London based illustrator Ben Hendy will be appearing at Eye Candy’s Illustration & Art Fair on Saturday 1st October. Here he talks us through his processes.
How does living in London influence your image making?
Living and working in London is great! I find the large amount and diversity of museums here hugely inspiring. A lot of the ideas for my work come from drawings made in museums in London.
I also love drawing musicians playing gigs, especially jazz. There is a decent amount of good jazz bars and clubs in London with regular jazz sessions and jams, so it’s always pretty easy to find somewhere exciting to draw. Drawing to live music helps me loosen up and capture more energy in my work.
There is a lot of travelling involved with living in London, which is a great time to draw or plan new work. I always have a sketchbook at hand whilst sitting on the tube or bus, usually drawing the other commuters.
What is your creative process from inception to creation?
Ideas for new prints or illustrations usually come from drawings in my sketchbook or from books that I have read. I will usually make lots of rough drawings to work out the best composition for the image and then decide which technique would work best for the image, i.e. linocut, screen print, or brush and ink.
When I get started I tend to work quite quickly. I spend a long time thinking about an image and how best to create it and then it all seems to come together in a flurry of activity at the end. I don’t like stopping and starting with a project, I like to really focus on one thing at a time and put all of my energy and attention into it.
I usually work with linocut. To create a linocut I always draw out my image on tracing paper and then transfer this onto the lino. This means that the image is now back to front, but once printed this will flip again and print the right way around. Depending on the size of the piece I will either print the image using a press by hand using a barren.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I have never tried to impose a style on my work, I try to let it happen as naturally a possible. I work in quite a mixed range of techniques, from very loose ink and brush drawings to far more controlled linocuts. Although these approaches are quite opposite to each other I feel that you can still tell that the same person produced them. My work is concerned with texture and line and how they relate to each other, and this is consistent across all of my work.
My work favours the traditional and hand drawn approach and usually centers around themes such as carnival, nostalgia and the absurd.
What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
I love what I do and can’t imagine ever stopping. Inspiration comes from anywhere and at any time, so there is always a new piece of work I am excited to get started on.
Deadlines are a big motivation. I think this is why I am more of an illustrator rather than a fine artist, because deadlines and clients ensure you finish a piece of work before moving onto the next.
If I ever lose motivation or get a creative block I take my sketchbook out around London and draw. Visiting exhibitions is also a great help for this and always makes me want to rush back to my desk and get working again.
Which piece of work has given you the most satisfaction in producing?
In 2014 I was commissioned by homeless charity Crisis to make a new piece of work to be sold under auction at Christie’s to raise money for the charity. This was an incredibly rewarding project to work on as I got to attend life drawing classes for homeless people and talk to them about what art means to them and how it can help them through difficult times.
I created two very large linocuts for the project, each made up from lots of smaller prints. The work took a very long time to produce so it was incredibly satisfying too see it all come together and exhibited alongside other artists work and work by the homeless members of Crisis.
What books, blogs and online resources do you use for creative inspiration?
I’m a massive fan of David Hockney and have a big collection of his books. I look though these quite often, especially if I am having a creative block, as they are just so inspiring. My favourite book of his is called Hockney Paints the Stage, which is full of his set designs for theatre along with designs for costumes and masks.
I used to look at blogs a lot as a student, but not so much anymore. I now use Instagram as a way of keeping an eye on what other illustrators and printmakers are doing. I try not to be influenced too much by other people though, I try to stick to my own way of image making as much as possible.
I once found a really great set of books in a charity shop that go right back through British history decade by decade. They are packed full of great images of the time and are organised into chapters such as home life, fashion, sport and leisure and are a great treasure trove of source material for illustrations. I’m much more influenced and inspired by books and things found in charity shops or on market stalls than by what other illustrators post on their blogs.
What soundtrack do you work to?
If I’m having a full day of working at my desk I usually start by listening to music in the morning and then to podcasts or documentaries in the afternoon. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Talking Heads. The upbeat and lively nature of their music keeps me motivated and working for hours. I’m also listening to the latest Radiohead album a lot but I tend to listen to this at the end of the day because it isn’t quite as motivational.
I’m a big fan of Will Self, I find him incredibly insightful, hilarious and terrifying all in equal measure. I’ve recently discovered lots of his lectures online so I like to listen to those whilst I’m working too.
Who are your heroes and what other artists do you dig?
I tend to look more at the work of painters rather than illustrators. My favourite painters are David Hockney, Leon Golub and James Ensor. I recently discovered the work of Nikolai Astrup through the exhibition of his work at the Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this year. I love the colour in his work, especially his bonfire paintings and he also created some incredible woodcut prints of bonfires.
Matisse is another artist who’s work I greatly admire. The Dance is my favourite painting of all time, I love how simple it is and how it captures so much energy and movement. I love the confidence, in terms of colour and simple form, in his paper cut outs and I often look to these for help in working with colour.
What project are you working on now?
I’m a member of an Illustration collective called The Drawn Chorus Collective who regularly create publications and put on exhibitions across London. At the moment we are working on a zine about jazz, so I’m busy creating some new work for that.
I’m getting more and more interested in stone lithography, a traditional printmaking technique, so I am currently making prints to experiment and further understand this process. Lithography is great because you can retain fine pencil, crayon and wash textures, far more so than any other process.
What’s the last exhibition that you visited?
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, I make sure I go at least once every year. It’s a great way to keep up to date with what’s going on in the art world. This year I was completely blown away by a huge William Kentridge woodcut, I stood and looked at it for ages.
Do you collect work of any other artists?
Not any one artist in particular. I like to pick up pieces at print fairs and festivals when I can but I would buy a lot more if I could afford to. Pick Me Up, the graphics arts festival is always a great place to buy affordable work each year.
I like to swap work with other printmaker friends, this is a nice way to collect other peoples work without having to have deep pockets.
I’m currently saving up for a Michael Kirkman print. I only recently discovered his work and instantly fell in love with it, I’d love to own one of his linocuts!
What is your favourite piece of artwork that you’ve created?
I’m most proud of a life sized, full body linocut self-portrait that I created in my final year of uni. It took me around three or four months of solid work to cut the lino and it came out much better than expected. This piece went on to be shortlisted for the Threadneedle Prize in 2012, the most valuable prize in the UK for a single piece of art.
What is the number one piece of advice you would like to tell new artists?
I would definitely say to enter as many art and illustration competitions as possible. It can get disheartening when you get rejected but then it’s a fantastic way to get your work seen and meet all the right people when you do get into them.
Print fairs are also a great way to get your work seen and get feedback on your work from the public and other printmakers.
You can only visit one City, watch one film, read one book, listen to one album for the rest of your life. What would they be?
I would visit Antwerp. I went there once for a few days and thought it was great. Such a beautiful city with so much to draw! I would watch Withnail & I. I can almost recite it word for word but will never get bored of it. I would read Wild Boys by William Burroughs, a constant source of inspiration and imagery. I would listen to The White Stripes by The White Stripes, I cried when they split up.