When I first moved to London, I was a regular at The Admiral Hardy. This Greenwich pub is hard to define. Equal parts modern city bar, spit and sawdust American bar, and traditional English pub. Wall space is shared amongst neon beer signs, black and white photography of bands and rock music gig posters. Every time I visited, I would comment on how much I loved the photography. There was this moody image of Plan B and a stunning shot of Jarvis Cocker elegantly mopping the hair from his brow like only Jarvis can.
On one occasion, I met a friend and art-director in there for a beer. True to form, I pointed out the images, and he said:
“That’s Cotterill mate, we used to commission him loads at The Big Issue. Take his number if you want, he’d probably be up for working with you.”
As it happened, this was in the very early stages of developing my hand painted lettering brand, ‘Tallon Type’ which would later be given its own identity and portfolio. I had only really worked with sports photography and had loved the idea of collaborating with a good music photographer. Suddenly, here was that crucial personal in road. I’d emailed several others and heard nothing back.
I left Andy a voicemail and two weeks later, I’m sat with him in The King Edward, in Stratford. He’s interested in what I have in mind and I’m a little gobsmacked as he takes me through over twenty years of photographing A-list musicians, sharing stories and knockout images. Many idols of mine are in this archive and he gives me a selection to go away and play with.
It’s been over two years and we’re gearing up for a big show in London, with 50 artworks. This lettering brand has been able to succeed, in part, thanks to collaboration and experimentation. There have been failures and successes along the way, but it’s taken on a life of its own.
I’ve always been a keen advocate of throwing yourself in the deep end and working with people from outside of your core discipline. How would this look when applied to a 3D print? What would a graphic designer do with this artwork? Perhaps a fine artist could open up new ways of seeing my existing skills. Even when it fails, it really isn’t a bad thing. It enables you to think about where your work might live in a whole new way and builds greater stability by opening yourself up to new and previously unexpected project opportunities.
When I look back at my university time, I spent three years in a building crawling with graphic designers, game designers, web developers, painters and fashion promotion students. What did I do? I stayed in the illustration room of course, because I was naïve and not ready to see the priceless opportunities to collaborate, something I would have to do once in the real world. The trouble is, once you’re out in that harsh environment, it becomes a lot harder – you have to go to events and make active efforts to go and find the right people. Every week, I deal with people from all different disciplines, be that on projects or collaborations I have chosen, or been involved with by chance.
It’s 2017 and the walls between disciplines are coming down. Even if you plan to be a total specialist, you’re still going to need the people who can complement that. It may seem daunting when you’re studying, but it’s great fun to moonlight in other areas and it brings the greatest surprise benefits and you’ll get no better chance to do it than in education. Thanks to my work with Andy, we managed to get a VIP pass to go and photograph Noel Gallagher for our project, when he played the O2 Academy in Brixton. On that night, I was in the company of Sir Bob Geldof, Peter Crouch, Goldie and Russell Brand. How’s that for a dinner party? It’s not about name-dropping, but interesting collaboration really can open doors. Often, these projects are started through a shared passion or lust for a great idea and that creative purity is magnetic to valuable eyes because it’s real. In collaboration, we are pushed outside the comfort zone, into a place where we can make refreshing artistic statements that we simply might never get the chance to do alone.
Ben Tallon is a freelance illustrator, author of Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries and host of Arrest All Mimics, the Original Thinking and Creative Innovation podcast.
He works with WWE, EMI, Channel 4, The Guardian and The Premier League among others.
Want to hear from Ben? His recent podcasts will resonate with freelancers and creatives looking to hear from likeminded leaders in the industry. Visit: https://soundcloud.com/arrestallmimics
Read more from Ben Tallon right here.