I’m sat there on the single bed, which remains exactly where I left it 2003 as I departed for the fantasyland that university promised to be. Embarrassingly or proudly, depending where you stand on professional wrestling, the duvet I chose for the 2016 Christmas holiday was a 1989 WWF wrestling one, with illustrated characters all over it.
It’s fourteen years since I left and I look back and think how beautifully naïve I was at university. I had a lot of hard knocks to come and on my university studio space I had pinned up the work of Ralph Steadman, Lucinda Rogers, David Foldvari and other illustrators I aspired to be like one day.
When I came to the end of my degree course I had not yet managed to unearth a trademark style and for this I felt guilty, a failure likely to be cast back to the bedroom at my parents’ with college-length lie-ins. Other things I lacked were postcards, a website, even a clue.
One thing I did possess was an unshakeable desire to make something from my creativity. What that something was, beyond a basic living, was largely unknown to me, but the thrill I got from creating something from nothing was too great to not chase until I could no longer run. It would take time to get smart, to find a visual identity, but I did and it was worth the wait.
So as I sat there, on that single bed, I broke my promise to stay off the emails and check in. It’s mostly spam, but one new arrival is from a student. I will not name her, but she told me that she had planned to buy my Champagne and Wax Crayons book, a creative industry survival guide. Her mother had not known this, but by chance, stumbled upon a copy and bought her it as a gift for Christmas. This student is in her 3rd year at university and she asks me if she can come by the studio one day before she goes back to studying in the new-year. I decide to say yes, and during her visit I see that her attitude is a great balance of tenacity and friendliness. She goes on to tell me about a thwarted effort to show up unannounced at the offices of The Guardian and The Spectator. She laughs as if this is some easy feat that would not melt the nervous system of most people. She hangs out, we have coffee and I get on with my work while she asks questions.
A couple of months later, she messages me to ask if I’m planning on heading to the Yo Illo illustration talk event, where Stanley Chow and Jenni Sparks will be speaking. We both miss out on tickets because unsurprisingly, these two are in demand and Yo Illo is turning into the Glastonbury of the midweek illustration world. Luckily for me, I am quick on the waiting list and my ticket comes through when someone drops out. The student is not as fortunate. I tell her she’ll probably be fine to show up on the night and despite every possibility she’ll be turned away on the door, she does and comes to find me in the pub, half cut with Stanley Chow. I’ve just interviewed Stan for my Arrest All Mimics podcast in his hotel room and this student is introducing herself to him. She explains her lack of ticket and Stanley says that if she cannot get one on the door, to say she’s his assistant. This is grade-A hustling and she’s not even graduated. I love her attitude and laugh when she tells me she has to be back in the Midlands for a lecture tomorrow morning.
The three of us pitch up at the event and nobody quizzes presence alongside Stan. She’s grinning widely and it’s great to see. Now I’ve asked her to guest on my podcast because this stuff has to be shared. She’s inspiring me, making me stay on my toes. If just one in forty of the next-generation have this kind of drive, there’s a real risk that I’ll be dragged by my ear into my parent’s bedroom and cast back into that single bed after all; my work dried up, evaporated and drizzled into the lap of these relentless beasts. Be warned, dear veteran. They’re coming for us.
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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