I still remember the strange feeling I got when someone first asked me to talk to a bunch of students about my creative industry experience. Me? Really? It’s a default response that I see all the time. Last week, Craig Black, a Glasgow based designer and artist showed up at my studio.
I was aware of Craig’s work from social media and he’d been in touch to very kindly compliment the work I was doing through my Arrest All Mimics podcast. He was a regular listener to the show and he explained his own recent happenings, including an increasing amount of requests to talk about his work at industry events and educational institutions. He told me he’d be in London and asked if I had time to say hello, should he come by my base.
Being part of the creative industry gives you a free pass to meet new people. It may well happen, but I find it harder to imagine an electrician dropping another sparky an email and asking to meet for a coffee after a day rewiring houses. But we’re blessed with a certain intangible that makes it cool to meet with strangers and share stories. These tales lead to collaborations, recommendation and sometimes friendships. I cannot recall a single creative date that went awry. It turns out Craig is passionate about his work, adventurous and likes a challenge. All of this we have in common and it feels like we didn’t just meet.
About a year ago, I received an email from Willa Gebbie, a fashion illustrator who runs an illustrators meet up called Yo Illo. She wanted to meet me for a drink and talk about what I was up to. I think she’d seen a book review doing the rounds and felt it could be mutually beneficial to say hello. Yo Illo put on these quarterly industry talks that revolve around a certain theme and after striking up a friendship, she eventually asked me to talk about my hand lettering work alongside the brilliant Kate Forrester. To me, it was a no brainer. I’ve done enough talks to know the value of emptying your head onto a live audience.
When you’re first asked, it seems odd because you just get on with the work. Hindsight is what reveals the bigger picture. Much of what we do is instinctive and responsive, a reaction created there and then. It certainly does not often feel like there is any tangible method behind any of our work. So why would someone want me to talk about it? But when you’re handed the chance to tell that story, something strange occurs and you realise that there is a great and valuable thread, from which others can always learn.
The medium is irrelevant. It could be a notebook on the train, a chat in the pub, a podcast conversation, a formal talk or writing columns, blogs or books, but once down on paper or in the air, we see things that we were perhaps unaware of at the time and this greatly helps inform our future.
Ranting on a blog and then refining it in the shape of my Champagne and Wax Crayons book really taught me to embrace what feels like total chaos, drink in the moment and do not over think it, because it’s important to experience it like a reader does a mystery novel. Otherwise, where is the thrill? So when Willa suggested it might be nice to focus on my hand lettering, it gave me the opportunity to crystalize that particular journey, which like the rest of my career, felt alarmingly accidental. I sat there flicking through projects old and new and sure enough, the story unravels, making me feel like maybe I did have the slightest clue what I was doing.
We all know the arts are notoriously difficult to make sense of, especially when you try to explain it to others from outside of it. But it’s so important to learn from our own discordant stagger through the maze and the opportunity to share with others is a fantastic way to do that. We all wonder why anyone would take an interest in this weird passion of ours, but the journeys of other people are unrivalled as ways to learn, so embrace the chance to run your mouth and tell those tales and it will quickly become apparent that your path is clearer than it may sometimes seem.
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
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