Making it happen 365 days a year

When Dom Conlon and Dave Kirkwood set up an online project to raise money for teens with cancer, Kirkwood had to learn how to illustrate and produce an image every day for a year, while Conlon made sense of it all

It’s the end of the day – in fact, well into the night – and Dave Kirkwood is sat at his desk with a blank page in front of him and an unfilled slot in the 3hundredand65 story. By midnight, the next line in the story must have been composed and posted on Twitter by a person who hasn’t yet been identified. I know this because day after day I’ve watched from the other side of the window as Dave has managed the monumental, groundbreaking project that officially started on 1 January 2012. Looking back from the safe ledge of 2013, I can see just how truly monumental the project was.

In case you haven’t heard about it, let me quickly sum up the story, which took 365 writers and one illustrator – Dave – a whole year to create. Each day one new person pledged to send a tweet that would form part of a continuing story. In return, Dave created a new illustration based on that tweet. Combined, these would form a year-long story, created with the aim of raising awareness and money for the issues specific to teens suffering from cancer.

From a quiet beginning, writers signed up and booked a date. Word began to spread, and the energy and drive that Dave brought to the project helped stretch it further and further. Celebrities got involved, using their influence to take the project into the national press in the UK and then on to many millions of people around the world. It was never going to be easy – but with one of Dave’s stated aims being to learn the art of illustration, the task was perhaps a lot more daunting than any of us knew.

Day by day, the story progressed in its own strange way as each writer made a contribution. Meanwhile, Dave’s developing illustration style was something that attracted admiration and followers. His nightly vigils, as he sat with one eye on Twitter and the other on his pencils, were followed by increasing numbers of people.

If all this wasn’t tiring enough – especially after a full day’s work in his design studio – Dave had the additional worry of the occasions when nobody had signed up. Frantic pleas would go out on Twitter, and the seconds would tick by as he waited for replies and offers of help. Would this, Dave must have thought, be the day when the project would come to an end – all for the lack of someone writing a simple 140-character tweet?

Past writers were eager to contribute again – they knew the buzz that writing for the project gave them. However, the rules were clear: one writer, one tweet, every day. The only exception was Clint Boon of alternative rock band Inspiral Carpets who wrote twice, once for himself and once to commemorate the funeral of his daughter. It was a gesture that continues to move me even as I type these words.

In a bid to gain as much exposure as possible for the charities involved, Dave called on celebrities for help: Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry and more. One tweet from them could reach thousands or even millions of readers and bring donations into the coffers. Some, like singer/songwriter Alison Moyet, always seemed willing to shout loudly and kick butts behind the scenes to get a last minute tweet into the story. But at other times, the silence was deafening.

Dave’s unpaid role as illustrator, learning on the job, was made more demanding at such times. If the story finished then he would see it as a personal failure – the pressure was huge. I know from telephone calls and text messages that there were times when Dave wondered that even with all the potential good that this project could do, it might not be worth the strain on his career, his family and his health.

Here in the good ole year of 2013, however, I’m happy to report that those moments didn’t swamp the project, and Dave’s progress as an illustrator and social media innovator is plain to see. The sketching style he adopted early on has blossomed into something both striking and original. More than the story, more even than the many remarkable names who have contributed, this style defines 3hundredand65, with its quirky, thoughtful precision inviting us day after day into his story. A story that could, and did, go wherever it wanted.

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