Written by Ben Mottershead
‘Creative Journeys’ is a new monthly series from Glug Events. We take a single creative and in a bi-monthly series, we look at their life and achievements to date, while focusing on future aspirations. During this time we’ll be utilising our own connections to help that person to connect with top creative directors and studios within the industry, while speaking with the creative to get a progress report and to continue the story. Why would we do this despite the fact we’re super awesome? Well, Glug was founded on the principle of giving back and helping one another. We’ve spent over a decade building a platform for ourselves and a network of some of the best creatives in the world. To help a fellow creative is at the core of what makes Glug who are.
Our first Creative Journey takes a look at the 26 year old designer, Stephen Weeks. Born in Shrewsbury, but raised in Telford, it seems fair to say Stephen has had a rollercoaster of a life. Full of High’s, Lows and every emotion in between. In this first instalment we introduce Stephen, take a look at key events in his life to date, what pushed him to enter the creative industries and the struggles he's had to endure up to now.
Growing up on a small council estate called Overdale with his Dad and sister, Stephen was just two months old when his mum left his dad for another woman. In his own words,
‘For any man that must have been extremely difficult to deal with at the time. Couldn't even imagine what my Dad was going through coming to terms with being divorced and lumped with two kids at the age of twenty-four. I'm twenty-six years old now, and I'm still just about trying to get to my shit together.’
Over the next few years Stephens life was rocky to say the least. His mum's side of the family were from London and his grandparents, who had a ‘significant influence’ him, were part of the travelling community. Following his mums departure they wanted full custody over Stephen and his sister, but after a legal battle they stayed with his dad. Despite all of this he did live with my grandparents for two years, which he describes as a ‘great escape’ at the time.
While growing up, his Dad delivered papers or washed windows as a way to bring some money into the home, and Stephen started helping him out working after school, getting changed in the car and also working weekends.
“My Dad has always drummed into me that I had to work hard to make a living, and that's why I believe I have the work ethic I have now thanks to him.”
When he finally reached secondary school, Stephen was relatively troubled. It wasn't until college it was discovered he had severe dyslexia, a learning disability which is relatively commonplace within the creative industries, but still not taken as seriously as it should be. He fell into a dark place and at fourteen started to lose interest in hobbies and skip school all together.
“At the time, I felt somewhat lost, but I think what changed was when I got arrested for a crime I didn't commit. After being charged, I was in and out of court for a year fighting my case. One thing that came out of the experience was that it put things into perspective for me that hanging out with the wrong people and getting up to no good was going to get me nowhere in life. But also getting angry at the world gets you nowhere.”
Despite this upheaval in his life Stephen managed to get back to his creative roots and became interested in street art. He would spend hours in his black book, drawing letters, and getting requests from friends to do their names in graffiti. He then undertook a BTEC art and design and GCSE art. He eventually left school with 12 GCSE's C and above and even achieved distinction and an A in GCSE Art which set him up with the required qualifications for college.
When he started college, it was the first time in his life he was exposed to the likes of prolific creatives such as David Carson and Neville Brody, who I imagine many designers reading this will have also been shown around a similar age. I’m pretty sure I still have a tattered copy of ‘Ray Gun’ somewhere under my bed. Anyway, he began to receive commissions for illustration and graffiti work such as car bonnets, trainers, bedroom walls. At this point Stephen new Graphic Design was the direction he wanted to pursue.
“To do this as a career, a graphic design degree at University was the answer. I never thought in a million years this was something possible for me.”
Having undertaken a foundation at Kingston College and achieving distinctions and an award for Graphic Designer of the year, he decided to pursue a degree however there was an issue at the forefront of his mind. Something which also affects tens of thousands of potential students every year. Cost. Despite this initial problem Stephen managed to acquire two scholarship offers. One from The University of Westminster, and also an award from the HKF foundation which he was unable to take due to only being eligible for one scholarship.
At this point it’s worth mentioning for any worried, would be students in similar positions. There are many organisations which can offer you financial support such as additional funding, or scholarships. You can find out more about these options by contacting UCAS, or visiting their website.
Once Stephen had began his degree he faced difficulties which a large number of students often find while transitioning into university life. It isn’t always easy sailing when you’re in a new environment and surrounded by new stresses and tests and this was equally the same for Stephen himself,
‘I found student life to be relatively complicated, and I would admit that I turned to alcohol and had a problem with that and getting too overwhelmed with depression and started pushing people away. I almost failed the first year of University and almost dropped out because I couldn't handle it. But luckily, I was doing the Graphic Design for the sub-brand of Westminster University for the events and showed that I was still passionate about design and that kept me focused for a little while.’
