Where: London, United Kingdom
Website: Ben Hawkes
Monsieur Hawkes…I was born and bred in Norwich in Norfolk (UK). My dad moved away to America when I was one and from the age of ten I was able to go over there in my summer holidays. I’ve always been into art. I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid.
I did a foundation year in art in Norwich and then took a few years out – working and travelling in the States. When I came back to the UK I got into art school and did a three year degree in illustration. Then I moved down to London with a few friends from my course. We were all illustrators.
I got an agent pretty much straight away although they didn’t get me much work so I did various jobs to make money and pay my bills before working at Little Kickers (football training for children), which started out as a part-time job and grew into something bigger (I run a franchise now) but illustration is my passion.
Child's play…I drew everyday and it was the one thing I was good at. I could draw things and they would look like what they were supposed to look like. And I used to make things. I used to make Transformers out of cardboard. I was that type of kid, the one who made things. I wasn’t a sporty kid. Illustration was always what I was going to do. There was a time when I thought about doing physiotherapy and later I thought about studying history. History would have been cool but physiotherapy would have been horrible. It would have been a denial of myself. Illustration is what I’m meant to be doing. I just need to make things. Even if it’s just sorting out my window boxes, I just need to make and create things. That’s always been constant in my life.
Location, location, location…I grew up in a small town. There are some people who grow up around amazing people who are all spectacular. They might know a hairdresser but that hairdresser won’t be just any hairdresser, he’d be a hairdresser to the stars and another one of their friends might be a painter but not just some small-time painter but one who has exhibitions all over the world and sells paintings for £25 000 a pop. Some people grow up around lots of successful people. I didn’t.
In all the circles I knew, people were painter-decorators or worked in factories. People weren’t professional artists. I didn’t think about illustration as a career. It’s what I wanted to do because I enjoyed it and I was encouraged to study it. But I didn’t think about whether it was the right thing to do or whether I could get work from it. Being a professional illustrator seemed very unattainable. But then I realised that the more I did it, the better I got. I realised that I could get work from it and got more confident over time.
For the love of learning…I love education. When I first started working at Little Kickers, it was just starting out and I was in charge of designing programmes. I enjoy that – working out what to do and teaching a section of society that has never been taught before. That’s been very interesting. I definitely want to continue teaching.
In the future, I want to earn enough money to be comfortable and I’d love to do that through a combination of illustration and lecturing. That would be tremendous. I don’t want to illustrate full-time. I’d like to do a one year higher education course and teach part-time too.
Jumping through hoops…I want to make my work commercially viable. I have a new agency PVUK (Private View Illustration Agency) who’ll hopefully push my work forward. Developing as an illustrator is just a process that takes time. My work has got a lot better, I’ve got to a stage where I’m quite confident and exciting things can happen.
Right here, right now…Right now I’m developing stylistically and doing a Batman project, which is based on the old Adam West film. I’m using it to make a flash book for my agency, who will then use it to advertise my work and illustration.
I’m working on developing my style into a more graphic style. Right now my style is quite mixed. I work with collage a lot but I’m using it in more interesting ways. Collage is traditionally about texture. I’m interested in using textures and ideas from comic books, old toys, tin toys, posters, films, and looking for shapes and inspiration for my work. I love how shapes work together. I’m selecting bits of very specific images, cutting them out, reusing them, enlarging and rehashing them. I’m deliberately using less collage now. What I’m hoping is that the projects I work on will dictate the feel of each individual piece I do.
The science of art…Everything is I do is experimentation. I surround myself with ephemera that I find interesting. I’ve got a lot of Spike Milligan and The Goon Show, Dr Strangelove, Peter Cook and the old Flash Gordon episodes. They’re all great because they all help with creativity. The Goon Show is just completely fucking mad. That show and Monty Python were the first bits of inspiration that got me started.
