When it comes to looking at developing an illustration career, there are few better examples than Ben Newman.
Taking time out of his insanely busy schedule of lecturing, flying around the world and guesting art director for Nobrow Press and Flying Eye books. Ben answered our questions about how his illustration career has got him to where he is. Here’s what he said…
Why did you feel illustration is best suited to you as an creative outlet? What excites you about it?
I didn’t feel that way at first and I’m sure my foundation year illustration tutor would agree.
I studied illustration for the first time on a foundation year 15 years ago. Back then we had two computers in the class and no internet.
illustration was not one of the popular courses.
The catalyst for me was studying a discipline which encouraged me to create stories, poems and drawings all at the same time. I could not believe my luck, I was being pushed to draw whatever I wanted.
Suddenly the doodles I did while talking on the phone had some relevance and function in an academic environment.
This excited me then and still does now.
Your work has a really clear style, can you tell us a little more about your inspirations? Where have your creative ideas originated from?
It’s a bit like learning to speak in images.
I like to do a lot with a little so by setting restrictions on my aesthetic options. I have developed a visual language that is personal to me when solving problems.
American comics and the cartoons I watched as a child have had the biggest impact on my illustration career.
I think the Pink Panther is one of the greatest examples of character design ever.
He is so iconic that he made the colour pink neutral to boys and girls. Genius.
Could you give us 3 tips that you’d say have got your illustration career where it is today?
For me, loyalty is very important when it comes to working with a publisher, client or collaborator.
Never get greedy.
Loyalty is so important in every area of your life. You have to prove it to others and they have to prove it to you too.
Discipline is a linchpin to progression.
My discipline comes from the love of what I do and a fundamental need to pay rent and eat.
Curiosity in the world, books, people and culture is the fuel.
Looking at other artist’s work is great, but inspiration should come from learning about politics, music, imagination and the world. Basically, other disciplines outside of the area you study. Content is the cornerstone of image making.
Can you give us an idea of your average day, how you work and how do you get your creative ideas done?
I have a 30 minute walk to my studio along the seafront in Hastings.
This is a truly wonderful way to start the day as the sea has a very calming influence on me.
My friend Tim works in the studio next door to me. I’m very lucky to have a close friend around all day who constantly makes me laugh and shows me new things.
I love playing records and getting focused on work. And listening to records is great. Each side is about 20 minutes long so you can measure how long you need to focus for before getting up to flip to the other side. I draw at my standing desk, and swap between there and the computer.
I have a nice time but it’s not very interesting to others.*
*Note from CAF: I’ll let you be the judge of that!
How do you attract new work?
I used to rely on an agent but I don’t have representation in the UK anymore.
It’s a difficult question to answer for me because I spend most of my time working on Astro Cat. Little bits on other books and design work with MiniLab Studios. I’m not putting myself out there as a pen for hire anymore.
I’ve been trying to move into a more authorial position with my work and new work has sprung up from it. It has been a slow but rewarding process.
My best suggestion is to put things out into the real world and people will respond eventually.
Don’t rely on the internet to do that for you.
Nothing beats seeing or holding an object/drawing/whatever in a room with other people or on your own.
Clicking ‘like’ isn’t engaging when you’re being bombarded with other images all the time (I’m looking at YOU social networks).
I know that might not sound like a popular opinion but it is a fact.
How long have you been a creative, would you say it’s your career?
I’ve wanted to be creative since childhood and have an illustration career. It has taken until now for me to feel that maybe I am creative.
After 10 years working as an illustrator or artist or whatever. I think I now feel comfortable with the idea that I have a career.
It could all end tomorrow so I’m very grateful but I try not to ever be too cocky, just opinionated.
What’s the best advice would you give to someone starting out?
Don’t expect success immediately.
The best way to carve out an illustration career is to build a solid foundation gradually. Remember, don’t make work to please others.
Make work to please yourself
In summary, when you start working commercially, you are constantly trying to please others. Be critical but see your strengths, don’t panic if it takes a while because the harder you work the luckier you’ll get.