PROFILE: Ben Weeks

By Wendy Ding

As a Toronto freelance illustrator and graduate of the BAA Illustration program from Sheridan Institute , I’m lucky enough to be among a circle of talented friends and peers.

The chain of art openings, hangouts and exhibitions make it easy to talk shop, exchange advice and network. We’re a tight-knit group who love to share our experiences but the stories don’t always filter through nor is it accessible on a mass scale. Add to it that Toronto is an ever burgeoning illustration / art / fashion / creative melting pot with tons of talent to boot, it only made sense for me to bring some of the star players to light.

I first saw Ben Weeks in 2007 at a guest lecture session in my third year of college at Sheridan Institute. I was getting my BAA in illustration and he’s a noted alumni of the program. At one point, he talked about how the initial lull of post-grad life can lead to hours of Warcraft, and that “your guy in the game may have lots of gold, but you don’t!” It was an all too familiar story and stuck with me as a humorous cautionary tale.

Aside from giving memorable and insightful talks, Ben’s portfolio is brimming with beautiful, detail-rich hand crafted illustrations. His clients include Honda, New York Times, Toronto Life, and Coca-Cola to name a few.

How did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?

In kindergarten I remember a kid in art class telling me “You can’t do that!” because I did my project differently than everyone else. In Ireland my classmates crowded around me in awe as I painted a GI Joe airplane. These are things that showed me early on that I had powerful work.

Design Edge Canada Cover

What’s a typical day like for you?

I’ve been married three years now and we have a baby. I usually work best at night when our baby has gone to bed. During the day I play with the little one, help my wife, stay ahead of emails and other management tasks. I like meeting people too and exploring the world.

TIME Magazine

Can you talk about your mural process? They’re beautiful and intricate, especially the Juniper Park one!

Thank you! The murals can take a few hours to about a week to complete. Three days is average. Blackboard paint is nice but can have lots of fumes.

A big part is figuring out the theme in advance with the client and building trust. Keeping things G-rated is a constraint they’re often relieved to hear we impose on ourselves. The client usually has abstract brand values, messaging or areas of expertise we can learn about and interpret which my apprentice and I enjoy.

The outcome can be the broad expression of ideas like innovation and creativity, honouring a culture, interaction with customers or a pleasant mood that boosts morale. Facebook asked us to make a mural at their head office for an important meeting recently. Their design team recommended me but as I tried to negotiate, the marketing people gave the job to someone else without warning.

Installation with Dominic Ayre from Hambly & Woolley.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to being your own boss?

I can make whatever I like and accept or reject any project. People come to me because of what I’ve done. I can make my own schedule and hang out with my wife and baby all week if I like. I can see my daughter grow up which I wouldn’t be able to if I was a creative director at a big place. I’m content.

The bank doesn’t like my unpredictable income so that makes it hard to get a mortgage. Since I’m independent, it’s trickier to get a green card for the US if I wanted one. Cheques from US clients can take a month to clear at a Canadian bank so that can create cash flow inconveniences. But these are all minor. A lot of people feel afraid of changing trends all the time. I prefer seeing them as new frontiers to explore.

T-shirt for Ontario Parks.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators / creative types?

Don’t bury your talents, the world needs them. Connect with people even though many may reject you. Tell the truth and treat your enemies with love even when they mistreat you and prefer to live in illusions. Reconciliation can be painful but it’s worth it in the long run. Don’t be afraid. These are all things I am learning from following Jesus.

For the Advertising and Design Club of Canada.

Wendy Ding is an illustrator based in Toronto, Canada. Her specialty is digital illustration with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. She holds a 2008 BAA: Illustration degree from Sheridan Institute. Visit her website at wendyding.com

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