Ben The Illustrator
We spoke on 26th March 2021
Hey Ben, first of all, how are you?
I’m good thanks! A pleasure to be here. I’m in the process of moving back into my ‘new’ studio, 3 friends and I built it last year, converting part of a former warehouse building, we now share it with a photography studio and elsewhere in the building we have a bakery, a Sri Lankan takeaway and a burrito bar, so things are good! Of course, we couldn’t move in properly due to lockdowns and homeschooling for a long time, but over the new few months everyone is getting back in and we can finally get settled!
For those that do not know who is Ben The Illustrator?
I’m a full-time, self-employed, commercial vector illustrator, I’ve been working in illustration for 15+ years now, before that I worked in animation, having studied animation in college and then working on music videos, and children’s TV before leaving the studio I founded with 2 colleagues and focusing on illustration. I work on all sorts of things, editorial, advertising, animation, packaging and I always have a side-project or two selling art prints.
Your art style was one of the things that I instantly loved about your work, how did you develop this style?
My style has varied over the years, always vector and always colourful. But 10 years ago I was working in a far more realistic, detailed style, I wanted to have a way of working that was a lot simpler and more efficient. I wanted to be able to produce illustrations without taking days, but still, get a message across, or make something that looks awesome. Also, I find working in a tidy, graphic style to be quite therapeutic, the process is quite zen and I find a lot of mental clarity working in this style. I draw a lot when I’m out and about, or travelling abroad, and I’ve developed my sketching style to be more graphic, so right from a quick doodle I am thinking how things can be clean, fresh and ordered, often breaking shapes or figures into minimal detail while still telling a story or invoking a place or emotion.
Have you always wanted to be a freelance illustrator?
I think so, as a child drawing was what I did, I strayed into animation but I was only ever focused on how things looked, and less so on how things moved. I love working with clients, taking a brief and finding a solution. I do regret not getting more in-house studio experience when I started, instead of being self-employed from such a young age, and I’ve had to learn the hard way how to run a business and manage everything that entails.
I noticed you have worked for some big names, do you have a favourite brief that you’ve worked on?
Last year I worked with Adobe creating a huge library of assets for the Adobe Max conference. We made an avatar creator, where visors to the (virtual) festival could create themselves using my library of facial features and accessories. It was awesome to work with Adobe, who figurehead so much of the creative industry, without Adobe Illustrator I don’t think I’d have the career I do!
You mention your love of editorial design, tell me more about this.
Editorial is one of my favourite areas, it can be quick and often have a tight deadline, but that’s part of the enjoyment, you just have to think fast and find great concepts. Also, I have always enjoyed working with editorial art directors, it is easily one of the best collaborations you can have as an illustrator, a good art director can improve your work so much and ensure everything is perfect before it’s released into the world. Also, editorial illustration always serves a function, it has to tell a story or relay some information or raise awareness of an issue, and this is the key to good illustration for me.
I saw on LinkedIn that you are always willing to learn new things such as software. How important is this to develop as a creative?
In the past 20 years, I think it’s critical to maintain a career you enjoy and relish. I have seen good creatives fall away from the industry because they’ve not moved with the technology in any way or progressed with their practice. I don’t think people have to involve themselves in every area, or every new movement, but to keep learning new things, skills, software, different media, keeps your time exciting and I believe it’s good for the brain! I’ve recently been pushing myself more with After Effects, which in-turn can improve how I can sell myself, especially with so much editorial being purely online now and not in print.
Thank you once again for this, for my final question. What is next for Ben The Illustrator?
This year I’m focusing a lot on my Cover Versions side project, which is my illustrated ‘covers’ of album sleek artwork, it started as a bit of lockdown fun teaming up with Tim Burgess’ Twitter Listening Parties but has developed into a print store (Cover Versions.com), collaborations with galleries and merchandise project, so I’m itching to have a lot of fun with all of that. I also want to progress with the animation side and hopefully build some new ventures with my studio-mates in the new studio!