Harry Stedman talks to Ben Newman
Ben's three colour screen print celebrating our upcoming 'Harry Stedman and the Cunard Yanks' exhibition, details available soon.
Illustrator Ben Newman has made waves with his unique 'Bauhaus fuzzy felt’ style of illustrations. Combining big, bold shapes with bright colours and playful characters, he gives the popularised poster style of the early and mid-twentieth century a contemporary twist that's both sophisticated and fun.
As well as working with huge clients, including Google, The New Yorker, BBC Radio 4 and Tate Modern, he’s produced prints for global exhibitions, collaborated on three-dimensional sculptures, and even has a published children’s book series, Professor Astro Cat, which he created with his friend and physicist, Dr. Dominic Walliman.
We recently commissioned Ben to produce a three-colour screen print to celebrate our upcoming exhibition, 'Harry Stedman and the Cunard Yanks' so we thought we’d catch up with him for a shoot in some of his favourite Harry Stedman garments, and to find out more about his practice and inspirations.
What does an average day look like for Ben Newman?
One of the best parts of my everyday is my walk along the sea front to get to work. I live in Hastings but my studio is down a hidden lane in St Leonards, the neighbouring town.
My studio is on the top floor of an old town house with a wonderful view of the sea. I share the floor with my good friend, Tim. Most of my time over the last few years has been spent working on science books for children featuring a character called Professor Astro Cat. I work on these books with an old friend and scientist, who specialises in Physics, called Dominic Walliman.
The other great part of my day is getting home in the evening to an over-excited dog who jumps all over me as if I'd returned from a long lost voyage at sea.
Whats on your desk/favourite tools of the trade?
Although its not on my desk, my favourite tool is my chair. It's an original Herman Miller leather office chair designed by Charles & Ray Eames. Not only am I surprised to finally own one but I love sitting in it.
What got you into Illustration and design work?
I was encouraged to draw when I was a child. I don't know if I was any good but drawing got me postive attention so I guess I just followed that blindly until I left school. Through my foundation art year, I decided to study it at university. When I'd finished studying, I work and saved so I could travel around Asia for a while. Until I was 21, I had only been abroad once so I wanted to see what was out there beyond cups of tea, greasy breakfast and the Queen.
"It took me 5 years and a lot of hard work and late nights to get to the point where I could work freelance full time. It was worth every minute."Afterwards, I returned to England with no job and no money, so I worked in a bookshop and saved so that I could one day work as a freelance illustrator. It took me 5 years and a lot of hard work and late nights to get to the point where I could work freelance full time. It was worth every minute.
What does good design mean to you?
Thoughtful and considered. Whether the process is laborious or a quick reaction, I'm drawn to things made with love, passion, colour and simplicity.
Photography: Theo Clarke
Where do you find inspiration?
Old books, childhood cartoons and mid-century ephemera. It might sound really dull but I like collecting Czech matchbox labels. Seriously. Look them up. They are stunning.
You're into your music, what are you listening to currently?
There are two albums I've listened to a lot over the last couple of weeks and they are both very different from one another. The new Big Business album, 'Command Your Weather' is a beast of a record. It's loud and thunderous.
The other album is called 'Dystopia' by Dawn of Midi and is very minimal. Its a jazz trio playing piano, upright bass and drums. It's very immersive and rhythmic, changing patterns between notes. Its really wonderful.
Do you work to music?
Yes, everyday. I like to listen to loud and fast music when I hit the mid-day slump and slower music when I need to think. I like to use music to set the pace for different parts of my day.
Photography: Theo Clarke
You live in Hastings now, was it London before that? What do you like/dislike about either? How does that help or hinder your work?
Yeah, I moved from Bristol to London a few years back. I love London... well, parts of it. I do miss the excitement and activity of my old studio in Dalston. It really was such an inspiring place to be but I'm very much at home in Hastings now. Living outside of the city has taken a huge amount of financial pressure off of me and that has really helped me to balance home and work life better.
"I'm finding it much easier to think clearly living by the sea."
Now I have time to focus on illustrating my children's books and not have to juggle lot's of commercial jobs at the same time. I'm finding it much easier to think clearly living by the sea.
What do you look for when buying clothes/accessories?
Sturdy, well made and simple. I like clothes that looked good decades ago and still do now. I'm not interested in trends so investing in clothes that last is really important to me. That was one of the key things that drew me to the Harry Stedman stand a couple of years back at the Flea market in the Truman Brewery.
Photography: Theo Clarke
What would you say your look/style is/takes influence from?
I'm fascinated by mid-20th Century design and cartoons so I also have an interest in the fashion from back then too. I look for simplicity, not basics so colour and quality are essential.
What has been your most interesting/enjoyable project to date?
Its difficult to pick a project as each one is enjoyable for a different reason whether its the client or the brief. I feel very lucky that these projects have taken me to different countries to present my work. I speak at international design conferences, run children's workshops and sign books in all sorts of places which is a huge honour and made possible by people believing in my work and putting fantastic opportunities my way.
What is the best piece of advice or encouragement you've been given?
Fail. Never be afraid of failing. It's the best way to learn. Failing is not a waste of time, it's an important part of succeeding.
Find out more about Ben and view his full portfolio on his website, here.
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