Interview With Ben Weeks

I first really became aware of Ben’s illustration work from a piece he placed on the For Print Only site  a beautiful self promotion that doesn’t show any of his work, but instead is a fold-out poster that depicts, in his signature wobbly style, all of his many loves, from NASA, to Paul Rand, to a number of design books and publications, and a myriad of other things, all printed purple on an off-white paper. Since then he has been in the back of my mind for a possible future interview. So when he left a comment on my recent interview with Michael Bierut, I thought it would be the perfect time to see if he would like be so kind to answer a few questions on his work. He graciously accepted and the result is presented below.

Chris Bowden: Tell me a little about your background — what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Ben Weeks: My ancestors are French, English and Native Indian. I am Canadian born and grew up in Ireland. I wanted to be an astronaut and read 40 Hardy Boys books as a kid. Our family and I travelled europe and into Greece. We returned to Canada for high school. I enjoyed English, Art, Music, Drama and took every Arts course I could. I was in 3 jazz choirs and one terrible rock band.

On my own then I studied digital film making, animation, visual effects and the web. Ended up applying at Sheridan College for illustration because their grads were doing awesome artwork. I got in, had a good time there, graduated 3 years later, then got a full scholarship to do an MA in england. After graduating, a company who it had been my 10 year plan to pursue hired me, but it was not a good scene.

So I came back to Canada and started on my own. One of my first
projects won a D&AD award and in my second year of business I did artwork for a national car launch campaign-honda’s best ever in Canada.

CB: What have been some of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?

BW: Every project is a privilege. I’m grateful for everyone who works with me. Wherever I increased beauty and reduced chaos in the world I’m happy. Considering the political complexities and listening to my client partners is important too. Doing that well is it’s own kind of art-so I try to have the right kind of spirit.

CB: Where do you turn for inspiration?

BW: Just looking around and thinking about what I’m seeing is inspiring. Nature’s silence speaks volumes. Experiencing the textures of culture and cities.

CB: How do you approach a new project? Any special techniques on how to overcome the dreaded ‘blank page’?

BW: Even the quietest people have something they want to say. On my own I may not be able to express it in words, so I make art instead. Sometimes people have a vague idea, so I help them to communicate in a way we both enjoy. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s the progress in spite of it.

CB: Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

BW: I admire anyone who tells the truth in love. I admire people who take responsibility, for what they’ve been given, realize they are capable of evil but embrace their potential for good. I admire those who are humble as finite beings faced with a proportionally infinite universe. I admire people who aren’t resentful but have hope, value life and help the poor. I admire ambition and balance.

Who really demonstrates all this? It’s hard to tell without knowing them very well. Some people will pursue great work at any cost and I’m not sure that’s admirable. I love so much work people have made all the way back to cave paintings. There are probably people in Africa doing great stuff now we just don’t see in our magazines and galleries yet. The moment is always changing and different work will strike us at different times.

CB: What’s the creative industry like in Toronto?

BW: Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, it’s not as big as New York, London or Hong Kong, but it’s bigger than most other cities. A nice size for me at the moment.

We have a great variety of creative industries here, within each area, some people do amazing work while others go bankrupt. We have some good film festivals, animation studios, the second biggest stop motion animation studio in the world ‘cuppa coffee’ is near me.

Bruce Mau, Roger Martin and Richard Florida are here, so are Margaret Atwood, Feist and Nelly Furtado. We’ve got a bunch of highly regulated banks our media loves to brag about these days, I guess that’s not necessarily creative-but the most profitable creative firms usually have them as clients. Royal Bank has some nice creative.

Toronto has an airline called Porter which was branded by Tyle Brule from Monocle. There’s an island at the city centre where cheap but fancy flights to New York and elsewhere are available. It takes something like an hour to fly to Newark.

I think we have fairly low crime, good healthcare and transit, those are all important factors actually to be able to do creative work. RGD and ADCC are good design industry bodies that host sweet conferences and parties for us. I live right by the Frank Ghery designed Art Gallery of Ontario and the Will Alsop Ontario College of Art, so I see great architecture every day.

Oh and, little known fact. Toronto probably produces more world class illustrators than anywhere else in the world. Our institutions are very well setup. Especially Sheridan College where I teach. It’s a beautiful community. Very supportive and fun.

CB: What would be your dream creative project?

BW: To find a bunch of cool stuff in space, bring it back to earth and put it in a museum for people to enjoy. To make things better for people living in slums. To collaborate with leading creative people.

CB: What are you looking forward to?

BW: Seeing/helping people around me grow and growing myself.

CB: What music have you been listening to lately?

BW: My wife and I saw Joanna Newsom in concert and we just got tickets to see Pat Metheny’s crazy robot orchestra. Otherwise: Tycho, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, soundtracks like Bourne Identity and Pixar stuff.

Ben Weeks work has been recognized by Communication Arts, Graphis and D&AD. He’s worked for many people including, Honda, Attik and the New York Times.

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