Benjamin Wild on leaving school at 15, finding instant success and why kindness always wins

He left school at 15 to follow his dream to become a full-time artist and in just four years, Benjamin Wild has worked for Manchester City FC, Ford, New Balance and TED.

Now, with five years' experience under his belt, Ben has also created several graphic novels and children’s books. And he has worked on storyboards for movies, animations and everything in-between. It's an impressive career so far for the young Manchester illustrator.

Ben was the first to arrive at Creative Boom's 10th-anniversary party earlier this year and the first person I spoke to. From our brief but interesting conversation, I got a sense of his determined spirit. And perhaps how he's managed to achieve so much in such a short amount of time. Naturally, I wanted to find out more and so invited Ben to chat about his career so far.

Tell us more about how you got started

I quit school at 15 to be a portrait painter. I started by doing some simple illustrations for a few brands and worked my way up from there. My first big break was to work on a comic book in Madrid for a tech company. After that, I landed a job for a film studio working as an on-site storyboard artist.

You now work for yourself, how's that going?

I've worked for myself on and off since the age of 18. During that time, I've launched three children's books, one graphic novel and produced illustration and animation for lots of global brands.

You've had so much success at such a young age. How does it feel?

It feels great, but I won’t allow myself to feel accomplished just yet. There is always something else to draw and another creative mountain to climb. I think striving for what’s next has kept me agile and allowed me to do so much within four years of leaving school.

What's your secret?

Firstly, be kind to people. Kindness always wins. Secondly, work hard; don't pretend to work hard. You can wake up at 4am, post it on social media, throw in a few social media "hustles" for good measure and some pictures of yourself reading business books...Maybe even add 'CEO' on your Twitter bio and feel successful. But you're fooling no one unless what you're doing is real.

There's no need to get up so early unless you have to. In the past, I've had my fair share of all-nighters but overall, get some sleep. I work hard during regular office hours and try to keep as many weekends free to see family. No one will notice if you're not always "hustling".

Would you go back to school if you could?

No, I think the current education system (I only left the shackles just over four years ago) is outdated. I am speaking for the creatives first and foremost. For example, as a whole, the system teaches people based on a formula that's at least five to 10 years old, which is instantly redundant and useless in a world that changes as fast as ours.

Schools also seem to favour a dull or boring life structure. You're born, you go into education, maybe go into a junior role after you've got your GCSEs and perhaps later become a director – all finished off with retirement. It has baffled me since day one.

Don’t get me wrong, you have to learn, and learning is the most attractive element of going off on my adventure. But you could learn in an agency at 15 years old rather than behind a textbook in school. Once you are aware of life, you should be told you'll die one day and so should live exactly the life you want to. I think people would soon stop mucking about, studying for degrees which don’t interest them.

What have been the biggest lessons you've learned so far?

Nobody knows anything. What I mean by this, you could meet the most polished, well-spoken corporate who has all the talk and might be paid £70k+ a year. But they'll (most likely) be winging it.

Whatever you do best, do that and try to stay as true to yourself as possible. I think, at the end of the day, being friendly and honest will keep you grounded amongst other things, but eventually, whatever you do in life, you'll float to the top if you hold yourself with authenticity.

Has there been anyone who has inspired you down this path? Who are they and what did they do or say?

Atul Bansal. He mentored me for a few months. His work has always inspired me.

What's currently bugging you?

The term 'illustrator'. There are too many people calling themselves illustrators who can’t draw. I have an issue with this because 20 years ago, the word 'illustrator' was left for those prestigious enough to cover printed material with hand-drawn elements. Now, graphic designers who use Adobe Illustrator tend to refer to themselves as illustrators. I think this is damaging and I have seen first-hand the damage this causes to creative briefs.

Last year, I worked with a well established creative agency on a beautiful brief. They hired me for the project, and then the workload doubled, and they hired another "illustrator" who, despite being award-winning, couldn't use a pencil nor could he draw anything by hand. It halted and put a lot of pressure on production. Saying all of this, I am not trying to bash graphic designers because this is a skill I envy, and I am amazed by it daily. My point is if you can’t hold a real-life pencil and draw you can't call yourself an illustrator.

Do you ever suffer from down days? What do you do to combat any anxiety?

Absolutely. Everyone does. To tackle it, I focus on all the good elements of my life. Then, when I become stressed about a scenario, I think, will this be an issue in 12 months? If the answer is no, I won't think about it again.

You're a Manchester lad. Does being 'northern' have any influence on how you run your business?

I think Manchester has a friendlier business spirit than other parts of the country. I try to adopt this spirit and treat everyone equally.

Do you use social media? Has it helped you to get noticed?

Social media has played a large part in launching my career. The amount of followers I've gained over the last five years has certainly given my work credibility, and the platform has helped to attract clients. But it's not the only thing that gets me noticed.

Yes, I publish my work on social media every day, but I don't spend too much time on it. I then try to limit my time on my phone and avoid Twitter and Instagram. I try to focus on the work which I enjoy – painting and drawing, not scrolling & posting. I think I get more value from concentrating on my craft.

Do you think there's a lot of pressure on young people these days?

Yes, and from all the wrong sides, too. I think it comes directly from the education system; generally from exams and subjects people don't care about.

If you're sitting an exam for the benefit of a family member, for example, or if you think it will progress to a well-paid career at the detriment of doing what you love, my advice would be stand up, don't sit the exam, quit and follow your heart instead.


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