It's only when you loose everything, that you find something
Coming to university, I was really excited about the prospect of listening to talks performed by some of the incredible British designers and artists who work tirelessly across the nation. Today, I was lucky enough to meet an amazing artist called Rob Draper. A renowned typographist and illustrator, I initially had never heard of him before booking onto his lecture. Even then it was only by chance I made it onto the event at all- if I hadn’t of looked at Instagram I would probably never have been lucky enough to encounter a man of such vision, that it inspired me to create the above quote- it takes losing everything, to find your something.
For a few years, Rob’s life was seemingly perfect. His work as a free-lance artist was evolving everyday- working for a successful company who allowed him to explore everything from designing vinyl covers to dirtying up old wooden crates and painting on top of them, he had creative freedom, and the income to support a family too. Living with his wife, son and dog Harvey, it seemed that after a lifetime spent wandering round drawing on old napkins and coffee cups, he’d finally found his place within the world.
Cut to almost a year later and the story is not such a happy one- the company he was employed by went under, and was bought out by a larger business who wasn’t interested in keeping workers like Rob on. Moving the company up north, he was left almost jobless, due to him not being able to move with them- Rob had a life there after all- his family was happy there and he couldn’t move them after such a long time spent knowing that place as their own corner of the world. Having been made redundant, the only job the company could provide him for the time-being was sorting out the old stock and repackaging it, ready to be shipped elsewhere as the company moved on from him. Trapped in a cold, empty and now lifeless warehouse (all the other workers had been fired) as the days wore on, and the building got colder, it wasn’t only his professional life that began to crumble. At home, things were just as bad.
Though he was still able to do occasional commissions, and also uphold an increasingly popular Instagram page at home, the shed in which Rob kept all his precious supplies was burgled. As if to mock the cruel twist of fate, whoever the thief was that night left Rob a note in the spray paint he’d then ran off with- ‘Shit.’ The exact words Rob himself no doubt muttered that morning when he discovered half his livelihood had been taken in the night, just as swiftly as his job had gone under only months before. To make matters worse, his faithful companion, Harvey the dog, died of old age- having stayed with Rob throughout his struggles to progress as an independent artist, the end had come at last, and with his departure, came also Rob’s separation from his wife at that time. A divorce was agreed upon, and with that, in a matter of months, Rob had officially hit rock-bottom.
Crammed into his sisters spare bedroom, all Rob had to his name was one old leather sofa, two rickety beds for himself and his son ,Jack, and whatever tools he had left from the thief who had marked the final curve towards Rob’s crash back down to earth. In a word? Devastating. Drifting from casual commission to casual commission, Rob did his best to pick up the pieces of his life and try to start over again. He trained further his skills in typography through apprenticing under a traditional painter of barges, and even set up a clothing business to sell his work in one of the most lucrative ways possible. But, it wasn’t enough. As things around him began to spiral again, he described how
‘As I was driving back to the office my ex had agreed to let me use in what was now her house, I began to lose focus and didn’t realise what I was doing. I was so scared of the future, and wanted so desperately to make enough money to secure my son’s security, I forgot I was driving completely. Then, as I came to a crossing, I was forced to slam into the brakes, as a hearse slowly rolled past. Inside lay a black coffin- a literal dead-end- and suddenly I had a moment where I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. I knew then that if I carried on like this it would not only hurt the people I was trying to protect, but also end up killing me- emotionally or physically I didn’t know, but it was a sign. So, I turned the car round, went back to my sisters, and began plans to pack up my office. Things were moved out. And I never came back to my old house again.’
It was after this life-changing experience that he then at last had the epiphany which finally began to move his life back onto the up. Sitting on his bed, Rob contemplated again over what mattered to him, and came to two conclusions- work, and his beloved son, Jack. And from then on, Jack became the focus which made Rob keep going, and find ways to continue being creative, even without an office space to play within. At the end of the day he realised ‘material objects don’t mean shit to my clients- I could have the nicest studio in the world and they don’t care- all they want is my dedication to the job at hand.’ And with that, Rob started his life all over again. Returning Jack to his mum for the time being, he began to travel all over the world, spreading his message of hope through his incredible work with type. Milan, New York, Spain- he never stopped travelling. The world was his office now- and the cups, napkins and paper items most people considered trash became Rob's newfound stash of materials. Posting constantly his adventures and creations on Instagram, people were beginning to look all over for the art he left behind in the cafes, libraries and restaurants he used as a temporary workspace. A few articles later, and finally, Rob was able to bring security back into his life. Creating work for companies including Samsung and also the world-famous ‘Golden Globe’ celebration Rob finally had found his way back home, and could at last provide his son the home he deserved, and the life Rob had always wanted him to experience. Back in England, Rob’s first childhood dreams also came true- he made designs for Halfords collection on a series of new bikes, and even helped design clothing for brands including Nike and Levi. Life was good again.
But, with all that said and done, what moved me most about this man was not just his rise from complete destruction, but mostly the love for his son that inspired me most. Each time Rob drew anything, he would sketch the initial ‘J’ onto his hand so that each time he drew or filmed what he was doing, there Jack would be, reminding him of why this mattered so much, and encouraging Rob to keep going, no matter what happened.
The zest this man has for life is outstanding, and is an inspiration to us all. Losing so much, but finding himself again even through all that is testament to the nature of a true artist- no matter what happens, no matter the odds, you endeavour always to create, and damn what other people say or think. After all,
‘The best prize that life has to offer is working hard, at work worth doing’ Theodore Roosevelt
Find Rob @RobDraper on Instagram or at http://www.robdraper.co.uk/