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Ben Weeks – HeyThere
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Ben Weeks

Freelance

Illustrator
Ben Weeks is a Toronto based illustrator. His beautiful style has graced the pages of the New York Times Magazine, Esquire and Bloomberg Newsweek. Besides editorial work, Ben also works closely with some of Toronto's top design studios producing wondrous landscapes of type and image. Read on to learn more about this prolific illustrator.
HT

Illustration… how long have you been doing it and what got you started?

BW

I’ve been full time independent since 2005. Before that I worked at an agency in England after my master’s. The first professional thing I did was for the Halifax Chronicle Herald which was an illustration about aids in Africa. I was still a student at that point, I believe it was 2002. I remember times in kindergarten and public school where people were surprised or in awe about whatever art fooling around I was doing. So that probably was the real start as I didn’t get much affirmation for anything else.

HT

The Ben Weeks style is quite recognizable. How did you develop it and is it something you are conscious of?

BW

Part of it is just experimenting with a lot of approaches and finding that people tended to gravitate to my more minimal iconic line work.

HT

Where do you find inspiration? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

BW

My kids typically get me out of bed in the morning. They’re inspiring for sure. Reading widely and being curious about things I don’t understand have led me to a lot of inspiration. There are people who think they’re not creative who inspire me. Like “economic geography: why Silicon Valley as a place is so successful” that’s an interesting field. A friend’s girlfriend is doing a PhD in that, thinks it’s not creative but it’s investigation, learning to see. Art is basically the same thing in a different form.

HT

What has been a career highlight so far?

BW

Working with an organization Steve Job’s wife started to help improve the education system in parts of the US where the poor are trapped in cycles of generational poverty.

HT

How do you find new work or how does it find you?

BW

Social media, direct mail, awards annuals, word of mouth, my website, personal relationships, conferences. There are a lot of possible ways and it’s a stewardship issue I grapple with to invest in the best ones. Yet it’s also a matter of experimentation which I can learn from and help others with whatever insights I pick up from mistakes I make.

HT

Do you prefer to work with studios or directly with clients and why?

BW

It all depends on who the people are. There are amazing studios and there are others which really are counter productive to good work happening. Some studios for example try to demand me to have policies that would be self destructive. Luckily the good ones aren’t like that. Clients work when I have direct contact in person with the executives or when I have a strong design director / CCO advocate in house. That just means there’s a culture that values what I do as a starting point. When that’s not there, demoralizing games can ensue and I resign the client at the earliest opportunity.

HT

Lately there’s been a real resurgence in things like hand-lettering – from beer bottles to advertising campaigns. Have you felt any of the impact?

BW

Yes I’ve been doing work in that realm for awhile. There’s a lot of great work out there being done by so many people. It’s really it’s own area of specialization.

HT

How strong is the illustration community in Canada?

BW

We have one of the best ones in the world. Maybe it’s because it’s so cold in the winter, we get good at finding ways to occupy ourselves indoors. We’re also ok culturally with not conforming which helps a unique personal point of view to develop and express itself visually over time. Corruption is low here and the standard of life is good so we don’t have to worry about keeping the mafia at bay or whatever too much.

HT

Are you learning any new skills presently? If so what and why.

BW

I’m trying to find ways of leveraging my capability through collaboration. Along with that comes the need for management skills as well as seeking the best practices for the management of professional services firms which is one way of defining what I do I suppose.

So there are a lot of philosophical sources that I enjoy which challenge some assumptions we’ve held for generations. For example Harvard Business School has a professor Clay Christensen who has some really deep thoughts about disruptive innovation, misuse of financial metrics, goal setting, theory development, and “jobs to be done”. Checkout his Clarendon lectures at Oxford on YouTube. Rowan Williams, books on filmmaking, Drucker on Management as well are some of the other topics and writers I’ve been looking at lately.

HT

Do you sell any of your artwork (Etsy etc)?

BW

No. That would involve inventory risk if I was to do it at scale. I’d be happy to partner with someone to help manage that though and have been discussing it initially with a dude who specializes in that.

HT

Any advice for anyone thinking of becoming an illustrator.

BW

Love to draw. Stay healthy in your mind and body. Take breaks. Don’t work weekends. Moderation. Empathy. Don’t fear business, it can be creative too.


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