With his new book Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industry just about to drop, we caught up with illustrator and art director Ben Tallon to find out more about the project, his creative process and his top tips for those thinking of going freelance.
Q.What inspired you to write the book? Is it something you’d been thinking about for a while?
A. Champagne and Wax Crayons was originally a series of very angry blog rants in order to let off some steam during a worryingly quiet six weeks. I’d been freelancing three years and, as is often the way, found that I hit a dry spell with zero commissions. I was very frustrated and grew a little bitter. Luckily, the feedback the blogs got me was wholly positive. The work picked up, so I could refine the words with a more objective head on my shoulders and I thought I’d structure my writing as a book.
In total, the work has taken me four years to complete. I scrapped the early version, which was a one year window into the life of a freelance creative. I figured it would be better and more useful to tell the whole story, chronicling everything from early inspirations, how those influenced key decisions and all the highs, lows and oddities that we’re all dealing with. The reason I wrote this in such a personal format is because I believe that the only way you can teach any of the lifestyle side of things in the arts, is by sharing experiences that others can relate to and adapt to their own unique situation.
Q. Can you tell us a little more about your creative process?
A. I’m constantly inspired by this seemingly increasingly crazy world around me. Until the age of seventeen, I was, and to a degree still am quite obsessive about professional wrestling, the band Blur and football. But I think you have to draw influences from the environment around you: be it people, places, experiences and other things that feed your personality and character. We’re all products of our environment and our artistic styles are products of our personalities. So now I pick up on the things people see everyday, that make our streets so British and turn them into works of art. If you look at my portfolio, you’ll see that reflected in the ‘Know What I Mean’ projects. Also, you’ll see my work with bands and World Wrestling Entertainment. My inspirations are better balanced as I begin my thirties! I work with inks, paints, found materials and pens and create everything organically, before scanning and composing digitally. Typical day? There’s no such thing in the freelance world, but I try to do enough marketing and maintenance of my business as quick as possible each day so I can spend more time creating things!
Q.You’ve managed to work with dream clients like World Wresting Entertainment who you’ve loved since you were a kid. Who would you like to create work for next?
A. It’s funny how something like attaining a client like that can change your goals. I never expected to work for WWE, let alone inside five years of being freelance. I’ll never tire of it, but I’m constantly moving into new areas. I moved to London last summer and I’m feeding on all the endless stream of new information that you’re exposed to in a fantastic city like this. I’m regularly seen squatting down, photographing something horrible and dirty like a drinks canister on the floor whilst tourists are looking up at the iconic buildings. I’m trying to create a series of images that represent the less appreciated, everyday aspects of Britain and I see the works as much more of a long term series. It might not be as glamourous as WWE or Channel 4, but it’s got real soul and I feel a new kind of connection to this stuff. I love the new Blur album artwork for The Magic Whip, but I wouldn’t mind working with Damon Albarn myself. He’s a constant creative inspiration to me.
Q. It’s refreshing in the book to hear someone talk about the struggles of freelancing in such an honest way. What top tips would you give to creatives considering going freelance or graduates just starting out?
A. Use your personality as much as possible. Work your bollocks off! Hard work will go a long way. You can be the best in the world and still fail if you don’t want it as much as your competition and trust me, there’s plenty of that. If you find the creative style that is a natural extension of you, no matter whether you’re a film maker, photographer, musician or artist, you’ll want to do it and it will not feel like a chore. When I started to create the organic style I use today, I couldn’t sleep at night because my mind would not switch off. Eighty hours a week was not uncommon and it’s a big part of the reason I attained the clients I thought would be impossible to work with. Beg, steal and borrow to find opportunities and be patient, there’s nothing wrong with working a day job until you feel ready to take the plunge.
Q. What’s next on the horizon after the book launches? Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you can share with us?
A. The book will be around for some time and it’s nice to release something that will be more of a long-term investment. I always have too many new projects on the go. I’m particularly excited about an upcoming collaboration with music photographer, Andy Cotterill. Andy has been in the game way longer than me and we became friends pretty quickly. I’m creating lyrics and quotes in my painted lettering style, to go with his stunning shots of the likes of Damon Albarn, John Peel, Keith Flint, Chuck D and Jarvis Cocker among many, many others, so watch this space. We have high hopes for this one.
To promote the launch of the book, ICON printed a run of limited edition slogan t-shirts. Find out more about our screen printing service here.
Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industry published by LID Publishing is available to buy online now.