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Profiles of creative and engaged fathers

Interviews with creative and engaged Fathers by

Ben Sanders is an Illustrator

Lach Ryan

I first heard Ben Sanders talk about his creative process and life as an illustrator a few years back. Afterwards I got talking to him about the creation of his children’s book “I’ve an Uncle Ivan”. I was impressed. They say we all have a novel in us, but I’d be happy with a good kids book. So recently a mutual contact suggested he would be a great Father to profile, and as I was already a fan of his mid-century inspired, intelligent illustrations, I followed him up. I was a little suprised to find he was living in Bolivia as a missionary! He is an Illustrator sought by top brands and publications across the globe, plus an Author, a Designer and the Father to Ruby and Max.

Meet Ben.
— Lach

Your first reaction when you found out you were going to be a Dad?

I was quietly chuffed. I had a grin on my face even when I was asleep.

What was the experience of birth like from your perspective as an on-looker?

Oh man, as much as I was looking forward to the arrival of my first kid, I was NOT looking forward to the birth. Call me old fashioned, but I would have preferred to have waited in the hall and be spared the drama, like the men in those old black-and-white movies. Wait for the sound of a baby crying then light up a celebratory cigar. But men have a responsibility these days to support their wives through what is a much tougher time than the guys are going through.

The birth of my little boy was much more traumatic. In fact it was an emergency situation. I am very happy to have my wife and little boy come out of that situation alive. In both cases I felt like an ‘onlooker’ but at the same time it was very important that I be there for support.

Describe the feelings from those first few days at home with a new baby...

Actually quite weird having a little ‘thing’ in the house after years of just being a couple. I remember watching my wife fitting in so naturally into being a Mum. Took me a while to get ‘up to speed’ with being a Dad. Those first couple of weeks I didn’t work so it was a nice start to parenthood. I enjoyed it a lot.

 What Fatherhood has taught you?

I thought I was full of patience pre-kids. Patience isn’t patience until it’s fully tested, and kids seem to find new and creative ways to do just that.

 What is the most challenging part of being a Father so far?

A year ago we moved to Bolivia. Helping my family adjust to a new culture and language has been my biggest challenge, but I have to say the kids have taken to the Bolivian way of life quite well.

What is the most rewarding part of becoming a Father?

It would have to be story time at the end of the day. When it all goes to plan, we’ve settled down after a big day, enjoyed a story, prayers, hugs and then there’s silence in the house.

What does having kids make you think differently about?

Well for starters, you think less about yourself. That has to be a good thing!

 Tell us how you came to be illustrating for a living?

Before illustration there was adverting art direction and graphic design. I really enjoyed those jobs and would have happily continued these without a whiff of a problem. But I was compelled to make a move into full time illustration when I realized that I enjoy drawing more than anything else. It took less than a month to leave the advertising agency I was working for, take a holiday to Thailand then start my illustration business. That was 2006.

But if we rewind to 1986, I was 12 years old and I landed my first freelance illustration brief from a small publishing outfit. I was commissioned to produce thirty two illustrations for stickers and other stationery items. They were sold worldwide and meant that as a spotty teenager I didn’t need to push supermarket trolleys on weekends. This should have been a big clue to my future career. 

What would be your dream brief or project?

A jazz album cover.

You have a strong mid-century aesthetic, where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m fond of post WWII poster artists, like Herve Morvan, editorial illustrators like Jim Flora and book illustrators like Sasek. It doesn’t get better than these three masters.

What is your creative process? Does it involve being around or away from the family?

I used to have a defined creative process which involved isolating myself from everything, locking myself away and pumping out the best material I could, surrounded by inspirational creative works on the studio wall. But now I live in Bolivia and I work in my house. The creative process has to keep going while my family is around or when I’m working alone. During a typical day now there are all sorts of distractions and interruptions. I’ve learned to block out most of the noise (although it does help to be partially deaf!). There is a certain level of noise I think that is good for creativity, and the sound of family activity in the background can actually be quite nice at times. Some of the books I’ve written are directly inspired by my family, and so I really should at least partially credit them.

When your kids are drawing at home do you critique their work?

Ha! Yes I do! Sounds cruel does it not? Both my kids are very talented artists, and I’m never harsh with the criticism. I encourage them to do better, and I sometimes give pointers, but most of the feedback is just praise. The kids have both said at different times they’d like to be an illustrator when they grow up. I work hard on not pushing them too hard in any particular direction. My father encouraged me an awful lot when I was young. He is an exceptional artistic talent, and if it wasn’t for him it would be very unlikely that I’d be doing what I do now without that close input, encouragement and transfer of his knowledge.

You tend to read lots of kids books as a Father, so what were the key considerations and influences for when you were creating your own?

Firstly fun! Some children’s books with great messages are let down by a lack of enjoyment. As a parent I might like the message, but if the book is not fun to read the kids won’t want you to read it to them again. I don’t create ‘cute’ stories for kids. The bookshop shelves are full of those. I like to create stories with interesting characters in relatable but unusual situations.

You’re living in Bolivia, which is a big change from your hometown of Ballarat -what has that experience been like for you and the family and what was the motivation behind it?

Yes, despite the city of Sucre, Bolivia being a similar size to Ballarat that’s where the likeness ends! My family and I live in a completely different culture (Quechua) while learning a new language (Spanish). We are here with Pioneers Australia helping out on a few projects. My wife works with women who are affected by family violence. This is a huge problem in Bolivia with over 80% of affected by violence in their own home. My job is to illustrate for a small magazine that assists street children to remain in school, gain medical attention and provide hope for their future. I also provide creative assistance for a Bolivian-based children’s curriculum called Siembra. My family really feel strongly about the issues faced by the poor, and motivated to help using the basic skills we’ve been given.

What are your strongest memories of your Dad?

Dad playing cricket with me in the driveway. He really knew how to bamboozle me with orthodox spin. Really good times.

Do you think he did a good job?

Yes, Dad did a super job. He modeled a good work ethic, played with my brother, sister and I when we were growing up. He took us to interesting places on weekends and holidays. He’s involved in our lives, listens and is interested in what’s going on. He’s a quiet man, a thinker and has faith. All things I’ve been influenced by greatly.

What was the best thing he ever taught you?

Be stable. My Dad is a rock.

As a Father, what do you see your biggest challenge ahead?

My boy is not the most confident kid in town. His anxiety causes him to misbehave at times. It will be a challenge to help him understand that he’s okay, he can relax and that it’s alright to try new things.

What are the key things you want or hope for, for your kids?

I hope they are encouraged enough to use their talents to make a difference for others.

What do you think Fathers today should be looking to achieve with their kids?

If fathers are able to achieve maximum amount of time spent playing, drawing, reading, making, laughing, praying, folding paper planes, wrestling, kicking goals and being silly with their kids while they are young, that’s the basics covered yeah?


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* Image credits: Supplied by Ben and the Internet