Tuesday 1 March 2016

Ben Newman Illustrator, on cartoons, sketchbooks and living by the sea...


Professor Astro Cat's Atomic Adventure by Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman hits stores today! it's a non-stop force of nature introducing even the most reluctant of future scientists to the wonderful fascinating world of Physics. 

So to celebrate this momentous occasion we invited Ben along to Book Sniffer Towers to give us a little bit more of an insight into this very special project. 

How has your style changed over the years? 

I find it difficult to think of my own work as a style. To me, it’s like handwriting. It’s how I think, see and solve things. Just like my taste, thoughts and opinions, it has grown up with me. For example, when I started university, I was intimidated by colour. I love colour but learning and understanding it is challenging. It took me a long time and lots of mistakes to finally feel confident and I still make plenty of mistakes even now. Placing restrictions on what I can do visually has been so useful in developing my work as you have to think of creative ways around these self-imposed restrictions. One example of a restriction is that I dont use line in my work so I solve and create things with just shape and colour. I never put restrictions on creativity, just the tools I use.

What was the best piece of advice you received at Art School? And what advice would you give to someone about to graduate? 

Dont be precious about your work. Making mistakes is the only way to learn. It is imperative that you fail a lot. Learning how to deal with that and learn is the most important thing I learnt and tell others.

How do you see Apps and books working together in the future do you see one superseding the other? 

I think both are important and should complement each other, not work against one another. Both offer very different experiences and its a case of getting the best out of each one. There is little point in trying to repeat the same experience across both platforms. I can’t see books ever dying out. The physical nature of books cannot be replicated and our homes would be souless without them. I think there will be more of a push for the two platforms to work in tandem and create a wider experience. (find out more about the Professor Astro Cat app HERE

If you could pick out one professional job form the past that you have really enjoyed / you are most proud of what would it be and why?

I was a senior bookseller in Waterstones for about 7 years. I met so many lovely people working there and also learnt a lot about the book trade. I didnt know it at the time but a little part of that experience helped me to create Professor Astro Cat.

Do you find time to be creative for pleasure when such a huge amount of your time is spent creating work professionally? 

Thats a tricky question… The first Professor Astro Cat book was done for creative pleasure but is now what I work on professionally. I think I get the best of both worlds. I wish I had more time to paint and make prints and sculptures but I’m so happy with my job that I can patiently wait until I have time.

Do you use sketch books? 

Only if I’m travelling because its easier. I usually just use loose, scraps of paper to draw on. I find working in a sketchbook makes me feel precious about my drawings but working on loose paper feels much more free and experimental.

Tell us about some other popular culture which influences / enhances your work / music / film / publishing? 
Mid- 20th century cartoons were always shown on TV when i was a child at very odd times, like after the football on a Sunday after noon but before antiques roadshow. I remember how excited I would get after one Pink Panther episode would finish and there would be another Tom & Jerry on afterwards. It was like finding treasure. It inspired me to make work that I want others to treasure and keep hold of for a long time. 

Do you collect anything? 

I collect too many things. I love collecting 50s/60s matchbox labels from Europe, old toys, books, records and ephemera. I have a huge comic book collection but I buy less of them now because I’m running out of space and would like to afford a holiday once in a while.

Is the increased pressure of social media content distracting to you or do you find it a good way of promoting your work? 

Yeah, I think it is. For all its uses (and it has many), the instant gratifcation of posting and getting responses or likes is very distracting. I sometimes watch films while I work as a way of distracting myself from looking on the internet by being slightly distracted. The world doesn’t stop turning and the internet nevers does too. I think they should have 1 hour a day where they just turn off the whole internet for a bit. 

What is the most satisfying part of the book making process and what’s the most frustrating? 

It really comes in waves. You start a book… yay! You realise that it takes ages to solve the bit before you can start drawing… boo! Problem solved, now you can start drawing… yay! You can’t think of a way to visually solve some of the pages and waste 2 days on it… boo! and so on and so on. It is fun though and always a big learning process. However, holding the finished book in your hand afterwards though is very satisfying but not as satisfy as seeing someone else enjoying it.

If you could collaborate with ANY other children’s author or illustrator who would you choose and why? 

I think Michael Rosen is a fantastic human being, activist, educator and writer. So him, i guess.

Tell us about 5 things you loved as a kid which have made you the grown-up you are today. 
  1. The Pink Panther
  2. American comic books
  3. Jm Henson
  4. My sister
  5. My gran’s neighbour’s cat called Fluffy

Does the environment / town / city in which you work influence your creativity/style? 

Yeah, I think it does. I lived in Bristol for over 10 years where I went to university and then started my career. I knew lots of illustrators and musicians there and it was very inspiring. The people I met there had a big impact on me and my work which set me on the right track.

I lived in London for 3 years and it was amazing. In someways, it was a test to see if I could afford to live there and draw for a living. The people around me were working so hard at such a high level that it rubs off on you and pushes you harder creatively.

I now live in Hastings and am much more self contained. Being able to see the sea everyday is really calming. I know what I want to do now and I’m in an environment where I have space and time to enjoy doing them. 

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