Sunday, July 23, 2017

Having assistants is great!

Lisa wasn't officially an assistant, but this is what assistants are supposed to look like, efficient and cool and in control my head, anyway

Since the late 90s, I've had assistants. The first one was my best mate Jules; the second who worked next to her was my other mate, another Sara, and the third, my sister's best mate Michelle. At one point all three of them worked together alongside me, doing different shifts, helping me run the wedding stationery business which ran alongside my illustration and lecturing work - you can see why I needed extra hands! - and later I employed a family member to run the accounts (who's still here).

'Staff' Christmas Party, 2003 - Sarah, Jules, Michelle.

This is Jules 7 years later, sitting in judgment with later assistant Drew, who LOVED stamping things.
And assessing the suitability of my clothing on arrival at work. 

We often get emails asking whether we currently have an opening for an assistant or intern. I've almost always said no - and not because we don't need one, but because we already have one. And we make an important distinction between Interns and Assistants - traditionally, and especially of late, Interns aren't paid; they're meant to be getting 'work experience' on the job, something companies can easily take advantage of. They're often expected to be grateful for the opportunity, and do it for free. We don't buy into that however; if you're working with and for us, yes, you'll most definitely be getting experience in the form of Illustration Boot Camp, (just ask our former assistant Brook), but we'll also be gaining from your input, knowledge, skills, your third pair of hands, eyes and your brain. So it benefits both parties, and for that, we pay very fairly, and handsomely over the minimum wage.

Lily was invited to rifle through my entire archive of original work, and put up an exhibition of what she liked - followed by the curation of a show of her own work, and a blog written about the process of doing both. 

Graham Robson did a similar thing in his first week - put up his own show of work, which included two murals, one of which Sarah is sitting in front of at one of our pop-up Secret Sunday Breakfasts! (I'm eating off my collection of Inkymole press)

If you come and work with us you'll be expected to work. Not watch. Anyone can make tea, and I'll probably make as much tea as you do. If you do make the tea, however, you'll be shown the right way to do it (bag in first, milk only after it's brewed). But you'll also be asked to undertake a sometimes bewildering variety of tasks which engage the brain and call for initiative.

For example, our successive assistants have:

- been our 'eye in the sky' back home as we travel through Europe checking out an exhibition venue, looking out for logistics, watching email, helping to order passes and other legalities

- helped paint a 15m mural in a half-completed building without power or light - on breeze block, the bastard of all substrates

- helped painted a restored pub, powered by chips

- made an oversized silicone penis door stop, from scratch

- worked out the basics of copper etching and assisted in etching album cover art

- completed entire illustrations in a style to complement mine

- built an archive

- been a waitress in our pop-up restaurant

- edited and subtitled a film

- went on a solo mission to London, twice, to find a suitable exhibition venue

- set up an image tagging system

- set up a server

- been indispensable right-hand (wo)man during the publicising, set-up and installation of a two-week exhibition - twice

- pitched in with drawing hundreds of mathematical formulae for a 72ft high Manhattan billboard

- been the Fourth Man in setting up the technicals of hosting an online and FM radio station over a 72-hour shift (including doing 2 live DJ slots)

- built 3 websites

- helped build a web shop

- solved endless technical challenges

- solved brain-crunching iTunes issues

- turned a Mac into a PC to run broadcast software

- installed a Firewall

- done photoshoots

- accompanied us to agency dos

- built an iPad folio system

and that's by no means an exhaustive list. These jobs of course are all alongside the day to day tasks like simply giving a second opinion, brainstorming, researching and ordering supplies and equipment,  making lunch and dinner for everyone in the studio, and stamping hundreds of mailings and Christmas promotions.

Graham adding a hand-painted postbox to the office front door.

Brook Valentine with Leigh in her show-hosting costume/shoes!

...and seeing if your name's down on the list.

So you're kind of in at the deep end if you come here, but part of that challenge is accepting that there will be days when there is simply nothing for you to do. The single most quoted obstacle to having an assistant which I hear illustrators talk about is 'but what will I give them to do'? And that's why our assistants have to have spades of initiative, for precisely those days when you need to either fend for yourself, or work out what WE need you to do - because often, when you're really busy, you can't actually see what needs doing, or where you need help, till someone else points it out to you. When your assistant starts to spot what needs doing before you do, you know you're onto a winner, and all those slightly awkward days early on in the arrangement have all paid off.

Sarah Jinks constructing a piece from almost 2500 Swarovski crystals for our 2006 'If A Girl Writes Off The World' show

Graham helping with the etching

As well as the obvious joy of having a pair of helping hands, there is the changed dynamic of a studio with another person in it who isn't you or your partner. As we've got older, our assistants have, as a matter of chronological fact, become younger than us - and this is a GOOD THING. Millennials come in for a shit load of stick, but they're great - they're interesting, they think in a different way, their skillsets are not the same as ours, neither is their experience of the world, and their energy is refreshing. I don't actually even like the word Millennials - there's something very 'other-ing' about it - but there is most definitely an energising effect to having one bounce into your studio with their slightly askew, quick humour, ideas, opinions and musical choices (we will check the contents of your iPod before we say yes - there's no point you spending your days hating what we're playing, and vice versa - because some days, we'll put you in charge of the tunes!)

The second reason I've heard people give for not having an assistant - including me, definitely, from time to time - is 'but having an assistant is just going to create extra work for me'.

Well, yes, it is. It can be hard work in the early days having someone in your space that you don't know, and you can't just bury your head in your work and pretend they're not there. You have to make sure the bathroom's tidy. You need to make sure you've plenty of tea bags. That they've got somewhere comfortable and well lit to work in. That they know how you like to have your phone  answered, that you've set up their own email address from your studio; that hey feel comfortable around you and they have plenty to do - bearing in mind, 'plenty to do' when you first start in a job, especially compared to your own workload, can actually be about a third of what you yourself would consider 'plenty to do'. But when the ball's rolling nicely, and you've all got to know each other's ropes, it's wonderful.

Graham 'at the wall' - the 15 metre, bastard breezeblock wall

If you think you're getting bit overwhelmed from time to time, you work by yourself or feel like an injection of energy is needed, I heartily recommend an assistant. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of a helper beyond giving roles to my mates and family, as I too used to worry about what they'd do, feeling that I might bore them to death, or their presence would be extra work for me. They don't have to be five days a week - ours have never been, except in REALLY busy times - as the likelihood is they'll have their own shit to crack on with. But maybe try it. The benefits are mutual, long-lasting and good for our brains, careers and creativity. You'll very likely help them on their way, via them helping you on yours.

And who knows, you might even have FUN.


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