#MeetTheCreatives: Ben the Illustrator

September 28, 2016

Our Jot this week is curiosity of illustrator and designer Ben O’Brien, better known as Ben the Illustrator. With clients ranging from GQ to The Guardian, his fresh style is a familiar feature in publications the world over.

We spoke to him to find out more about his work, his creative process, and (of course) his first impressions of Joto!

[Carmen:] How did you first get into illustration?

[Ben:] Art was all I ever focused on through childhood and school. I went on to study animation in the mid 90s when animation was becoming super exciting with the early Pixar films and incredible music videos everywhere. After graduating I animated and directed some fairly lo-fi music videos and then became part of a small animation and design studio, which I loved, but started to realise that my real strengths were in how things looked, as opposed to telling stories or animating movement.

So I started to move towards illustration within our studio work and I left that team to become Ben the Illustrator in 2005. Thankfully I had enough experience and knowledge to hit the ground running and in my first year I was working with Smart Cars, Vice Magazine and Yahoo! It’s not changed too much since then, I’m still focused on illustration and evolving as I go.

[C:] Tell us about your creative process; where do you start?

[B:] Whether or not there’s a brief I usually have the same process: the idea always comes first. I can’t work solely thinking about the ‘look’, I like an idea. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm with my wife and business partner Fi, sometimes I’ll sit draw and ideas will come out of the pencil, or more often they come while we’re driving somewhere or out walking.

Once there’s a few ideas I’ll focus on pencil drawing, start to consider aesthetics and usually build an idea of colours. After drawing up a final tidy drawing, I’ll scan it, trace the linework and (my favourite bit…) add colour in Adobe Illustrator. I like to work alongside people: art directors, fellow creatives or Fi.

[C:] What tools do you use?

[B:] Fairly simple to start with, pencil and paper. Although I’m a pencil geek and can’t possibly work without a Blackwing 602 and the Seawhite sketch book that I’m currently using. All my digital work is created using my Wacom Intuos and Adobe Illustrator.

[C:] You’ve got a very distinct style. How would you describe it?

[B:] I just enjoy making clean and colourful illustration. I’ve wandered through varying styles over the years but after over a decade I feel like I’ve finally found the balance between a style that satisfies my creative tendencies and a style that has commercial value. I prefer to illustrate places, indoors or outdoors, but creating a nice space feels important to me. The people are often secondary to the space in my work.

When I defined my style I performed a huge cull on my portfolios, some people said I was daft to do so, dropping some really big projects from my folio but I have no regrets! My work is hugely important to me (second to my family of course) and I am dedicated to enjoying every day that I spend at my desk, the style of work I do makes me feel positive, even therapeutic!

[C:] What are you working on at the moment? Are there any future projects you’d like to share with us?

[B:] I’m currently working on a collaboration with a team from Bath Spa University, creating an educational online game for all ages. The team is made up of interactive designers, sound specialists and educational consultants which along with mine and Fi’s creative input, makes it a very deep project at the heart of which is a very beautiful true story.

I’m not sure if I can share all the details, but my part of it is illustrating a New Jersey deli and home in the 1950s. We have some amazing source materials to build on, it’s part social history and part creative design and I’m super excited to see it develop from my current pencil drawings into a game in 2017!

[C:] That sounds great! Thank you for creating such a beautiful illustration for Joto, the result is awesome. Now that you’ve seen Joto in action, what do you think?

[B:] It feels like such an original thing, I actually think some people haven’t clicked yet on quite how cool it is. I’m super excited by Joto, and what it could bring. We’re very keen to have one in our home! My wife and 6 year old son would love to have it for fun messaging and important notes but I think I would focus on it being a picture frame, an ever-changing artwork.



[C:] How do you think you’d use your Joto?

[B:] I’m wondering how possible it would be to create artwork specifically for it, post it online and let Joto owners easily send it to their Joto. If for example I, or any artist for that matter, could do an advent calendar and every day the customer gets to Joto a new image (maybe by surprise). Also, colour by numbers artworks would be cool.

[C:] Nice idea! We love feedback from the community; it helps us make the best product we can. Thank you Ben!

Ben’s prints are available to buy at bentheillustratorstore.com

Carmen Domingo (Those, Communications Manager)
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