Ben spends his days drawing and writing in his little studio in Ballarat, Victoria. Some days he illustrates for international publications like Wall Street Journal. Other days he’s writing children’s picture books and creating colourful characters like Lento & Fox or naughty fruit such as Bad Apple. Either way, he enjoys having a list of creative tasks and the freedom to choose his projects.
Tell us a bit about yourself...
I’ve been illustrating professionally since I was eleven. I snagged my first commission after filling my first visual diary with silly cartoons of animals doing human activities: a horse answering the telephone, a penguin relaxing on the beach, a koala taking photos - you get the gist. I used The Encyclopaedia of Animals for photographic reference. My dad took those sketches to a publisher and I got my first paid job.
What is your favourite animal to draw and why?
I discovered a few years ago that I have drawn quite a few elephants over the years. The very first illustration I got paid for was of an elephant riding a bicycle, variations of that elephant have appeared in my work ever since. Elephants are unique and have so much personality.
Were you always a creative person?
I guess so. I had a creative upbringing. My dad would draw, paint, take photographs and was a typesetter and printer. My mum was a calligrapher and very handy at hand-letterer using ink and brush. There was always someone doing something creative in the house even if they were just decorating a cake.
Describe your creative process?
If I look back over the times when I feel I’ve created my best work, the common thread would be that my thoughts were relaxed. If I’m relaxed and happy I’ll create more freely. If the ideas aren’t flowing, I tell myself that good ideas are just around the corner… just go and have a peek!
How do you get in ‘flow’ (aka in the zone)?
I usually don’t notice that I am in flow until it’s almost ended, and I usually can’t remember how I got there! While in flow it feels like I’m being swept along a river.
Next thing you know you’re a long way down stream, hours have passed, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride and you have written your best story, created your best characters or drawn your best scene. It’s quite a ride.
Flow won’t happen when I’m on the phone, or listening to loud music, or interrupted by emails, or sitting at a messy desk or someone else is in my studio.
In a previous job I had a boss who used to sidle up behind me while I worked so he could “Watch the magic happen”. I told him, “There is no chance of any magic if I know I’m being watched.”
How are you ‘kind to your mind’?
I like to think about things that make me smile. Things that are good, funny and have merit. If I spend time thinking about good things, there is less time to think about all the things that surround us that aren’t so nice to think about…mind pollution.
How familiar are you with mindfulness?
I have become aware of the importance of mindfulness only recently, but was pleasantly surprised that I had some mindfulness practices already integrated into my day. I’ve never been a multi-tasker, I focus on one thing at a time. I’m often thankful for the small things and little victories. I recently learned that this is improves resilience and can keep you positive. And finally…I’m a night owl but I love sleep. My body seems to enjoy a lot of sleep, so I go to bed at a reasonable hour - even when I’m busy - and sleep in as long as I can!
What inspired this tutorial and activity you have created?
Expressive characters are fun to create. When I visit schools, I introduce my characters by drawing them live. I allow the audience to participate by telling me how the characters feel, then drawing that emotion. The kids pull all sorts of facial expressions as they explain what they want the character to feel. It’s hilarious! It helps to understand that emotion in order to convey it effectively through illustration, and also to understand that all these emotions are normal and good.
How would you encourage someone to get started with creativity?
What would you like to be creating? Learn some basic skills in that medium and then get rolling! You don’t need achieve perfection in any form of creativity to enjoy it. I gave up on perfection a long time ago and have enjoyed the ride much more as a result.
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