A Day in the Life of... Ben Mantle
last updated 12 April 2018
Brighton based Author Illustrator Ben Mantle has journeyed consistently and triumphantly through the Children’s Picture Book world.
Merging traditional and digital mediums to develop his style, he’s established a look that perfectly defines a classic yet contemporary feel: soulful, engaging and modern. Here we take a look at his range of work from debut publication to more recent projects, and talk to Ben about how his technique and inspiration.
Top books by Ben to date: The Best Birthday Present Ever, The Best Christmas Present Ever and The Dinostars series (all published by Macmillan), written and illustrated by Ben. Follow the Track all the Way Back (Walker), written by Timothy Knapman; A Cooked-up Fairy Tale (Random House), written by Penny Parker Klostermann; Giant Jelly Jaws (HarperCollins), written by Helen Baugh; There Was an Old Dragon (Macmillan), written by Penny Parker Klostermann; Little Red Reading Hood, Written by Lucy Rowland and Illustrated by Ben Mantle (Macmillan); Five Little Pumpkins (Harper Collins).
Last year saw two brilliant book launches for titles illustrated by Ben with wonderful writing collaborators at the Bright Agency’s gallery, bookshop and event space: The Bright Emporium.
‘Follow the Track All the Way Back’ written by Timothy Knapman, published by Walker:
The team behind the book (bottom left and from left to right) Bright Managing Agent, Arabella Stein; Publishing and Creative Director at Walker Books, Deirdre McDermott; author, Timothy Knapman; illustrator, Ben Mantle and Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books, Maria Tunney.
‘Little Red Reading Hood’ written by Lucy Rowland, published by Macmillan Childrens’ Books:
On creating his artwork:
In looking at Ben Mantle’s portfolio, one would see illustrations that combine the elegant textures of traditional work alongside the bold color pops and crisp lines intrinsic to digital art. The uniqueness of Ben’s style is owed to the fact that he begins projects with paint and paper and adds finishing touches digitally. The resulting pieces are soulful, engaging and modern:
A spread from Follow the Track all the Way Back, published by Walker and written by Timothy Knapman.
John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, has an interesting take on the recent digital/traditional merge in illustration, saying, “I think that computers and the advancedness of computers hasn’t changed art very much. It’s enabled more to happen. Again, that counts a bit more. Better resolution, longer lengths, more color variety, but all in all it’s the same thing. It’s ‘what experience can I deliver to you?’”
Ben says, “This varies on each project, but in recent years I have been merging traditional and digital. It was a conscious decision to paint. I really missed painting. With painting, the mistakes you make tend be be what you end up liking the most and digital allows you to have too much control sometimes. Not to mention my digital mistake never seem to have the same charm to them! In order to paint my pictures, I had to alter my drawing board, so that it now works as a large lightbox.”
“This allows me to use my line drawings as a guide to paint my pictures,” he continues. “I generally use watercolor paint, as I like the textures that it gives you, and I paint all the parts of my drawing separately. I can then scan these in and build my picture on my computer, keeping everything on separate layers so that I keep some control of the picture.”
An artists’ evolution
Most Bright illustrators don’t find themselves working on high-end trade picture book deals right from the start. They work incredibly hard to manage their time, channel creative ideas into a fluid working process and, most importantly, every successful illustrator has developed their own unique style under the guidance of one of our agents.
Ben has had a natural progression from illustrator to author illustrator, similar to the fluid evolution of his style from digital and commercial to painterly and charming.
Through Ben’s exceptional and sharp understanding of his creative tools, as well as his great work ethic, he celebrated his first author illustrated book when it published in early 2015 with Macmillan UK. Three years later, he has multiple illustrated and author-illustrated works underway with a range of publishers.
What are your inspirations/influences?
My inspirations come from lots of places! But rather than children’s books themselves, they tend to come from animation. I’m a big fan of Disney animation, films like The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, and Fox and the Hound.
I especially admire the work of concept artists like Gustav Tenggren, who designed a lot of the backgrounds and characters for Disney’s Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His drawings are meticulous with a great amount of detail, but there is something indescribable about his designs, which I why I won’t bother.
More recently, it is the work of Hayao Myazaki that really inspires me, with films like Ponyo, which are full of fantastical storylines and whimsical characters, but with oodles of charm and perceptivity. And last but not least are Raymond Briggs and Bill Waterson who are both so spot on with their observations of life, not to mention great draftsmen.
How do you approach a new project?
Again, for me this is very similar to working in animation. I like to start with designing the characters; the story hinges on how believable they are. They are, after all, what the reader needs to relate to in some way. It is also important to me that I like how they look, as I will be working on a book for months so I really need to like them.
Like a lot of illustrators, I then thumbnail out all the spreads in the book so I can work out how the text and images work together at a very early stage and, more importantly, I can make changes before I start to get precious about my drawings. I then scan in my sketches and scale them up to the correct size, allowing me to do a final tidy trace of the drawings, adding in details.
What projects do you have upcoming?
I am working on several things at the moment across the UK and the US. Some are still at top secret stage, so I will have to keep a mysterious silence on them!
To inquire about working with Ben, contact his agent, Arabella Stein, here.