INTERVIEW: Ben Tallon

from M+ Magazine. Photo by Danni Skerritt.

Ben Tallon is the award winning, internationally acclaimed illustrator who has swept his quills and spray paints all over e4’s Skins campaign, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Design Week and various indie and design publications. M+ meets the man behind the spilt ink & sketches.

He talks as fast as lightning. He lights up the room as much as you reckon Kate Hudson would. Yeah, you know, like, if she was a bloke. Anyway, he’s got all that buzz and acceptable weirdness you always hoped you’d find in an artist. So when we start talking about art, he talks about junk from the floor: “spray paint, fine-liners, pencils and a lot of found materials.”

“When I was first out with my girlfriend she was horrified when I started stooping down and picking up bus tickets! Like, I’ll just be picking up receipts and labels…”

That’s not the only odd thing – it seems Mr. Tallon’s been drawing some peculiar plans of banks. “Bank heist illustrations… I did a feature where it had to look like the illustrator wanted to rob the Bank of England!”

Of course it’s conceptual, and ridiculously hip, but Ben still looks a bit wary when he says it. “And they wanted the style as if the robbers had done the sketches themselves. I mentioned it on my Twitter page and spent the next twenty minutes hoping nobody read too much into this. Jason Bourne meets Tony Hart – it could’ve all gone off!

“That was great, I really push the loose style of illustration. I spent the biggest part of that job in the park with my sketchbook, I needed to focus and just to get lost in that mindset. I love the quirky projects like that – you get more creative freedom with those.” As any decent northern lad, his first heroes were on the pitch and it was actually these fellas who inspired him to illustrate. “If I wasn’t outside playing football, I was inside drawing footballers. I was always drawing as a kid, my mum was into art and it’s always been a bit of a hobby. It was always a case of sport, or art.”

He’s quick to point out: “I’m under no delusions about my skills in football!”

Ben has completed work for Leeds United, Manchester City, UEFA and Guardian Sport – “so in a roundabout way,” he chuckles, “I’ve done some sport professionally!” Apart from that, what else rouses Ben? Firstly: “Professional wrestling,” he says. “I’m a big professional wrestling fan – the passion and dedication you need to succeed in that industry blows my mind. Three hundred-plus days a year on the road taking a beating 6 nights a week. That’s dedication for you. Not quite illustration but I’m a huge believer in drawing inspiration from outside of design. I found myself in a proper meat-head gym with my mate Danny Allison [co-creator of Quenched Unsigned, keep reading!] and we both just burst out laughing and I almost tore a stomach muscle.”

“Just the weird hybrid existence of spending all day agonizing over colour palettes to evenings with bouncers In Ultraflex Gym discussing cage fighting hit home and we couldn’t work out our place in society.”

Save for that darned existential crisis that can only happen when you mix weights with acrylic paint, he also loves those most blithe of muses: “idiots on buses! This guy just came landed himself next to me the other day. He was firing these racy jokes at me in front of the whole bus. Now don’t get me wrong I love racy jokes, but there’s a time and a place! I was the only clown laughing but I couldn’t help it, I was in hysterics…he had me laughing all day! ”

Ben is also passionate about music. And like any self-respecting cool dude, Damon Albarn is a big inspiration for him. “He’s more than a musician,” Ben says. “I’ve idolized the guy since I was 11, the people he’s worked with and way he’s always pushing new boundaries.”

In similar fashion then, Ben happens to be the creative director of Quenched Unsigned – a magazine supporting the best unsigned acts in the UK and international music industry.

“Myself and writer Dan Skerritt [from Quenched] literally walked into town one day and switched from a conversation about why he had just been addressed as ‘Raymond’ by the passing tramp –that’s for another time – to deciding that we were going to lock horns and get ourselves known in the music industry and just got it done, combined our skills.”

The age-old myth that being a start-up publisher (even if you are creating a professional zine) that a world of NME will swipe you down, appears to hold no sway.

“It’s time to just get on and get it f*****g dealt with.”

courtesy Ben Tallon

“These opportunities don’t come to you if you’re too pre-occupied soaking up the Eastenders omnibus.” Take heed. I ask if it’s essential to move to London as a creative. “It’s really healthy to see your clients face-to-face particularly when starting out. You can be clear, and they get to see that you’re passionate about your business but these days you can do it all online with Skype. My clients are now dotted around the globe and I can easily work remotely with the crazy pace of advancing technology. It allows you to see the world and feed it back into your game.”

“You can be holed up in a grotty hostel but if you have the net, there’s nothing to stop you producing knockout jobs from where you like. In fact I am about to move to New Zealand and I’m currently working on a big job for Next stores throughout the UK.

“I can work while they sleep – a 12 hour turnaround can only be a good thing! A close friend of mine recently turned around a record sleeve for EMI from a tin shed on a farm in Australia, accompanied by scorpions and wolf spiders; Steve Irwin with spray paint.” During the interview Ben has been accompanied by a red hiking rucksack, a courier bag and a smart black jacket. Herein lies the freedom of being self-employed and the ability to travel and work from anywhere. “Sometimes I can be free during the week, other times I’ll get a call on the Friday and I’ll be working all weekend. No matter how good you get, you’re only as good as your last job.

“There is a lot of pressure and instability being freelance but I love the challenge. I’m based everywhere. I don’t know where I’m going to next, which right now is a fantastic perk!” He’s been speaking to graduates recently about building their portfolios and getting started in the industry. It’s his unabashed attitude that shines through when he gives M+ a tip for footstep followers: “If you’ve got a set of balls and bit of cheek, you can go a long way!”

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