I felt a tiny bit embarrassed when I logged in here today and read the opening few posts from summer 2011 when I was angry, frustrated and on the edge where my career was concerned.
It’s been over two years since I had a tiny meltdown and after a while, the years just start to fuse into one another, creating this baffling journey where you can’t quite separate one day from the next. I suppose this is about creativity and the lifestyle that a career in the arts breeds. Or something like that.
A friend of mine posted a photograph on my Facebook wall that triggered a mental journey of sorts. He’s been back home this weekend and whilst looking for something at his family home, he unearthed a World Wrestling Federation (As it was called back then) VHS tape with hand drawn spidery writing, reading ‘No Chance In Hell! 1999 Royal Rumble, The Rock v Mankind, I Quit Match’. The writing made me laugh and it reminded me that I still own a cupboard full of my own pro-wrestling tapes dating back as early as 1988. Digging through said cupboard despite the looming deadline in front of me, I pulled out a couple. What used to happen is, my dad would ask the guys at his work if they could record the pay-per-view main events for my brother and I. We had no Sky TV, so I’d buy 4-packs of 180 minute VHS tapes and tuck them in with my dad’s packed lunch. When they came back, I’d spend a day or two of my free time outside of school and college, with those gold liquid ink marker pens that gave you a headache, a cheap glue stick and some felt tip pens, creating the front cover from chopped up WWE Magazines and my imagination. They were unspeakably rubbish, but I was into the way they looked at the time and I watched them so much that only a small portion of them still function without the VHS chewing up the reel. I must have amassed about thirty of these bespoke tape boxes before my college workload became too big to spare the dedication they required. By this point I had a supermarket part-time job and enough money to buy the proper tapes when they came out in Woolworths and friends with Sky would arrange for a bunch of us to shout at the telly in a whisper at 1am, watching them live, round one of our parent’s homes.
It’s an obsession that has never gone away and at thirty years old, it’s getting worse. Under my home office desk sits a replica world heavyweight championship belt and I still own a t-shirt or two with wrestling characters on them. Over the last year and a half, I’ve achieved a dream of sorts by working for World Wrestling Entertainment. Looking at my VHS tapes with a smile on my face, I realised that it’s been thirteen years since I started crafting these cases. They form the middle of a sandwich that consists of pencil drawings of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, done as a seven year old and film poster sized paintings of Kane and Triple H created as a college project. What I realised whilst thinking about all this, is that I only started trying to do this professionally in the last few years. For the majority of my life, I just did it, partly because I loved the over the top nature of wrestling and partly because I loved to draw. The same applies to football and Leeds United, whom I worked for over the last three years of the magazine’s existence. My teenage obsession with Blur was a catalyst in me starting Quenched Music, my company. I could go on. At that time in my life, at eighteen years old, my ambition went no further than working for the local sign-writer, I simply did it for the personal pleasure I derived.
I sometimes get called lucky. I suppose good fortune is irrefutable if you’re going to work for dream clients, depending on your angle, but you certainly have to be open to receiving that fortune and if you don’t work to meet it halfway, you’ll never see it knocking on your door. That’s my belief and I’m sure many would disagree, based on their own path. Thirteen years is a long time and when I line up all the drawings and faded video-tapes, there’s a passion that formed the foundation of all of them. Maybe because of the freedom my folks afforded me, or maybe out of some sort of refusal to grow up, I never deviated from basing my creative endeavors on the things I loved to do. The things that got me out of bed and only required effort to stop doing them. Yeah, I’m a geek, a child, obsessed with brick shithouses of men in trunks, and whatever else I’ve had thrown my way in response to admitting to watching WWE past the age of twelve, but it’s now become not only my TV viewing of choice, but my most treasured client and a vehicle through which I have made genuine friends and developed my creative style to a point where I am finally making enough money to save my blog readers from more unsettling rants.
There’s something strange about doing your dream job – all you can focus on at the time is the immense pressure you place on yourself. Then the flood of relief when you get the confirmation from Fedex that they received the artwork dry and in one piece over in Stamford, CT. After that, you can stare at the final result, but it just sort of passes you by. Only now, whilst holding these dusty plastic boxes, have I truly been able to enjoy this milestone. There were many factors that made it happen. Constant updates with new samples of wrestling illustrations to show my knowledge and love of the product were paramount and eventually paid off. Not letting go of the biggest dreams in the face of financial pressure is so crucial in my eyes and something I’ve only consciously recognised in the past year or so, despite practicing it for over twenty. Looking at this VHS tapes, I thought there was a story here worth telling.
When I directed the Xpress campaign last year – a suicide awareness campaign on behalf of the charity, CALM – I wanted to explore what creativity does for people. My idea was that my passion for the arts were a huge part of my life and provides purpose and belonging to those who practice them in any capacity, as a fan or as a professional. It upset me to learn that so many young people were taking their own lives and I wanted to help raise awareness of CALM’s work and this taboo topic. During that campaign, Tuka, an Aussie hip-hop artist told me something beautiful during an interview. He said that his mother had always told him that ‘What most people are truly good at comes to them so naturally, that they take it for granted.’ We agreed that it’s not so easy to figure yourself out, to consciously connect with the things that empower and activate you as a human being.” So I thought that if I explored many avenues of creativity, that were accessible to all, I could maybe do something worthwhile in the shape of a campaign.
We’re living in a funny time, a society where money is too often seen as a route to happiness. The things I learned through the Xpress campaign, by working with CALM saddened me and mainly seemed to stem, directly or tenuously from money, or a lack of. Make of it what you will, I’m not informed enough to comment on these things, so I thought I’d tell a silly story about wrestling and drawing, the only way I know how. Take from it what you will.
Campaign Against Living Miserably – www.thecalmzone.net
Xpress campaign - www.xpressofficial.com