Mr Bingo was born in 1979. In 1980 he started drawing. There wasn’t a lot to do in Kent. Mr Bingo is called Mr Bingo because when he was 19 he won £141 at the Gala Bingo. He’s been making it rain ever since.
After a successful 15 year career as an illustrator, in 2015 Mr Bingo made a decision to stop working for clients and go it alone as some sort of ‘artist’. Nobody really knows how he makes a living now, but somehow he does.
How’s life been treating you since you ditched the commercial world and focused on personal work?
It’s better. I’ve now, and I don’t have meetings, phone calls, deadlines, clients and compromise. I’m doing what I want, not what someone else wants.
How do you feel your work has changed with this shift? What’s the biggest challenge been so far?
It’s still the same really, mainly silly jokes, the only difference is that I have 100% total control over what I’m doing now. When you’re working as an illustrator you’re continually compromising to keep the client happy. Now I draw or make whatever I want and just hope that people will buy it.
What’s the best thing about making work and selling it directly to your audience?
It feels good. If you do some illustrations for an ad campaign, you might get paid twenty grand, but you don’t feel anything at the end of it, there’s a really low level of satisfaction. In comparison to that, if I do a little drawing of whatever I want and I sell it to a person (not a company) for thirty quid, it’s the best feeling in the world! It means so much more to you when people decide to spend their money on some art you’ve made; it means you get to make a living out of making people happy, how many people get to say that?
People like laughing. When did you realise this and how has it shaped your work?
I realised this at quite a young age. I remember as a kid I used to draw funny little cartoon strips, and I remember friends and parents laughing at them which gave me a good feeling. I never forgot that, and I guess I’ve always strived to keep doing that and keep entertaining people with drawings. If people look at a nice picture, they’ll remember it a certain amount, but if people see a picture and it makes them laugh, they’ll really remember it, and are probably more likely to share it with someone, so doing funny work is a real gift because it’s automatically more memorable. That’s not something I ever planned; it’s just a lucky by-product of what I do.
Hate Mail was a brilliant project and illustrated the value of uniquely personal work and how can have such a profound effect on humans. What was the best bit of the project for you?
Thanks that’s kind of you to say so. I think just the whole thing was the best bit really; I can’t think of anything specific that stood out. It was a silly idea that I didn’t expect to turn into anything, and here I am 7 years later, still living off (not 100%!) that one simple idea.
Your work is deeply authored and how you see the world really informs your style. Can you talk a little about this?
I guess I don’t take life very seriously. Life doesn’t really make much sense, you work and work and work and learn and learn and learn, and then you die. So I’m trying to have fun while I’m here. I like jokes, and in most situations in life, whatever it is, it might be a supermarket, a bit of pavement, a funeral, I’m always looking for the funny angle, what’s funny about this situation, what’s the joke? I sort of see that as my role in the world and I’m ok with that.
How do you deal with creative block?
I stop, and come back to it later. Although now I don’t have creative block, because I don’t give myself deadlines, which means there’s no pressure to come up with a good idea. I always have at least a years worth of art to live off, so there’s no huge urgency to come up with the next thing.
When I was a freelance illustrator it was different of course, especially with editorial jobs, you’d often have a day or maybe just hours to come up with a good idea. I usually never came up with good ideas at my desk though, most good ideas I have come in the shower, or riding my bike, or walking… anything but sitting at a desk.
My advice to anyone suffering from creative block is to stop. Stop trying to force the idea and go and do something else. Then come back to it.
You’ve done some great talks over the last few years and give refreshing and honest advice including “Don’t listen to advice”. What do you love about doing these talks?
Doing talks is really fun, you get to travel the world and meet all sorts of people, you’re forced into new experiences which you never would’ve done by personal choice, which is great. Like most of the stuff I’ve ended up doing, I’ve fallen into the speaker ‘circuit’ by mistake. It’s not something I ever planned, but once I started getting into speaking, I tried hard at it and tried to make talks that were more entertaining and interesting than a lot of the stuff I’d seen.
You’ve said “Being really honest makes you bulletproof”, can you talk about this a little?
If you’re 100% honest about everything you do, and you’re absolutely authentic, people trust you and are so much more up for supporting you. As we all know, companies and politicians are not honest; they’ll only ever reveal a ‘version’ of what they really are. So, sadly, if you’re totally honest in everything you do, people find it refreshing.
You have been really instrumental in encouraging creative’s not to work for free. Why do you think this is such a big challenge for creative people to overcome?
It’s a tricky subject this because almost everyone (including me) works for free at the beginning of their career. This doesn’t happen in most industries I don’t think, but it’s an accepted norm in the ‘creative’ industries. So I guess it’s important to know when is the right time to stop.
It’s difficult when you start out to strike a balance between going out there, saying yes to everything and being the most enthusiastic person in the world Vs immediately valuing yourself and putting a price on everything which can give you a slightly false arrogance and an ego at a young age which will put people off working with you. The reason its a big challenge for creative people to overcome is because when you first start out, you’re so excited that you’re suddenly doing this hobby, this thing you love, as a sort of job, that you almost can’t believe you should be getting paid for it as well as it seems too good tone true. It doesn’t feel like ‘work’ because it’s the thing you already loved doing in your spare time anyway, so you’re a lot more likely to accept not being paid for it.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you awake at night?
My work is what gets me out of bed in the morning, I’m always excited to get to the studio and get stuck into things. Existential thoughts about life outside work is what keeps me awake at night.
What are the best and most challenging parts of your work?
The best part is coming up with a silly idea, then seeing it through to the end and seeing a real finished product at the end of it.
The most challenging part is currently dealing with the growing number of ‘fans’. I’ve always been very personal with anyone who’s into my work, I’ll reply to every message, comment and DM on social media, I write little bespoke messages on the packaging for people, I deal with a lot of personal requests and often do little extra things for strangers who are going through a particularly bad time. All this stuff takes time, so the problem is it’s not sustainable as your audience grows. So I fear I’m reaching a tipping point where I might not be able to respond to everyone with the same care and level of attention as I have in the past, and that’s sad.
In the last couple of years, walking has become an activity you enjoy. Why is it so rewarding?
It’s good for you mentally and physically. It’s all cliche stuff, but if you’re walking you’re more likely to be living in the moment, and you’re not looking at a screen.
One of the things that’s great about walking (and I stole this from a philosophy book) is that time goes slower. When time slows down, days feel longer, so therefore life feels longer, and that’s definitely a good thing.