Ten Questions – 015 Ben The Illustrator

April 21st, 2011 by Mat Dolphin

For the latest installment of our Ten Questions series we got in touch with Cornwall based Ben The Illustrator. For over a decade Ben’s unique views of the world have been wrapped around cars, stretched along shop walls, solved problems, covered magazines, advertised fruit juice, satisfied clients, accompanied orchestras, adorned underwear and welcomed you at airports. Having worked with the likes of BBC, Cadbury’s, Girl Scouts of USA, Michelin, Honda and Land Rover amongst others, Ben has helped make the world look a better place. He likes to keep busy too. If you haven’t already seen he’s dreamt up a new way to market himself with bensseasonalbillboard.com, and recently oragnised www.therenmenproject.co.uk.

Ben kindly took time out of his busy day to answer our Ten Questions.

1. How do you describe what you do?

For a simple answer… I’m an illustrator… hence the name. I chose this as my brand in a way, around 6 years ago when I went solo as an illustrator. My work has evolved since into more than purely illustrating, I now get to bring my creative skills to anything from graphic design and branding to UI, textiles and interiors. If there’s a space for something illustrative, I’ll fill it.

2. What made you want to do what you do?
It’s a cliche, but it’s all I could ever really do. I’ve always loved art, but personally I’m not a pure fine artist, when I was a teenager my cousin was a graphic designer and I was fascinated by the idea of commercial art and design, working within a team, answering briefs, solving problems, the process seemed to take a person’s skills and put them to a real functional purpose. As an illustrator now I get to blend everything together into my everyday life, I can be creative, like an artist, and I can aim to solve a problem and produce something that serves a function, like a designer. I strongly believe that people should follow their dreams, if they really want an enjoyable, successful career then they need to find a way of taking their skills and passions and rolling it into a job, that’s why I do what I do.

3. How would you describe your workplace?
I love my studio. For me a smart, functional space is inspiring, it helps to keep the focus, I wouldn’t say I’m O.C.D. but I am T.I.D.Y. It’s not completely blank minimalism though, I am an illustrator after all, hence the kooky little birds mural. My studio is in our little Cornish cottage, so it’s a quirky mix of vintage curtains and retro light fittings alongside fresh, clean chunky furniture. Until we moved here I’d never chosen to work from home before, I used to be based in London and worked in a shared studio. But now, since I have my own studio which feels separate to the rest of the house, it works well as I can be in my work mindset during the day, and just shut the door and be part of the family without a commute at the end of it.

4. What is your favourite colour?
Colour is a massive part of what I do, I have a lot of favourite colour palettes, small sets of colour that really pop when they’re used right together, I love how teal and lime green sit together (actually some of the walls in the studio are lime green, my chair is teal). But I think my ultimate favourite colour would be a pure orange. I read that orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, maybe I could repaint the studio?

5. Who is your favourite artist or writer?
Like anyone creative, there are a lot, but I think the one that has always inspired me is an old bookcover illustrator called Brian Cook. I was given a book about his work when I was about 11 and it opened my eyes so much. He illustrated British landscapes and village scenes for Batsford in the 1930s, but contrary to a lot of traditional illustration he used the wildest colours, getting pinks, purples, yellows and oranges into beautiful scenes of British fields and woodlands. I illustrate a lot of natural landscapes myself and always aim to produce something as fresh now as Cook was producing then. I still have that book 20something years later, sitting on a shelf right next to me now.

6. What was your previous job?
Before I was ‘Ben the Illustrator’ I was creative director at a small animation/design company in London, but my position also involved project management, client liaison, some accounting and anything else that was thrown in the pot, meaning I wasn’t necessarily enjoying as much creative work as I wanted. I’d been doing some illustration jobs on the side for a few years and when I left company I was determined to have a much more focused aim in my career, to create.

7. Do you work within a team? If so, how many people do you work with?
I guess it varies, I used to work as a duo with Fi, my wife, she’s from an advertising/management background and took care of the day to day business behind Ben the Illustrator. Fi is now a full-time Mum to our boy Woody, however we do still discuss briefs together as we always did, me being able to benefit from her mind, ‘two heads’ and all that. A lot of my jobs also involve me becoming part of a team, whether its a design studio or an ad agency. I love when a team brings together different talents and everyone can join up and see a project through using each and every skillset for the best outcome.

8. Do you listen to music whilst working? If so, what do you listen to?
Always, a silent studio is probably a closed studio. I’ll listen to anything to be honest, favourite things this week are new albums by The Streets and Futures, good upbeat music, but I also like a lot of very dreamy beautiful things like Motohiro Nakashima and Ludovico Einaudi. Just recently I set up a public Spotify playlist called The Freelancers Jukebox, which is a lot of fun, there’s about 50 or 60 people getting involved each day, sharing tracks, sometimes on a theme, sometimes completely open, today we’re having a hiphop day, there’s 4 hours worth on there already submitted by freelancers all over the world!

9. Who inspires you to do what you’re doing?
I’m not sure if I could pinpoint one person; I read a lot of inspiring books, Paul Arden is perhaps the top of my must-read list. There are a lot of great old designers who’s words of wisdom have inspired me, and modern day design and business industry figures who keep everything fresh and moving along at such an exciting rate. Plus my dad, who ran his own packaging business for his whole working-life, very much teaching me how much one person can achieve if they work hard enough and enjoy what they do.

10. Which advice has helped you the most?
About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to show my (then rather naive and youthful) portfolio to the good folk at Airside. Fred Deakin advised me to “stick my head right into a computer and have a look at what you can do”, this one line has always stuck with me, I wasn’t especially technical then, but I’ve made it my mission to always get the most out of modern technology and software and constantly strive to produce something fresh.

And there you have it! What a nice guy — props to Ben for taking the time out to get involved. You can find out plenty more about Ben on his site and by following him on Twitter.

You can check the previous entries to the Ten Questions series here.

Thanks for reading.


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