one that earned me three of my dream clients (Leeds United Football Club, The Guardian and WWE) in the first three years of my career gives me a sense of adventure and belonging far more thrilling than anything I might buy with a fatter pay packet that might require sacrifices of those things. Furthermore, it is through enjoyment of play that creativity grows. With almost eight years as a full-time freelance creative under my belt, what has become the Ben Tallon brand was developed on those values and that is now what my clients come to me for.
“Whilst far from rich, I live in London, enjoy the vast majority of my days working my dream job in my own studio and have steer of my own destiny. So next time you feel ashamed with whatever your geeky poison of choice may be, remember it is these quirks that set us apart.”