Graffiti Life: Graffiti Artists to International Advertising Entrepreneurs

Founders of Graffiti Life, Iona Thomas and David Speed are hosting “Love What You Do and Get Paid Doing It” at Creative Futures! UAL student Elliott Nielson shares what he learnt from this pair of entrepreneurs during their last talk ‘ Graffiti Artists to International Advertising Entrepreneurs’…


“Every creative is capable of greatness”

Imagine the beautiful irony of ducking and diving CCTV to spray trains, only to get paid by the train network for advertising a few years later. Or, studying at Central Saint Martins plus working a couple of unrelated jobs, to getting the career you want and going back to CSM to talk about it all. The Directors of Graffiti Life, David Speed and Iona Thomas visited UAL to share their interesting story. Their honest advice for achieving a career as an artist was reassuring and inspiring.




David Speed, co-founder of Graffiti Life

Back in 2010, with an idea for a business but no clients, David bought some cheap plastic boards, taped them to the back of a bus stop during a Croydon street fair and started painting. Since then, Graffiti Life have been going wall to wall, client to client; their progression coinciding with the world’s growing love for urban art. They create hand painted murals for brands like Nike, Adidas, BBC One’s launch for Luther and even Microsoft’s Halo 5.

Standing on Croydon high street, painting for free, handing out business cards is not something any creative particularly wants to do. However, if it’s for the success of doing what you love becoming your career, then get yourself out there. The more opportunities you take, even if unpaid, the more stepping stones to something bigger appear…


People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Chances are if you love something enough to do it for free, someone else will pay you to do it.

This point leads me into the key steps for success from David and Iona’s talk:

No1. Find your passion

If you haven’t found yours already; do different shit! Go try different things, because sometimes ‘it takes closing those 99 doors to get down to focus on the one’. What is it you want to create every day of your life?

No.2 Surround yourself with the right people

You are the sum of the 5 people you spend most your time with. Good friends bring out the best in an artist and it’s key to remember, every person you meet will change your life. Thirdly, what’s the point of it all without the right people around?

This one sounds easier said than done but, the biggest lesson Graffiti Life learned was having the wrong person in their team. If everyone loves what they do, they’ll give 100%. Plus, none of you will ever be working.

No.3 Build an audience

Graffiti Life built theirs through Instagram. We live in a world of algorithms and it’s hard work to build an audience. So if you’re using Instagram to promote your brand, treat it like a business tool – a free one at that!

Adam, Graffiti Life’s other director who sat in on the event, recommended quality content over saturated consistency. However, you still want as many people as possible to see it, so follow people that will like your art, comment on their photos, reply to their comments on your posts etc. Hashtagging and DMing people are acceptable methods. Cold emailing works! Shamelessness is the key principle to Kim Kardashian’s success, why should you be afraid of it? All you need is 1,000 true fans of your art and you’ll be able to make a career out of whatever it is you do.

No.4 ‘Til you make it, Fake it!

The most telling part of the talk was about the most difficult part of anything, starting (your career)! Early on, Graffiti Life painted at an event for a company, a sponsor for that event went by the name of Red Bull. Although technically not a client, Red Bull’s logo was added to their portfolio and that particular idea proved very successful.  Sheer confidence, no lies, just undeniable confidence.



Iona Thomas, co-founder of Graffiti Life


The room felt empowered, people sat up. David recommends business strategist Seth Godin’s Purple Cow for those wondering how to sell their creativity. Students’ questions were concerned about having their uniqueness stand out in this ever-expanding arena of business and art and social network mumbo-jumbo. Yet it’s not just jargon, marketing yourself is just part of today’s world and the opportunities for artists are abundant.

We often look to great people for inspiration. We say, ‘that person’s great, I can’t possibly do that’. David says it’s an excuse. This is one of the many barriers we tell ourselves as artists.

The good news is “most of the barriers we tell ourselves are imaginary”. Start by working out where it is you want to go – then work out all the barriers in your way to getting there… You’ll realise it’s never as many as you think.

Join Iona and David at Love What You Do and Get Paid Doing ItBook now!

By Elliott Nielson