Not so long ago, we were strolling through the internet realm when a curious thing caught our eye. A personal portfolio of a prolific illustrator from Auckland, New Zealand. Sure, we weren’t so graceful expressing our happiness for noticing that Ben Leon has chosen .ME for his online home. But who could blame us? After all, you’ll get what we are talking about as soon as you check out his amazing portfolio.
Benjamin Leon from benleon.me uses his vivid imagination and illustrations to communicate ideas visually. Also, Ben started drawing from an early age and enjoyed the process completely. It had such a profound effect on him that he decided to study animation and earn his Bachelor’s degree in 2D animation style.
It was around this time that he started his career as a freelance illustrator. Today, he has an impressive portfolio consisting of numerous editorial pieces for famous publications like The Spectator and HR magazine. However, the list doesn’t end there. Some of his clients are Stuff Media, New Zealand Post, The Bulletin magazine. What’s more, he has collaborated with companies from the advertising industry for which he created storyboards and concept art. And that’s just a part of the work of this prolific illustrator.
We had the pleasure of talking to Ben about why he chose a career in illustration. Also, we wanted to know what pieces of advice he would give to anyone starting out in the industry. Here’s what Ben shared with us.
The Importance of Illustration and How to Fuel Your Drive
We see the world of illustration everywhere we look. Whether it’s a book, a magazine, a video game, or a demonstration poster criticizing a current state of affairs. In all of these, we find examples of illustration used for communicating a message, interpreting a concept, or decorating a piece. More importantly, its power to engage the viewer or reader has long been recognized. That is why we see illustration in practically all areas of life and business.
So naturally, the first thing we wanted to know about Ben was what drives and motivates him, what makes him get up in the morning.
“I became an illustrator just out of love for drawing I had from a really young age. If you love something, you spend a lot of time doing it. That’s the way I became skilled at it. Other people talk about learning a skill in different ways. For me, it was definitely because I loved it, I did it a lot. And because I did it a lot, I became good at it, I think.” (Laughs)
Flexibility of Freelancing
What really attracted Ben to illustration was the flexibility of it.
He continues, ”For the first 10 years as a freelance illustrator, I did it part-time. The rest of the time I worked in bars and spent my time travelling. So I think it was that I could fit illustration in that lifestyle that made it really appealing to me. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I set a goal of trying to make it full-time. For me, it has always been trying to combine a mix of elements. Lifestyle, something you love doing, something you’re good at, and something you can turn into a profession and make money. It was the combining of those things together that motivated me to go forward, rather than it being a single driven goal.”
Ben’s Future Plans as an Illustrator
In the future, he would like to further refine his craft.
“The older I get, I really want to get more and more professional with it. If there’s anything I’m passionate about, it’s refining my craft. It’s focusing more on creating what I think are better images and illustrations. And, of course, being even more prolific than I have been – that’s a real goal for the future. I mean, the more time I devote to it, the more I realize the most satisfying part of the job is finishing an image. So the more you can finish an image, the more you’ll feel satisfied and content.”
Choosing a Creative Career
We also discovered what inspired Ben to choose such a creative career.
You could easily notice the excitement rising in his voice.
“I think visual communication is my favorite form of communication. Sometimes I get really muddled with words, and I can’t say I write very well. I get a real buzz out of visual communication, and I think that’s what inspires me to be a visual artist. Illustration for me is a clear form of communication, much clearer than anything I could express by using words. It is the communication you have when you look at an image and you instantly know a story just by looking at it. Or if you look at an image and you instantly get a feeling from it.”
What a great way of expressing it, right?
Creating a Website
An essential element of any creative professional’s work is their website and online presence. However, we often hear excuses for not creating one. The most famous excuse for not creating a website is ‘I am a designer/writer/etc, not a developer’. We were curious to find out what Ben thinks about it.
“I think it’s really important to acknowledge that you’re not a designer or a developer, so I wouldn’t try and reinvent the wheel.”
He goes on to give three ways you can do it:
1. “Find a website that you think really works and use their format as a guide.”
2. “Use website builder services which are incredible. In the early 2000s, I had the experience of trying to build my own website using Dreamweaver. Compare that to getting a Wix or Squarespace, whatever your budget is.”
3. “Find someone who is a developer and offer them your skills as a service in return.”
Starting Out in Design
As we mentioned, Ben has been commissioned by famous publishers. That’s why we asked him if he could share pieces of advice to anyone starting out in the design business.
His answer was straightforward.
“Be prolific. Paint lots, draw lots, do lots. As simple as that.”
Interestingly, another thing he speaks about is getting others to see their work and in that way get commissioned.
“While all the right answers sound just like what others used to say to me (and I hate hearing it), the best advice is: talk to people face to face. You’ll be so surprised how much work you’ll get through businesses that you’d never think need illustration. The illustration is quite a niche and the majority of the population have never commissioned illustration, so they wouldn’t know how to or where to go. If you talk to them and think creatively about how the illustration will work for their business, do it that way.”
Once again, Ben emphasizes the importance of having a portfolio website.
”This is where the website is so useful. I know we are young and everyone has a social media account, but most people in business don’t want to go and look at Instagram, Behance, or Dribbble. They want to see a website.”
In the end, we had to know why Ben chose the .ME extension for his domain name.
As he said, his father-in-law chose it for him as a gift, as his previous domain name was too long and complicated. And he couldn’t be more right about it.
Benleon.me is easy to remember. It’s a portfolio website which is another reason why the namesurname.me domain name is perfect. The .me extension is personal, it says that this is Ben and his work. On top of that, it’s a search-friendly and trustworthy domain, seen as global and safe to register.
So how would we describe Ben in a few short words? Tough job, but let’s see.
Benjamin Leon is an illustrator and artist who uses a visual medium to help others communicate messages. Many have seen and recognized his great skill and brilliant illustrations, and we couldn’t be prouder that he has chosen .ME for his online home.
Ben, thank you for the brilliant chat. We cheer for you, and can’t wait to discover more of your work!