Oh, the eighties!
I was out before Christmas with friends - very lovely fellow illustrator friends, who understand the ups and downs and odd lifestyle that go with this career. Inevitably we discussed our common experiences: the insecurities, both in our own abilities and in our finances, and more subtle strands of concern that run through the fabric of our jobs - compromise versus creativity, personal aspiration versus customer satisfacton. I know "it isn't a day down the mines," as Mr SDS likes to remind me when I'm pulling my hair out about not being able to portray an aerial view of an elephant standing on one leg whilst juggling jelly beans with quite the success I hope for. But illustrators have to please others, and this means we're sometimes looked down on as safe and compliant in a world where fine artists run dangerously barefoot through the meadows of risk, freedom and cool. Still, inside me, as with many illustrators, there is another type of artist wrestling to get out but, in needing to keep the jobs coming, satisfy clients and pay the bills, I get so caught up with storyline, deadline and toeing the line that I rarely have time nor energy left to cross the line.
I wouldn't even be (just!) able to pay the bills as an illustrator if I hadn't had a lucky break when my mum died and I lost my job. Oh god, that doesn't sound right! But that's how it happened – the death of a parent and a redundancy payment provided not only an epiphany but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (presumably?) to switch direction completely and take a massive, scary, slightly barking and utterly thrilling risk. I'm not sure I'd ever have managed it full-time otherwise; talk about "every cloud"... plus the worry of not having any new work never goes away (it happened last year).
Anyway, at the moment I'm fortunate. But I still harbour desires to occasionally run dangerously barefoot through the field of finer art, maybe even completely naked except for a raspberry beret – don't picture it. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with the illustrator David Hughes whom I was lucky enough to talk to several times when I was back at my old art school a few years ago. I liked him a lot because of his edge and his humour as well as his art. He was uncompromising, straight-talking, dry. He probably wouldn't remember but I walked back to the bus stop with him one day and we chatted about music the whole way. However, it was on another occasion that I told him I just wanted to unlock a door and release my inner Artist, that one with the capital 'A', but I didn't know where the key was. “You need to do a big fuck off painting!” was his advice and I've kept those wise, memorable words with me in the interim years, although I still haven't fucked off and painted it. Terrible of me. Perhaps I need to get a little drunk first? Is that what it takes? That and a very, very big piece of paper, I suppose.