Freelance State of Mind: how taking up a new hobby in 2017 could help your creativity

In this month’s column, freelance illustrator Ben Tallon looks at the new year as a great springboard for side projects and explains why you should follow them through.


I found myself in the pub on a very oddly positioned bank holiday Monday, immediately following a well-timed Sunday new year’s day, 2017. A friend who was keeping me company asked me what my resolutions were, suggesting I would likely be “one of those bastards with insurmountable goals for the coming year, such as climbing Everest.”

The truth is, I don’t set them. I am always tasking myself with new projects and I suppose it’s nice to enter something as tangible as a whole fresh new year with a big one on the horizon. So this got me thinking and it became apparent that my goals are often outside of my specialist creative discipline of illustration. Why?

In 2012, I decided to invade the music industry, joining forces with a writer to work creatively with bands and solo artists. 2013 spawned a charity awareness campaign on behalf of Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), championing the emotional benefits of creativity. 2014 was when my angry freelancer-tells-the-story blog became a more objective reflection and 2015 saw a properly published book, leading to the subsequent launch of Arrest All Mimics, my weekly creative industry podcast as we headed into 2016.

This year I’ve signed up to a creative writing evening course with my Christmas money and I plan to have a go at writing a fiction novel.

“Do illustrators suffer from an underlying unrest?”

I started to wonder if these annual assaults on pastures new indicated some kind of underlying unrest at being an illustrator, a job that for many years spent in education, represented a dream career. Tapping my pint glass, I stared absent-mindedly at the football results and pondered whether my priorities were in order. Then, thinking about my return to the studio the next day, I felt that buzz of anticipation, starting small and working itself into a full-on wave of adrenaline in my guts.

This is my eighth year as a full-time illustrator and I’ve worked with dream clients including World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Leeds United and The Guardian. They all happened much quicker than I could have hoped, so to offset the risk of growing complacent, I’ve always sought out the next high, the new buzz. In turn, when the new appeal begins to wane, I run back to my ink pens and get messy. It seems that the more I explore new disciplines, the more things I either eliminate from my “can do/want to do” list. I either learn that I am awful at it, dislike doing it, or strip the good bits from it and add some valuable new strings to my bow as a visual communicator.

“Illustration is my strongest asset but not my driver”

For me personally, illustration is my strongest asset, but not my driver. Creativity is the real fascination and if I don’t feel like I am being challenged, I get stifled very quickly. Besides, if I do not feed my mind with new ideas, the illustration will repeat itself and where is the excitement in that?

It is not without mistakes. I get my legs slapped on a regular basis. This idea that I have a decent story to tell, that I can progress from writing as Ben Tallon, to writing as some maniac or romancer in a novel may result in a embarrassing voyage of over-ambition. But I never see such adventures as wasted. If this is the case, then I’ll surely be scrambling back to the art studio to try and claw back some confidence and self-worth from more familiar pursuits, with a renewed appreciation of what I know I can do successfully. It’s happened before and it’ll certainly happen again, but if my mind is riddled with apathy, then everything I try to do will crumble anyway.


We all need to stimulate our enthusiasm and lust to create. How we go about doing it is an individual conundrum. But for me, I have to go there to come back and if one day I find something greater than this drawing obsession of mine, then that’ll be a beautiful thing. But the big revelation hasn’t happened yet and what I’ve ended up with is a very broad week-to-week range of jobs and projects, somehow coming together to provide me with a great balance of excitement, challenge, creativity and income. I can only wonder what madness will invade my brain by the end of this year. Drama classes? Singing lessons? Mountaineering? Watch this space.

Ben Tallon is a Design Week columnist, illustrator, art director and author of Champagne and Wax Crayons. He also hosts visual arts podcast Arrest All Mimics.

You can follow him on Twitter at @bentallon and see his portfolio at

You can read his Freelance State of Mind columns here.

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  • Val January 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I’m on twitter and lancebase and I posted my service in classifieds, but still not much business. I’m going to do a facebook page next to see if it helps. How do I get more traffic to my service?

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