How Ben Tallon became a succesful professional illustrator – a tale told with brutal honesty

We interview the illustrator as his book Champagne and Wax Crayons has its launch party tonight.


Ben Tallon has learned a thing or two in six years as a freelance illustrator and, later, art director. He's put those things into his first book, Champagne and Wax Crayons – which has its official launch tonight. A very personal tale of success built on a lot of graft, there's a brutal honesty about the highs and lows of freelance work that you don't get in most stories of creatives' lives - where successes are celebrated and failures brushed aside.

Instead, in the book, Ben wants to tell those in the early part of their career how to deal with both of those two imposters - and show through his own example how a genuine love for what you do can get you through the bad days and help you have more good ones.

I caught up with Ben to find out more about adding 'published author' to his list of accomplishments. You can buy Champagne and Wax Crayons here.

NB: Why were you compelled to write this book?

BT: "In 2011, after three years of full-time freelance illustrating, I hit a six-week spell without work. I felt quite bitter and very panicked and began ranting on a blog set up exclusively to let off literary steam. To my surprise, thanks to social media, I received kind feedback from fellow creatives - who had connected with my admittedly over-angry words.

"A couple of them had experience in editorial and suggested my writing style had a real identity and that it was refreshing to hear about this more personal side of things. I continued to write and any passing conversations revealed that the majority of creative professionals are dealing with all of these issues in their own completely personal manner, so I calmed it all down and started to refine the idea in book form."

>> Read on for the full interview, including why Ben ended up drawing David Beckham naked.

NB: Who's the book for?

BT: "It's for people who are looking to make a living from something they don't hate getting out of bed to do. Given that it's the story of starting as an illustrator - before going on to move into film, music and TV as an art director too - it's aimed primarily at creative freelancers. But the core themes apply to all disciplines; comedians, actors, painters, photographers or anything else.

"It's a simple tale of unashamedly combining my childhood obsessions - which have never gone away: drawing, professional wrestling, Leeds United and music - to the point where I've somehow managed to go on and draw for a living with all four."


NB: Why did you decide to pass on what you've learned by telling your story, rather than the usual 'here's some practical advice' approach of most books for the creative industries?

BT: "I read Lawrence Zeegan's The Fundamentals of Illustration right after graduating, which was very useful at the time and well-structured. But what I very quickly realised is that you simply cannot teach the stuff that comes after you learn the mechanics of the industry and there was no manual for that: how any one creative responds or tackles getting no replies from one hundred introductory emails, or twelve hours sat working alone in your kitchen is a deeply insular process, yet one that we're all dealing with.

"So its autobiographical format is no ego-trip - not after only six years in the business - but designed to encourage others to draw parallels. I might have used WWE to keep myself inspired, and walks out to Tesco's reduced-sandwiches shelf to keep myself sane whilst suffering cabin fever - but I know that somewhere, someone is overlooking their love of something equally ridiculous as a creative weapon and Jeremy Kyle for virtual company. The hope is that a few light bulbs might switch on reading my silly tales."

Image: Ben's lettering for the new issue of US magazine staple, TV Guide.

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NB: Cheeky question: Aren't you a bit young to be telling your story? Most books of creatives looking back on their careers are by people in their 50s or 60s. Or are you that old and you just look very young for your age?

BT: "I'm into ageing gracefully, but I'm 32! This is a strange industry. In 2006, when I graduated, if you'd given me a contract that said I could be an illustrator and earn a steady income for the rest of my days, I'd have snapped your hand off to sign it. But there are always unplanned twists.

"Working for WWE in 2011, something of a childhood dream for me, which was realised way earlier than I could have envisioned. I looked back and with hindsight, realised there was more method to the madness that it may have seemed whilst experiencing it in real-time. I felt that if I wrote it all down, it could be of use to other creatives, so why wait to tell that story when I already had beginnings and endings?

"Besides, it could all change at any moment, so you get used to taking opportunities when they present themselves."

Image: Painted lettering for an Arsenal FC poster campaign.


NB: What's your favourite story in the book?

BT: "At fourteen or so years old, a good friend of mine and I hatched a plan - which was my first ever attempt to make money through my art. He believed that the handful of girls who lived in our neighbourhood would be willing to pay for a naked picture of David Beckham. Given the lack of such an image, or the digital manipulation skills, I set about creating a pencil portrait of David, completely nude. I hid it in a book for a few days before panicking and shredding it.

"Such characters I've befriended along the way have really helped me develop my personality - which, in my opinion, is the biggest part of a creative style."

Image: Ben created both the art and design for the single Still Sick by The Hyena Kill.


NB: How did you decide on the title, Champagne and Wax Crayons?

BT: "I have my editor to thank. I came at him with quite a dull list if suggestions. He felt that my writing style followed the suit of my energetic artistic style and felt something a little more unconventional was befitting. He loved an excerpt from the book introduction when I described my delusional thinking that 'champagne, paparazzi and beautiful women' would follow graduation. He took champagne and fused it with the first chapter's title: Wax Crayons."

Photo: Andrew Cotterill

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