Why you should embrace every step of your creative journey

My Dad would take my family on long drives when I was little. Sat in the back, onwards towards our destination, I'd stare out the window at the rolling scenery, stuck in a deep daydream of endlessly fantastical ideas.

As a child, I was never really interested in completing anything, and I think that's why it felt so easy to come with up ideas. In my early twenties, I was always focused on the end destination and not the journey. I wanted to draw for a living but lacked the finances and resources, and I didn't start my career as an illustrator until years after university. 

In order to keep a roof over my head, I worked full-time in a bookshop for about seven years. The whole time I was there, I felt as if all my constructive and creative time was evaporating. I lived in a perpetual cycle of wishing I was somewhere else, doing something else. That something else was, of course, drawing.

Now, in my mid-thirties, my job is to draw educational books for children, and in hindsight, working in the bookshop was one of the best things to have ever happened to me. What better way to find an audience? What better way to learn all about the books lining the shelves? And even more so – to learn about books that hadn't yet been created? Through interacting with people and listening to their needs and wants, I had an insight into gaps in the market. This helped me find a purpose and, more importantly, something I could lend my visual abilities to. 

Professor Astro Cat is a resurrected character from one of Ben's old logo jobs

Professor Astro Cat is a resurrected character from one of Ben's old logo jobs

In 2009, I was frustrated with the range of solar system posters and children's books about space – they all looked the same. Most were designed with stock art, overly complicated text and cold, robotic design. Unlike fiction books for kids, the non-fiction books were produced only to serve a purpose, rather than to be treasured, adored and loved.

This frustration led me to contact my publisher, Nobrow, about creating a fully illustrated book about space. I then asked my old friend and physicist, Dr Dominic Walliman, to write it; resurrected a character from an old, failed logo design job back in 2007; and Professor Astro Cat was born. Over the last six years, this series has become my dream job. It's a job about making educational books (and apps) for children, with love.

As long as you are determined to get to the destination, there are no wrong directions, just different paths. I took the scenic route, and I would encourage you not to panic if you end up doing the same. There are no wrong directions, just different paths.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 259; buy it here!

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Ben is a freelance illustrator, who also lectures on illustration at conferences and universities across Europe. He illustrates the series Professor Astro Cat.