Illustrator Ben Newman also works as an art director and lectures on illustration/graphic arts at universities and at conferences in the UK and Europe. His distinctive style is a fusion of bold shapes, bright colours and playful characters and has been described as ‘bauhaus fuzzy felt.’ It works very well in the quirky information book series, the Professor Astro Cat books. Here he describes his approach and technique.
I think the best way to learn is when you’re having fun because you don’t realise that you’re learning. The gradual increase in testing at schools can often take the fun out of certain subjects, especially science. This is a massive shame because it is one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring subjects you can imagine.
When I worked in a bookshop, I found that science and other non-fiction books seemed to have a very narrow aesthetic and creative range. Most of the books were made up of annotated photographs or felt like they were designed in a bit of a rush. Where was the fun? Where was the love? Illustration can be a great way of injecting more imagination into things and I wanted to bring the subject of space to life which is why I asked my old school friend and doctor of physics, Dominic Walliman to help.
Our first collaboration, Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, was created as an alternative to what was already available and designed to help widen the range of science books in bookshops. The book really evolved as Dominic and myself went along because the structure was so loose to start off with. This is great fun when collaborating but we wanted to refine this and give it more structure more for Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure. Space on the surface seems much more accessible so the challenge with the second book was making a tricky subject, like physics, accessible, modern and fun.
When I started Atomic Adventure, I thought a lot about how to combine text and imagery simultaneously. I started to think about ‘designing with illustration’ rather than ‘designing and then illustrating’. This way I could use characters, buildings and landscapes to create areas and space for other illustrations and text. This is one of the hardest parts of creating the book but it is also one of the most rewarding.
I loved books by Richard Scarry as a child. There was always so much to look at that you would stay on a page for ages looking around and immersing yourself in his world. I really wanted to offer this immersive quality to the readers of this book. I wanted to break up the pages in Atomic Adventure so some spreads were big and simple and other spreads were more detailed and full. This is to give the book rhythm.
Drawing for me is like writing so I try to use my bright, simple visual language to get readers engaged immediately. The aim is to make the reader feel happy so that they enjoy their experience of learning. Many feel physics is a subject we study at school but it’s actually a huge part of everything around us, all the time. I really hope others will agree after reading Atomic Adventure and that we help plant some seeds in young, budding minds.
Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure is published by Flying Eye Books, 978-1-9092-6360-4 £15.99 hbk