I once illustrated a Goon Show episode. At the time, I didn’t know how to make a picture. I didn’t find it interesting and I didn’t know how. When I first started doing collage it was very limited. I used found objects, which I don’t do anymore. If you use a found object you can only use it once. That’s why I use a computer now. Besides being more flexible it prevents the waste. When you use a material, for example, it’s something beautiful that you cut up and stick down and therefore can only use it once because you ruin that piece of material, whereas now I can keep everything for posterity.
All the different things I surround myself with create a mindset. The Goon Show was mad and gave me a lot of freedom. I realised that anything I drew could be any size. The ideas I got as a result of that show kick-started my work, which became very surreal. I didn't initially think of my work as 'surreal' but everyone would compare it to the Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam.
My work’s matured a lot now and is getting more graphic and more concise. I have more material and I understand how to make things now. I care more about the aesthetic than the message. With many people, it’s more about the message. But I sometimes force things into a picture because I like the way they look. I might have a portrait or a record that I want to use in my work so I work out a way to use it in a picture.
Ins and outs…When you’re doing an illustration job you’re working for someone else and you don’t always get to do what you want. Working for a client can be a bit of a drag because you don’t decide what goes out. And while it’s great being self-employed and you have a lot of freedom, the downside is that you don’t have a great deal of financial security.
Encouragement…My family was always very encouraging. My mum was massively supportive. And the nice thing about my dad was that he would just go out and do what he wanted. He wanted to build submarines so he just went out and did it, not entirely successfully but he was quite adventurous. His whole philosophy is that ideas are out there so you just have to do what you want to do and not just play it safe.
Confidence…I haven’t always been confident. Being an illustrator seemed quite unattainable years ago but people have always been positive about my work, although they haven’t been very sure about where it would fit and how they could use it.
The best thing that happened to me was getting encouragement from art professionals very early on. That was important at the time – getting encouragement from my peers and professional illustrators, and to feel that I could hold my own. That gave me the confidence to push on.
Lessons…There are loads of ideas available to us but we can’t access them because we’re used to a certain norm and way of seeing things. If I just start doing work, I’ll have these ‘Eureka! moments’. The deeper I dig into my ideas and the longer I spend on a piece of work; pulling it apart, the more I’m able to develop it. When I work, my first draft is rarely ever anything like the end product because as I work I might change the proportions of things and figure out new ways of how I want to illustrate them. I need to work things out and keep questioning and exploring ideas.
Advice…We all know what we have to do. Sometimes people need to hear other people repeat these things that they already know. Ultimately, I know it’s going to take a long time to develop as an illustrator. Quite often I’ll hear these ‘pearls of wisdom’ but they’re nothing new. We’re all intelligent people. We all know what has to be done. You just have to set your mind to it and do whatever it is you already know you need to do.
Running on empty…When I’m feeling uninspired about something I’m working on, I leave it. Then I go and look at ‘stuff’ – images, old posters, books, all the ephemera that I’ve got. I collect anything. At the minute, I’m collecting lots of books and magazines, books about collections like a train and transport book that is full of old tickets. I love illustration from the 20s and 30s. I love heavy line with half tone inside. I’ll look at all these different things and that usually inspires me. There’s not a lot outside of the visual media I have at home that leads me to work.
Admiration…I have to say that my favourite illustrator is (Paul) Bower. I love that he’s very free. He does what he likes. His work is beautiful. I love his use of texture, his use of type and his humour. He does some very funny work, very graphic, bright colours and big, bold work. I love his stuff.
And Ralph Steadman is officially my hero. I love his images, his drawing and the way he uses line – very aggressive and emotive. I like work that is creative and turns convention on its head, where there are no rules, no boundaries, pictorially or otherwise. I dig that.
Relax…I love listening to Radio 6 and Guy Garvey. I like doing my work too. I don’t find it a chore as long as I’m working on my own little bits and pieces. I love markets, I love food, I love eating… I love being horizontal. And hanging out with Zinia (my girlfriend).
In my dream life…I would be Indiana Jones. Or be his dad. Some people want to be James Bond but I just want to be Indiana Jones.
Advice…Get a second job that you enjoy doing that you can make money from that will pay the rent. You need to be able to make your own pictures and explore your own work, not just do commercial work all the time.