How to bloop your way to design success

Intimidated by other people's big-name client commissions? Don't be – Ben Tallon explains why.

Every time I tell someone I've written a book, I chase the announcement with a cascade of panicked, aggressively modest explanations that although it is about my journey through the creative industries, it isn't an autobiography.

The things nobody tells you about going freelance

Besides, who would even know who I am? It was never going to be the tabloid-serialised, wholesale slamming of the 10,239 ignorers of introductory emails. I wrote it because I wanted to pull back the curtain on the industry, just a little.

I mean, visit my website. You'll see a client list featuring the likes of the Premier League. But in 2006, when I skittered out of the New Blood graduate show like a dog from a bath, played off the park by the overwhelming competition, I was still two years from launching my maiden website, let alone landing a commission.

No commission is perfect

Every creative website portfolio I saw made me sweat at the impossibility of the task ahead. Window dressing is essential, but also a bit like a celebrity Photoshop retouch. What it took me a few years to grasp was, we all have our own airbrushed spots that never made it to the front cover.

Just the other week I was working for the Premier League. I found myself being filmed for a Sky Sports segment as I drew directly onto a phrenology head. The idea was to splice me amongst a series of football action clips previewing the upcoming Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal game; it was a great commission that I couldn't have even dreamed of in 2006.

However, what nobody will ever see is my frozen, glassy-eyed demeanour upon the realisation that I'd missed out the Y in 'psychology' (written in permanent marker pen).

And the resulting bendy-legged scurry to the nearest WH Smith, breathlessly barking "Tipp-Ex!" at the poor staff. I had to forego my lunch break to barely control my shaking hand and eventually managed to correction-fluid my way out of an irreversible mess.

Slapstick moments

That slapstick sketch was just one selection from an equally inglorious lowlight reel. It won't be shown on BT Sport or Sky TV with the feature, but the grey hairs multiplied all the same. Not only was this my first job for this client, it was also the end of a four-week spell without work.

The trials never end, but that's what makes the unthinkable moment you dreamed of so sweet when it comes every once in a while. The showcasing and the brand development is a lot of fun, but remember that you're not alone on the bleak days, no matter how star-studded your hero may appear when pinned up on your wall.

But let's not shed the mystique altogether. I still believe David Bowie is from Mars, but even he, like the Premier League greats, performed on a wet Monday night in Stoke-On-Trent in 1973.

Words: Ben Tallon

Ben Tallon is a London-based freelance illustrator and art director. His book, Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries, was published in May 2015. This article was first published inside Computer Arts issue 239.

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