I’ve been a big fan of Ben Newman for a while; last year he became one of my favourite illustrators and since then his work has had a huge influence over mine. If you haven’t got it already, can I highly recommend a book of his called ‘The Bento Bestiary’, it’s a beautifully illustrated guide to some of the ancient spirits and demons of Japan. It is also a fantastic example of contemporary illustration that is both exciting and dynamic, while at the same time simple and minimalist.
I sent Ben a few questions and he was kind enough to reply with some really interesting and helpful answers. Enjoy:
I hope this is okay. I'd just fallen asleep through Lethal Weapon 3 and then started typing so you might want to check it for spelling mistakes. Thanks for the email.
Can you tell me how you began as an illustrator?
I graduated in 2004 from Bristol UWE with degree in Illustration. I spent a while developing my work in my own time over the course of a couple of years. I travelled around bits of Asia and worked on some small editorial jobs for a music magazine and took part in numerous exhibitions trying to push what I had learnt at uni. I didn't buy my own computer until 3 years after University and then taught myself. When I see a lot of new young illustrators I feel miles behind the curve.
What are your inspirations? Are you influenced by any artist in particular?
Jim Flora is a huge influence but I mainly draw my inspiration from early to mid-20th Century design, mainly Czech matchbox labels, Bauhaus, Russian movie posters, etc. I find simple shapes and bright colours endlessly inspiring. I'm lucky enough to have some incredibly talented friends like Bjorn Lie, Stuart Kolakovic, Rob Hunter, Jon McNaught, Tom Frost and Nick White. I've known Nick since we were 13 and I feel that the optimism I have for drawing stems from when I use to visit him at Kingston when we were young.
Is there an artist you aspire to be like?
I would just like to be as good as I can be at being me but I do love the photos of Charley Harper as an old man. He looks so satisfied with life and that’s how I'd like to look as I get old.
How do you come up with ideas for set briefs?
I start by thinking "what the fuck is this going to look like?” I kind of like that feeling at the start of a brief and then reality sets in and time slips away and it either goes by very smoothly and horribly horribly wrong. It all depends on the brief and the client. My rough sketches are very rough but generally I quite enjoy the whole process (through gritted teeth).
How do you get started? How do you solve a creative block?
Cup of tea. Find excuses to ring people. Worry. Draw. Start worrying again. Crippling self doubt sets in. Wander over to someone else's studio. Waste time. Walk home. Come up with an idea just as I get home.
Could you describe your working method?
Pencil. Ruler. Compass. Light box. Scanner. I work using the raw spot colours and use overlays to get my secondary colours. I'm slightly obsessed with the mechanics of colour.
How do you divide your working time between personal and professional work?
You just fit in somehow. Generally, paid professional work comes first.
Where do you work?
At SNAP studios in Bristol. I share an attic space with my good buddy, Tom Frost.
Are there any advantages/disadvantages to this?
The disadvantage is that when it rains I get wet on my way to the studio.
What kind of promotional work do you do?
My agent, Pocko, sort most of that out. I use twitter, Flickr and my blog to help people find out about new work so I guess the internet is the best self promotion tool available.
What is your opinion of the illustration industry at the present time?
Harder to find jobs. Harder to find clients willing to pay. Its just pretty hard all round. I think Nobrow is giving the illustration community a healthy injection of excitement though. Most illustrators I know are leaning more towards personal work now.
Is the industry in a good place? Is now a good time to be an illustrator?
Last year I felt like it was but the last 5 months have felt quieter. That’s just for me though. I have no idea if there is ever such a thing as a 'good time', you either do it or you don't.
Is there any advice you could give to a student trying to make it in the illustration industry?
Don't feel like you have to rush head first into the industry. I think the slow approach is a great way to help expand your interest and inspirations. You'll need a thick skin and a hard work ethic.