Deciding not to house share at uni, a route which the majority take, Stephen chose to move in with his grandparents and drive to university instead. Moving in with his grandparents meant that he was able to keep costs low, while also sharing a room with his Uncle in their Caravan. While not ideal he felt that the situation kept him on the ‘straight and narrow’. Up that point Stephen had stayed away from the everyday uni affairs, however a friend of his from college had just started his first year at Westminster University and they both attended Freshers together, giving Stephen a proper introduction to the social aspect of Uni life, which is an important factor for many students. It was here that he met Emma, the ‘love of his life’.
‘I think the hardest part was telling her that I was living in a caravan I remember breaking the news to her and that she laughed and said it was beautiful and told me not to be silly. I thought at that moment in time, and I felt I was a made man.’
After getting his grades back on track and focusing on design work Stephen graduated and then started applying for design jobs but found it challenging to find a company that would give him a chance. After so many job applications, and becoming desperate he decided to go around central London visiting studios and drop off my CV and get my foot in the door (literally). He had a mixture of reactions from being supportive in the sense of being brave but also maybe slightly naive. I was unable to find a design job and was running out of money.
It wasn’t long until Stephen found a printer in East Sheen, called ‘Yellow Print Shop’ who were hiring for the role of Graphic Designer and Production. After completing a three stage interview, not uncommon within the industry, he was accepted for the job. While not a ‘glamorous design studio’ it was still a job that could put his skills to good use and allow him to evolve in a new career.
‘I learned so much about the printing process and how to design for print but also how to operate the printing machines. I was commuting three hours a day to work, but with that time, I read graphic design books, and while I was home in my spare time, I would work on personal projects as I still had that drive to find that perfect role.’
After following his girlfriend to Manchester so she could undertake her masters their relationship broke down, and Stephen moved back in with his Uncle in Surrey and started to again apply for jobs for graphic design roles.
‘I had a great guy from ‘REED’ recruitment agency, and he came and picked me up and took me to the interview for a graphic design role for an AV company. At the meeting, this is where I met my future employers.’
Still working for that same company he goes on to say the whole experience has been great so far with some exciting projects and proving that he can do it with hard work and determination, fully believing that you always have to keep on learning, and that's what he loves about this industry. It continually changes and you have to adapt.
While working for the company, Stephen has been going from strength to strength and continues working on personal projects and challenging himself by going to hackathons and attending design events. For my efforts at work, he’s gained employer of the month twice. But admits that he does now feel that he’s hit a plateau and is ready to move on to something bigger and better, and move closer to central London so he can attend events with ease and be around creative people.
‘I would ultimately like to work for friendly people with a great team spirit where you can be inspired and aspire to do the best work you can.’
In this final section of our first instalment of Creative Journeys, Stephen talks about his battles with mental health. Something which he has struggled with over the course of his journey so far, which you may have picked up on from reading the above. Mental Health is a recurring conversation in today's world, but it still affects a wide number of people and in particular creatives who’s entire daily and working lives are embedded and revolve around the acceptance and approval of others.
‘In terms of mental health, I've always had problems and just never dealt with those problems. It was just before Christmas that it started to get worse and I needed to get the help I need. I was randomly getting the feeling of having a heart attack and on the verge of passing out. It started to affect me at work and on the train, and It was awful. I've never been a big sleeper and had night terrors and flashbacks of certain things growing up. I didn't dive into much detail above, in a nutshell, I was abused, and my childhood was violent. I was diagnosed with PTSD in January after referring myself into a clinic. I am currently still going through therapy now, and it has helped a lot in dealing with things processing what has happened. But I would say that I would never let my past determine my future.
Work has been helpful, but at first, It was a struggle getting the support. My therapist told me that I had to attend three social events a week and get myself out there. Luckily this was in a write up in a letter, and I had to show this to my boss to support what I was doing, I had to have the most awkward meeting about my mental health... but now I'm able to leave an hour early to attend events because I work a fair distance away from London.’
If there are any people who find they are struggling with mental health issues, or looking for someone to talk to there are a great number of charities and organisations out there. Some of which we have listed below:
You can also listen to our podcast with James Routledge, founder of Sanctus who is trying to create a safe space for discussing mental health.
In our next instalment of Stephens Creative Journey we speak to him about his current portfolio, how things are progressing in his life, and what he learnt from a portfolio critique we set up between himself and the Executive Creative Director of Studio Output, Rob Coke.
Do you have a story, or know someone who would make for an awesome creative journey series? Get in touch and let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!