In DIY DOC’S, we take a look at how illustrators, artists and designers put their stamp on Dr. Martens shoes. Painting, tattooing or de-constructing – we’re giving them the creative freedom to express themselves off of the canvas.
My name is Ben Tallon. I’m a London based illustrator, artist and author of ‘Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries’, the brutally honest story of what happens when you try to transform a creative passion into a career in the arts. I also host ‘Arrest All Mimics: The Original Thinking and Creative Innovation‘ Podcast.
I create loose, organic, mixed-media artwork and hand painted lettering for The Guardian, Channel 4, World Wrestling Entertainment, The Premier League and EMI Records and write Freelance State of Mind for Design Week.
I also do a lot of independent artwork simply for pleasure. It’s important.
Who or what do you take inspiration from?
I’m an obsessive professional wrestling fan. I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, a real golden age in the world of grappling. I create set designs, posters, portraits and magazine covers for the WWE now, which is real bucket list work. So that, along with Leeds United and Blur are huge influences.
These days, I soak up the world around me and my subconscious will send it back gift-wrapped in the most interesting and warped ideas. I see so many people discarding vast swathes of this chaotic world we live in, their head looking down at a mobile phone. Don’t get me wrong, I use mine, but every day, we’re exposed to new ideas, colours, sounds, images, scents and it all fuels the creative machine. I’m never, ever bored any more.
Do you have an illustration or project you’re most proud of?
On a childhood dream sort of level, working with WWE and Leeds United made me ask whether any of this was real. It’s fantasy land stuff. In particular, creating hand painted/drawn set designs for the likes of Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kane and AJ Lee in WWE Magazine was a proud moment.
On a personal level, creating and directing an awareness campaign on behalf of CALM, a charity who work to prevent suicide, the single biggest killer of young men in the UK was a hugely empowering feeling. I believe that creativity is as close to magic as we can come in this world and I wanted to explore the emotional benefits of artistic expression and showcase the results with CALM. With the work of a very loyal team of creatives, I was able to interview Danny Dyer, Steve Merchant, Mick Foley, Ken Garland and Ian Stone for a crucial cause and find out that our work had helped a number of people to open up about the way they felt. Happiness can quickly be forgotten when money is given too much importance. Creativity is a great medicine for that.
Talk us through your customised Dr. Martens, was it a challenge working on a pair of boots?
It’s the most fun I’ve had in a while. The surface of the boot’s unconventional shape meant that I didn’t fall into the trap of procrastination or over-thinking the work. So I got nasty and let rip with spray cans, brushes, paint and pens. I truly lost myself in an instinctive outburst of colour, lettering, mark making and drawing.
Dr. Martens, to me represent something that punk stood for. I talked to Don Letts recently, an important figure in the 1970’s punk and reggae scenes and he was angry that people were still asking him about punk, that something hadn’t stepped up to take its place. You guys do that whole ‘stand for something campaign,’ and I think it’s a strong message, something I can get behind. Too many people today don’t stand for anything. We can’t just expect someone else to make everything that’s wrong in the world go away. It was that apathy that opened the door to fear. We have to inspire and engage people. Creativity and individuality is the way forward so to really unleash a part of me that lusts to make something from nothing on such an iconic canvas was pretty exhilarating.
List three tracks you can’t hear enough of:
1. Blur – Me White Noise – Existential ramblings and an underappreciated cult track by Blur. If you haven’t heard the version with Phil Daniels, please go and check it out.
2. The Hyena Kill – Tongue Tied – I’ve art-directed everything by The Hyena Kill, a hard rock two-piece from Manchester for the past five years and seen their journey unfold. This is a dirty deity I call upon for a lift whenever I’m feeling lethargic.
3. Indus Traps – Silence Me – electronic and forward thinking two-piece that I’m into. They help me snap into a more lateral mindset.
Tell us about your first pair of Dr. Martens:
I got my first pair of Dr. Martens when I was 12. I’d found Blur through Parklife and fell in love with the band in 1994. So I saved up my pocket money and bought Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish. On the inlay of Modern Life, there’s a beautiful painting of the band sitting on a train, on one of those 1980s black, orange and yellow block pattern seats and Damon Albarn is wearing a pair of oxblood Dr. Martens boots. I would spend a lot of time looking at that image, so when I got my pair, I felt like I was the front man of some unspeakably cool band, just for a moment each time I laced them up. Dr. Martens have transcended generations and continue to feel synonymous with punk’s DIY sensibility to me. Choose your creative weapon, pick it up and let loose.
Tell us your favourite thing about the city you live in:
I live in London and I love its relentless, ever-changing energy. We need to be very careful not to kill that. It’s an endangered species right now.
I’m from Keighley in West Yorkshire. A friend recently heard someone describe it as ‘one giant Star Wars bar’ and it’s the most accurate description I’ve heard of the place. It’s full of oddballs, but there’s something very genuine and honest about the place, which certainly helped mould my personality into whatever it is today. I couldn’t describe it, but it’s mine and I like it.
My favourite London hangouts are Magma Books, Crystal Palace Park, Greenwich and those dirty little cafes where high visibility vests are aplenty.
If you could have any super-power, what would it be?
To sleep at night, on demand.
If you could draw anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Charles Bukowski. His writing is rotten and low-down dirty, but it’s so human. I’d like to spend a day with him and my sketchbook.
And finally, what do you stand for?
I stand for self-expression. It’s heartbreaking to me that in 2017, there are still some people go through life without ever finding the thing that truly activates them as an individual and I feel that we should all have access to that opportunity.
Find out more about Ben Tallon on his website, Instagram and Twitter, or listen to his free podcast.
‘Champagne and Wax Crayons’ is available now on Amazon and at Tate Modern and the House Of Illustration.