The digital age, now globally coded within today’s society, has been a real turning point for all 21st Century creatives involved in illustration – both professionally & personally – as the sole practice of traditional media has become almost jurassic over the use of modern computerised techniques. Even though both the traditional and digital forms of creating art use balance, colour theory, harmony and contrast in a very similar way – & state of the art design programmes are consistently finding ways to mimic the old masters – these two creative methods are on totally opposite ends of the illustration spectrum.
And then, there’s Ben.
To look at Ben Mantle’s work, you would not know that he seamlessly combines both traditional and digital media into his illustration portfolio. Just as the oil based to acrylic movement occured 200 years ago, Ben utilises these 2 incredibly different forms of art to create one highly finished piece, without loosing the soul or charm of his picture book characters.
How do you create your artwork?
This varies on each project, but recently I have been merging traditional and digital. It was a conscious decision to paint. I really missed painting. With painting, the mistakes you make tend be be what you end up liking the most and digital allows you to have too much control sometimes. Not to mention my digital mistake never seem to have the same charm to them! In order to paint my pictures, I had to alter my drawing board, so that it now works as a large lightbox.
This allows me to use my line drawings as a guide to paint my pictures. I generally use watercolour paint as I like the textures that it gives you and I paint all the parts of my drawing separately. I can then scan these in and build my picture on my computer keeping everything on separate layers so that I keep some control of the picture.
John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design has an interesting take on the recent digital/traditional merge in illustration,
“I think that computers and the advancedness of computers hasn’t changed art very much. It’s enabled more to happen. Again, that counts a bit more. Better resolution, longer lengths, more color variety, but all in all it’s the same thing. It’s ‘what experience can I deliver to you?’”
Our Bright stars didn’t just land in high-end trade picture book deals, they work incredibly hard to manage their time, channel creative ideas into a fluid working process and most importantly, each one has developed their own unique style under the guidance and support of Bright agents and client feedback. Ben has worked with a wealth of publishers including Picture Corgi, Usborne, Egmont, Top That! and most recently he has added Macmillan & Harper Collins to that growing list.
Ben has had a natural progression from Illustrator to Author Illustrator, similar to the fluid evolution of his style from digital and commercial to painterly and charming.
Through Ben’s exceptional and sharp understanding of his creative tools, as well as his great work ethic, he is starting to see the buds of his own ideas bloom into flowers as his first author illustrated book comes out in early 2015 with Macmillan and has two more author illustrated book ideas currently being developed with publishers.
What are your inspirations/influences?
My inspirations come from lots of places, but rather than Children’s books themselves, they tend to come from Animation. I’m a big fan of Disney animation, films like The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood and Fox and the Hound. But I especially admire the work of concept artists like Gustav Tenggren, who designed a lot of the backgrounds and characters for Disney’s Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His drawing are meticulous with a great amount of detail, but there is something indescribable about his designs, which I why I won’t bother. More recently, it is the work of Hayao Myazaki that really inspires me, with films like Ponyo, which are full of fantastical story and whimsical characters, but with oodles of charm and really perceptive observations. And last but not least are Raymond Briggs and Bill Waterson who are both so spot on with their observations of life, not to mention great draftsmen.
How do you approach a new project?
Again, for me this is very similar to working in animation. I like to start with designing the characters; for me, the story hinges on how believable they are, they are after all, what the reader needs to relate to in some way. It is also important to me that I like how they look, as I will be working on a book for months so you really need to like them.
Like a lot of illustrators, I then thumbnail out all the spreads in the book so I can work out how the text and images work together at a very early stage and more importantly I can make changes before I start to get precious about my drawings. I then scan in my sketches and scale them up to the correct size, allowing me to do a final tidy trace of the drawings, adding in details.
What are your future projects?
I am working on several things at the moment in the UK and the US. Some are still at top secret stage, so I will have to keep a mysterious silence on them, but I can definitely tell you about my UK author debut called ‘The Best Birthday Present Ever!’ which is published by Macmillan and will be coming out January 2015.
On 14th December, Ben will be taking part in Bright’s very first Storytime Sunday at The Doodle bar, leading some hilariously creative children’s book activities alongside Waterstone’s award winning author illustrator, Nicola O’Byrne. Click here to find out more details.