The ingredients of a freelance illustrator: IA's Ben Sanders gets profiled

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Introducing Ben Sanders

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Hamish and Andy, Ben Sanders

In the 1980’s my dad was in the printing trade. One of his regular clients was a small local publishing outfit in need of a bunch of illustrations for a sheet of kids’ stickers. I was twelve years old, and in the late 1980’s child labour laws were easier to ignore than they are these days, so my dad encouraged me to submit a few drawings for consideration. During that summer I illustrated 32 stickers – things like elephants riding bicycles, walruses smoking pipes, apples with bites out of their bottoms – you know, the usual stuff. Each summer holidays throughout secondary school I illustrated a new set of stickers. They were quite popular and the publisher found overseas markets for them. It meant that I didn’t need to get one of those summer jobs as a spotty-faced supermarket trolley-boy.

Fast forward a couple of decades. I went full-freelance in 2006 and have spent the last three years living in Bolivia, South America working for clients in Australia, United States, and The United Kingdom, and volunteering for a magazine that assists street kids.

I’m fresh back in Australia now, returning to my charming mid-century single car garage converted into a studio where I illustrate, stare blankly out of the window from my swivel chair and stroke my chin.

Ben Sanders

Do you have an art practice outside of illustration?

I enjoy the process of writing children’s books. I’m looking to get a new story published to follow-up “I’ve an Uncle Ivan” and “I Could Wear Than Hat!” I have a few ideas in the pipeline and work on them when I have time or I’m inspired by an idea I think would make a great book.

Editorial illustration for Wall Street Journal, Ben Sanders

Who and what inspires your art and creativity?

Mid-century aesthetics. Back then the Cold War was just warming up, smoking didn’t kill and Elvis wasn’t fat yet. I’m heavily influenced by Jim Flora - his album covers and book illustrations were visually inventive and very quirky. There is a tongue-in-cheek wit to his work that makes me giggle like a little girl. There are many other commercial artists of that time that have had an influence on my style. It can be found on ice cream vans, breakfast cereal packets and cheesy magazine ads.

What excites you about illustration?


What do you love illustrating?

Looking back over my folio, it seems that I try and draw an elephant about every six years. Don’t ask me why.

What’s a typical day for you as an illustrator?

When I’m not fulfilling client briefs I’m writing children’s picture books. I have to be flexible because most days are different from the last, but the main ingredients usually are:

2 mugs of coffee.

3 briefs (two on the desk, one under my jeans).

15 sketches.

1/2 hour of design.

1 lunch.

30 emails.

1 bucket of mouse clicks.

2 RedBubble sales.

1 or 2 uploads.

Stir well and season to taste.

Natural Confectionery, Ben Sanders
Natural Confectionery, Ben Sanders

Do you regularly exhibit your work? Why or why not?

I used to exhibit semi-regularly with Trav Price and Sam Harmer, but I’ve been living in South America the last three years and not able to do any shows. Now that I’ve returned to Australia a show might be on the cards.

What are your thoughts on social networking and marketing yourself online as an artist? How has this helped you gain a following or given you opportunities?

Promoting yourself online is essential. I’m not really that good at it. Facebook seems too unprofessional. LinkedIn feels too corporate. Twitter, too short. Most of the folio platforms are only seen by other illustrators. But if you can easily be found online, and you funnel all your web presence toward your folio site then you’re giving yourself the best chance of being seen by potential clients.

Given what you know now, do you have any advice for yourself in those early stages?

Younger me probably wouldn’t listen to older me.

Do you have any advice for illustrators interested in joining Illustrators Australia?

Only put your best work in your folio.

What’s your favourite weird colour (or weird paint shade) name?

There is a slightly dirty yet vibrant red I use reasonably often that I like to call “Freshly Picked Scab”. The full magenta brings the vibrancy and the 5% black makes it a little dirty.

C:0 M:100 Y:60 K:5

Curious to see more of Ben Sander's work? Check out his Illustrators Australia profile here.