On the difficulties of trying to make money from drawing pictures…

I started off my artistic career drawing airports on cereal boxes, filling old phone books with animated sword fights, and making birthday cards illustrated with dragon-sharks. My first significant art win was at age nine. A class competition to do the best picture of Paddington Bear snagged me the unfathomable prize of a book on skateboarding. My skating never really took off, my mothers snapshot of me standing on my brothers board with a cushion belted to my arse attests to that. But the recognition for something which came so easily to me shifted my world. Two years later a classmate offered to buy my life-size painting of a Star Wars character from me. A liberal arts career was forecast.

Unfortunately I encountered an arts teacher soon after, who was to divert my creative career options. Mrs Manthell managed to put me off arts training for life. Freedom of subjectwas an alien idea for her, and her attempts to force students down narrow channels frustrated me. The top art prize that year went to a representation of a crisp packet. Andy Warhol’s influence on the Newlands College art curriculum forced me to conclude that I would have to teach myself. And without any significant honours in art subjects, I had little choice. Within three years art became a side project to my hormonal urges, and I seemed destined to produce intermittent album covers, band posters and tattoo designs.

As I moved beyond university, and particularly as I began to travel, I became more interested in what was happening in the wider world. My ideas on how I might use my paintings changed dramatically. While I was still focussed on creating attractive images, stories of climate change, and a resurgence in Somalian led pirate attacks were what fired imagination. I spent three years attempting to promote my political ideologies through my artwork. I had the best of intentions, I wanted to inform and educate through my detailed, symbolic paintings. But I lost my audience. I found that though a picture might tell a thousand words, the words were different for every viewer. And somehow without a recognition of the underlying stories, my paintings didn’t work. And didn’t sell.

Turbine lightened

At this stage of my life I had yet to make any significant money from my arty farty endeavours. I’d taken on whatever job kept me fed and liquored, from catering weddings in Cambridge’s finest cafe (yay Michaelhouse!) to assisting with chainsaw sculpting in the North of England. My artwork was always to be my escape from mundane career options, and a crushing end to a potential career as a concept artist saw me facing a crisis of faith. A lifetime grafted to an office desk loomed. But my girlfriend at the time offered me fresh perspective, she (bless her) had enough belief in my creative goals to offer me redemption through another medium. She pointed out that my writing was my stronger voice, and that when I wasn’t waffling or ranting, it was a more effective way to deliver complex messages. An epiphany by proxy. Within hours I found a course on freelance writing with the London School of Journalism, dropped most of my savings on the first terms fees, and grinned as any hopes of a sensible lifestyle quickly receded.

I love meeting new people around the world, and learning from the stories they tell of their lives. I want to use these experiences to create imaginative and engaging fables. I’m not sure how this will earn me enough money to survive, but long ago I realised the importance of living with passion. I think that when we find something that fuels our enthusiasm for life, we owe it to our ourselves to engage with it. Even when it’s not the most stable or sensible option. A drinking companion once told me that the saddest three words in the English language are “I used to…”, accompanied by backwards glance at what might have been.

On ignoring social conventions

My name is Regan, and I’m a writer. It sounds like I’m introducing myself to some form of group therapy. Maybe. Anyway, I was born in New Zealand in the 1970s. This means that I was raised to believe that footwear was optional, and that when it was worn, it shouldn’t conceal much more than the sole of your foot. For those of you that have never been fortunate enough to meet a “Kiwi” (native New Zealander) in the wild, we like to navigate the world in a set of unconventional national footwear known as “jandals”. Outside of our country they’re known as flip-flops. Whether we’re trying to impress the impressionable young ladies at a party, scale icy mountain peaks in the alps, or kick start a trail bike, we’d rather be doing it with the breeze sifting between our toes.

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I had no idea when I began travelling, that the desire for foot freedom wasn’t universal. My first serious case of footwear-based culture clash came soon after I leapt off the “Green Bridge” in Budapest. I didn’t plummet the full 100 feet into the mighty Danube, but rather crashed to earth after an ungainly intoxicated free fall, and injured my heal. The next morning I decided to limp around the old town in bare feet. As I began that slow waltz across crowded cobblestone avenues, I started to understand cultural differentiation. I could have worn nothing but a bacon loincloth and attracted less attention. Barefoot back home was glorious toe freedom. In European cities it was social suicide. Mothers didn’t shield their children’s eyes, but only because the kids themselves pulled their hats lower and collars higher. The Czechs were little better. Paul (my travel companion and fellow cultural ambassador) and I had to flee Budapest in a hurry (us + Hungarian Mafia = sudden loss of cash and threats to make us part of an all male review…), and ended up in Prague. The denizens of the old square were as dismayed at my flagrant toe exposure as the Hungarians.

So now “Inappropriate Footwear” is an analogy for the way I live my life. I repel even gentle social conditioning where it contradicts my own ideas and opinions, and I aim to walk my own path. Where possible bare footed. Many of my choices and actions generate the same gentle head shakes and tutting sounds I experienced wandering the flagstoned pathways of Central Europe. These rebukes would have triggered a case of blushing cringe when I was an uncertain, gangly, ginger teenager. But as the passing years have faded my ruddy mane, they’ve also provided enough life experience for me to understand that a homogenised society is a dreary and hollow idea. It is supremely important to promote new ideas and controversial opinions. It is entirely valid to live a lifestyle that is not the one promoted by society, or its biggest behavioural inhibitor, the media. So I’ve learnt to live as much as possible in a way that makes me happy, and to understand that being like everyone else, blending with the masses, doesn’t necessarily contribute to that happiness.

But just doing this, it isn’t enough. Not for me. I love to express my opinions on those ideas that I see as important and under-represented, sometimes with a Tourettes-like degree of enthusiasm. Unfortunately this occasionally offends, my last sentence for example might not sit well with the siblings of the grunting, cussing and sparking sufferers of that socially crippling neuropsychiatric disorder. But there are serious considerations behind the idea of freedom of speech, and we should all beware of attempts to neutralise language to the point that it can no longer elicit emotion. Offence is rarely my goal, but triggering thoughtful reflection is, and emotions are the frequently the offspring of considered thoughts.

So this blog is the new forum for my ideas, and my storys. It will help me test concepts for my articles and books, keep people informed of what devilish things I’ve been up to, and be a record of my upcoming journeys. At times it will be embarrassingly honest, which I hope will help people to empathise with some of my experiences. Or at least elicit a few belly laughs (for those under 25, these are lol’s that come out of your face and cause your guts to tremble). At best I hope that occasionally I’ll challenge beliefs just enough to inspire further thinking. At worst I’ll end up with a list of embarrassing things I’ve done, being recorded forever in the public domain, and sabotage any chance of a political career. Probably a good thing…