I’ve been freelancing for almost three years, full time. It’s been a knife-edge mental health version of Mario Kart, no shells or cartoon bombs but times where I’ve been pretty damn near throwing the towel in with hatred for all things creative and times where I’ve been looking over my shoulder thinking “Where’s Beadle?” because things have gone authenticity questioningly well. One of the questions I’m most commonly asked by people who know me well and people who don’t know me at all is, “How do you get yourself out of bed each day when you have no boss?”
The bottom line is, there is no right answer to this question. Like most things in the whimsical world of modern day media, each person has their own views and methods. But I think there are many lessons to be learned in what inspires a person, within and outside the creative industries. I am often approached by students and asked to help them with essays, projects and tips for getting started. They almost always ask me, “Which designers or artists inspire you?” Usually I answer ‘none,’ that I draw my creative juices from fruits that grow outside galleries and design books. Of course that’s not entirely true but my point is that each and every creative must take their own experiences in life and forge them into their own craft in order to fulfill potential. To mimic will inevitably lead you to obscurity and stinking, washed out imitation of the master of the style you attempt to clone. I spent the first year of my degree attempting to become the next Ralph Steadman. No disrespect to Ralph but I realized I was in danger of farting on my own weetabix in this futile pursuit and turned my attention to being the first Ben Tallon. No surprise it was the start of me finding my feet as a creative pro, sometimes it takes a few frank words from a fresh viewpoint to blow away the ego-dust.
This past weekend I visited Denmark and the stunning Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art where a strange thing happened; I came out the other end more inspired than I have felt for some time.
Let’s go back a little and I’m fifteen years old. I have just chosen Physical Education over art to study at GCSE level and I’m sat in my bedroom, zoned out, feverishly clipping the cream of the Sunday newspaper reports of the Barclays Premier League game where Leeds United had come back from three goals down to win 4-3 against Derby County. I hadn’t picked up a pencil for a few weeks and my obsession with my beloved football club had reached crisis point, reaching fever pitch with my dad bollocking me after catching me crying on a Wednesday night after Leicester City had triumphed 2-1 with two stoppage time goals in a largely irrelevant Carling Cup tie. Pathetic but the grief was very real and as I sit in my living room writing this, an argument has just erupted with my flatmate (Arsenal fan) over whether Thierry Henry was fouled or not in a game against Leeds from 2003 that we are watching on a highlights DVD. We were 4-0 down at the time. I for one have grown up…
This was all happening around the same time I rediscovered my boyhood love of professional wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation, barbarically snatched from my life by the amputation of our inflation poisoned Sky TV package. Most people I know rip the shit out of me but I have such an admiration for the dedication required to succeed or even exist in the pro-wrestling business. 3/4 of the year on the road, six shows a week taking a physical beating. I draw inspiration from this and channel it into my own toils. Some would question the wiring in my brain for comparing the harshly contrasting realms of spandex giants and pixel sculpting geeks but I’m sure I’m not alone in using unconventional tools to skilfully dodge the snooze trap each morning.
The thing is I didn’t grow up looking at galleries. I grew up getting made to scrape excess mud off my school trousers by my raging mother after the latest needless slide tackle on a lopsided pitch, which of course in my head played out under the floodlights of a packed Elland Road. Sometimes it was legging it after firing stones at a car from a 79p catapult just for the thrill of the chase. Granted, I was a little bastard for a short while but these are the things that shaped me as a person and these are the experiences I have come together over my twenty-eight years to comprise my creative style. This is something that any successful media practitioner has to do.
I think in times like this, when work is at a premium and most creative practices are seen as a luxury, it’s simultaneously harder than ever to stay inspired, but also rich with meaty material to pick from the bones. I’ve had more frequent lows than ever in my career thus far over the past month or so, but pulling through each of them, I come out hardened from the dip in confidence. There’s something very Jekyll and Hyde about my current mindset. When a couple of jobs drop in the all too barren inbox, I’m all fired up again, like some kind of weird dog that knows scraps are forthcoming from it’s weak owner, sweeping my snout all over my excel spreadsheet database equivalent of the kitchen floor, eternally optimistic that the overdue cascade of treats must surely follow. Yet three barren days go by and suddenly I’m twitching as I skitter past Job Centre Plus, hood up, stubble and everything, whimpering with each click of the refresh button that yields not so much as a new Twitter follower.
Leaving the Louisiana, I’d felt the urge to crack out the acrylics and go Apache on the easel for the first time in years. David Hockney's 'I draw on I Pad' exhibition was a superb example of a veteran artist utilizing just another tool to stay ahead of the game, much like Damon Albarn recording Gorillaz’ album, ‘The Fall’ entirely on the same device whilst travelling the States. Sculptures, installations, it was all happening in that Danish suburbian Idyll and I learned that it’s crucial to look everywhere in the hunt for inspiration treasure, even those that you might have written off, or even never considered.
With the Dole queue at it’s longest, there is no time like a recession for feasting on a banquet of fear fuelled material to get those ideas ticking to stay afloat. It takes a strong character to survive but when was it any different in this warped industry?