About three years ago Leigh and I were talking about how my visiting lecturer spots were becoming fewer, and about how when I did them, the fee had been squeezed or hadn’t increased (or had even decreased) for years.
At these lectures, which the colleges and universities seemed to have sadly stopped being able to find the money for, I’d talk about promotion, trying things out, getting your tax sorted, arranging your working day, and getting your first job - the nuts and bolts - and what one student now famously described to me afterwards as ’the meat in the sandwich’ that had been missing from her course.
Me, at a public engagement, being Friendly And Approachable:
At around the same time, I became uncomfortable with my growing awareness of the proliferation of new blogs and sites claiming to offer help and advice to ‘new illustrators’. These were articles written by people with some experience in the trade, which seemed well-meaning and well-researched in the first instance, but carried a mildly bullying tone and a certain, almost imperceptible sense of oneupmanship**. What they also gave off, I’d begun to notice, was a sense that you did it their way, or no way - the fetishisation, for example, of the super-early riser; the urgency of the tech-obsessed social networking evangelist, or the puritanism of the ‘you must get a studio/move to London/suffer to be taken seriously’ preachers. These articles often took the form (and still do) of scary lists, looking something like:
Now, even I don’t want to read anything with that title. I’d scared of it. I’m also slightly insulted by it - and its unneccesary capitalisation - so goodness knows how a new graduate feels about it. I’ve got a lot of experience at being an illustrator, but more importantly I have a lot more experience of being a human. And although I have never been without work - since before graduation, when the first tentative low-paid paid jobs peeped in - it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been very hard work, and sometimes a struggle, and sometimes, a big old thousand-piece funny-shaped jigsaw puzzle.
So we talked and talked about this, Leigh and I, and he came up with the idea of talking to some of the other creatives we know, the ones who’ve also arrived at a creative career but don’t think they’ve ‘arrived’ at all, and are busy still developing, learning and trying. What would they say about how to ‘get there’? What would THEIR definition of success, or even of creativity itself, be?
Could we take those thoughts and put them into a film some kind of documentary to be take right into the same educational environment that seemed to need it so badly?
The result came in the form of eight interviews, conducted over an approximate 18-month period in New York and the UK, at assorted venues depending on when and where we could hook up with our chosen colleagues. In a noisy West Side apartment, in a Bristol Barber’s shop, a Battersea Park bench passed by endless runners, a kit-filled front room, a workshop beset by clucking hens, a steamy kitchen and a toy-covered studio, each of the improvised locations provided an accidental atmosphere and a charming DIY-ness to each interview.
We wrote a set of questions beforehand, and with cameraman in tow, each individual was asked those same questions. The outcomes were simultaneously surprising and predictable - people said the same thing, in a very different way; or had an opposing experience, with the same outcome; some were non-stop chatters, whose miles of footage we had to chip away at like a block of granite, and others said just enough, right on cue!
Whichever way the interview went, we ended up with 55 minutes of rich, golden nuggets of advice, thoughts and reflections culled skilfully by our famous editor Lisa - herself a candidate for a Stupid Enough interview at some point - which formed the final film, ‘Stupid Enough’.
The title, in case you’re wondering, was used as a working title after film director Gareth Edwards rather clumsily answered the question, ‘what is creativity?’
If we had a quid for everything we’ve done business-wise that seemed bonkers, expensive, risky, a financial black hole, or a foolhardy experiment that could completely exhaust us, we’d have a lot of quids. So we know where he’s coming from - this is the man, after all, who wrote and directed and produced a film 'entirely off his own back’, with no idea of whether that would lead to worldwide fame or bankruptcy, or even just ‘back to the day job’. (If you Google him, you can find the answer.)
And the answers of course ARE out there, it’s just that they can’t be found in one place, on one blog, and certainly not from one person’s mouth, no matter how experienced or confident they might seem. Only by having conversations and trying things out for yourself can you get along. And certainly, you won’t do very well if you feel bullied, patronised or belittled into trying to measure up to someone else’s vision of 'how it should be done’.
So if you think your college, lecturer chums, department, colleagues or fellow students could use a bunch of heads handing you friendly-shaped solid gold in the form of reassurances, thoughts, ideas and advice, get them to look at stupidenough.org and book us in for a session. We bring the parallel but contrasting experiences of our own lives, plus the gems from eight other people’s. We think it’s going to be helpful.
**Not all books and sites offering creative career advice are like this. Some of them are ace and written by very well-rounded and experienced people. We just don’t like the passive-aggressive ones, so we made the kind of film WE’D like to have been shown early on in life.