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Features / Lecture in Progress

Creative Lives – the Lecture in Progress podcast exploring creative careers

Lecture in Progress is a new venture started by It’s Nice That founder Will Hudson and launched last week on Kickstarter. Each week we’re going to share a couple of stories from the site that best demonstrates it plans to do.

Lecture in Progress will inspire and inform the next generation of creatives by demystifying the practical day-to-day workings of the creative world. One of the regular features is Creative Lives, a podcast series profiling interesting creative careers – from how they identified an interest in the industry, to their formal education and landing their first job. On this page you can listen to three episodes of the podcast with illustrator and explorer George Butler, experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun, and film maker Andrew Telling.

The podcast is available to subscribe to through iTunes and Soundcloud as well as the series page on lectureinprogress.com.

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Illustrator and Explorer George Butler (recorded on 25 April 2016)

George begins by discussing his current work, travelling and recording, and how, in an ideal week, he sifts through the material accumulated on his last trip while making plans for the next. “If it’s a good week,” he says wryly, “that works – and if it isn’t, it doesn’t.” For George, this combination of the illustrative challenge of representation and the exploratory challenge of travel is what drives him to produce the best drawing, and he goes on to talk about the advantages illustrative reportage still retains even in the era of photography, such as the ability to curate collated work and the power to represent more than just an instant in time.

He discusses his early life and the beginnings of his interest in reportage, studying illustration at Kingston University, and reveals that it was after his university career, while illustrating the first British military tour of Afghanistan, that he realised that reportage was for him. “I think you have to go to a place where you feel like you have a reason to be,” he says, “and that inspires you to do your best work.” For him, this place is wherever he can tell a story that might otherwise go undocumented. Asked how he makes this work pay, George breaks down his sources of income into two main categories: selling original prints at exhibitions, and selling illustrations to magazines and newspapers.

George goes on to discuss the specifics of his 2012 trip to Syria, where he illustrated daily life in Azaz, and how he had to adapt his plans after finding the UN refugee camps closed to him on his arrival. Speaking of the logistics of such a trip, he says that now he sets out with more concrete goals in mind, albeit ones that he must balance with concerns about how long he can safely stay in a potentially dangerous place such as Azaz. Most important, George considers, is confidence: his is a career that requires him to maintain constant pressure on his contacts to provide jobs and funding, and to prove his consistency and skill as an illustrator to potential employers. Out in the field, he finds, illustrators are less threatening presences than photographers, and people tend to welcome him into their daily lives.

He considers his work to be at its best when he finds a challenging story to record. Asked what he would have done differently, George replies that he would not have changed anything: “You just try to draw things that interest you,” he says, “and then people are interested by your interest in it. That’s what good storytellers do.”

Experience Designer Nelly Ben Hayoun (recorded on 19 April 2016)

Nelly begins by outlining what a good week’s work looks like for her, from her work connecting tech companies to the public to her teaching at CSM and the RCA, as well as writing her Ph.D.; asked how she manages such a vast workload, she explains that she doesn’t decline much. “It’s not about saying no,” she says, “it’s actually about grouping the energy into one place so that we can all achieve the mission I’ve set for the studio.”

She goes on to talk about the International Space Orchestra, a project she has set up composed of space scientists who perform music, drama, Greek tragedy and more. The intention, she says, is to create a community out of people who might not otherwise actually have ever spoken to one another. It seems an undertaking of impossible scale and difficulty, but Nelly explains that she achieved it by approaching it as she didn’t know the problems. “The key to any start-off, any project, is to keep that naïveté at core,” she says.

Nelly then discusses her early life and university career, which were characterised by a never-ending series of madcap artistic projects such as marrying her grandmother to her sister atop a moving car. She stumbled into a trip to Tokyo, where she became involved in a TV show about her internship with a kimono master, and talks about how she mustered the courage to embark on such bold schemes. “Every time I start a new project I have a new partner in crime,” she says, explaining that she draws courage from historical figures like Sartre and de Beauvoir. She extols the virtues of her MA at the RCA as a fertile experimentation ground and a good source of contacts for later work, and goes on to discuss the difficulties of her early career, during which she spent much of her time chasing grants and building a portfolio with the support of her peers from university.

She then explains her stance on commercial work, and how she is fiercely protective of her vision, though she concedes that this is something she has only been able to do after achieving initial success. “Go and build up the profile first,” she warns, “and then you can take that kind of standpoint.” The topic moves on to her recent film project, Disaster Playground, and the skills she employed in juggling its many potential audiences.

Asked about awards, Nelly freely admits that getting recognition is important to her, and that not winning hurts. Teaching is a more positive experience, a refreshing change from what she describes as the egocentric conditions of design practice. Nelly explains that she has failed a lot, but that in her view, “if I didn’t do it this way, I don’t think I would have been able to be here, able to embrace every single project and be happy.”

(Between the recording of this interview and publication Nelly has resigned from her role as first year leader on the MA Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins and is currently working on a new MA programme).

Film Maker Andrew Telling (recorded 20 April 2016)

Andrew begins by discussing the structure of his work, which is split between commercial campaigns, branded content and personal projects. He describes a typical week, which involves juggling work with clients, budgeting, organising and any shoots that may be going on, in addition to any treatments coming his way through the production company Caviar. Working on these involves working closely with writers, visual researchers and representatives from the client, and the collaborative atmosphere is part of what makes his work so enjoyable. “I like the family mentality of it,” he says of shooting, relishing the change of pace from solitary freelance work.

He came from a degree in media and culture studies at Kingston, and found his way into film-making through a job as a production assistant in a small agency, where he learned how to produce small-scale shoots, edit, and deal with clients. When the recession hit, the company folded and he took a part-time job to pay rent while experimenting with making films about artists. Largely self-taught, without the formal training of a design background, he acknowledges that his route into film-making was unconventional, and that this meant that he lacked confidence at first, but that he eventually built up experience and became more self-assured.

On the back of the success of his collaboration with painter Conor Harrington, Crossing Lines, Andrew began to seek out commercial work alongside personal projects, building up a portfolio through making several more films with Conor. This body of previous work, alongside a mood film he had made, was instrumental in winning him a competition to make a film for Rapha, which proved to be the first of several projects on which he worked with them, and brought him more work in that commercial sphere.

Andrew goes on to discuss the point at which he felt confident that he could make a career of this. His first year was a success, but the second much harder, with projects hard to come by. “I think the last two and a half years have had more stability,” he says, “and that’s come from doing a mixture of personal projects and growing commercially.” Getting the balance between the two correct has proved crucial to not only his financial success, but also his career as an artist: people commission him to create work similar to work he has already done, and so he uses his personal projects to develop as a creator.

This has also helped him deal with rejection. When commercial work dries up, Andrew’s personal projects help keep him working and focused. Asked if he would do anything differently, he replies that keeping his part-time job for longer would have given him more stability and left him better placed to make decisions when commercial work came his way. “Also,” he says, “have an accountant.”

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Articles also in this series include graphic designer Sarah Boris, animator and co-founder of Animade Tom Judd, Editor-in-Chief of Riposte magazine Danielle Pender and designer, illustrator and writer Jez Burrows. Big thakns to Zelig for their work on the music and sound for this series of podcasts.

Check out this and other content on the free-to-view beta version of lectureinprogress.com. Lecture in Progress plan to launch the full site in January 2017, regularly adding new content that will only be available to members. To become a member and make this project a reality please back us on Kickstarter.