An Interview with Ben Newman
We caught up with Professor Astro Cat’s co-creator and Minilab contributor Ben Newman, to talk career paths and inspiration, and looking forward to getting to work in the mornings.
In the spirit of all things ‘mini’, describe yourself in one sentence…
And can you give us a quick summary of how you arrived at where you are today?
My Career Recipe: Crack a big egg of hard work into a bowl and whisk. Then add a sprinkle of luck and two or three table spoons of good-ish to medium good-ish ideas. Pour into a tray and place in oven to half bake for 10 years. Remove from the oven and cut into squares, triangles and circles.
We would argue that good-ish is an understatement! Tell us a little bit about how you arrived here at Minilab and brought your ideas to life.
I’ve been working for Nobrow (Minilab’s sister company) since they first started, as an illustrator, and for a short time as an art director. The book I created with Dr Dominic Walliman called ‘Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space’ was adapted by James Wilson at Minilab into an app. I worked closely with James on that project and that has lead me to help on other projects too – I was co-designer for the Artie apps, for example.
Let’s take a step back – what did you want to be when you were a ‘mini’ person yourself? (Any funny stories to that end?)
I wanted to be a builder, as I wanted to build my aunt a pond- so she still hasn’t got one! We had two ponds in our garden and she had none.
And where do you draw inspiration from? We’re sure budding artists will be keen to hear what influenced your bold, bright aesthetic.
I like to do a lot with a little so by setting restrictions on my aesthetic options, I have developed a visual language that is personal to me when solving problems. People like Jacques Nathan Garamond, Jim Flora, Richard Scarey and Alex Steinweiss have had a big impact on me. American comics and the cartoons I watched as a child probably had the biggest effect on me. I think the Pink Panther is one of the greatest examples of character design ever. He is so iconic that he made the colour pink neutral to boys and girls.
So having published books, and worked on amazing projects and exhibitions around the world, what’s your typical ‘day at the office’ like nowadays?
I have a 30 minute walk to my studio along the seafront in Hastings. This is a truly wonderful way to start the day as the sea has a very calming influence on me. My friend Tim works in the studio next door to me, and I’m very lucky to have a close friend around all day who constantly makes me laugh and shows me new things. I love playing records and getting focused on work. Listening to records is great because each side is about 20 minutes long so you can measure how long you need to focus for before getting up to flip to the other side. I draw at my standing desk and swap between there and the computer. I have a nice time but it might not look very interesting to others…
What’s the most exciting thing your career has brought you to?
That I get to wake up every morning and be excited to go to work. That is what I’ve been working towards all these years and I feel very lucky and privileged to have such a great job.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to break into your specific sector of the creative industry?
Don’t expect success immediately. The best way to carve a career is to build a solid foundation gradually. So don’t make work to please others. Make work to please yourself because when you start working commercially, you feel like you are constantly trying to please others. Be critical but see your strengths, and don’t panic if it takes a while because the harder you work the luckier you’ll get.
Can we stick that last comment on our wall for inspiration? Thanks for the interview, Ben.
Ben Newman is a freelance illustrator and co-creator of the books Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space and Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure. You can find his work and updates on his latest projects on Twitter and Instagram. His latest book, BOO! is published by Flying Eye Books, and you can check out the trailer below…