Ben Kwok, who got his BFA in Illustration from California State University, Long Beach, takes us through his own experinces and insights gained as a keen ornate illustrator.
My journey has been a great learning experience, with lots of bumps and setbacks. I guess it’s part of the journey to make mistakes and learn from them. I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was around 7 years old. I loved drawing so much, that I knew it had to be my career when I got older. At that age, I wasn’t really thinking about a career; I just wanted to draw all the time and make a living doing what I love.
CG. What do you feel is the distinct quality or characteristic in your style of work, which appeals to viewers?
Ben Kwok. I think my “ornate” style is what appeals to the viewers. There are lots of artists working in this ornate style, which is great because I think this style should be exposed to more people. Aside from using ornate patterns to decorate animals, I feel like my distinct approach to ornate patterns is different from most artist. I like to use patterns to express the form and shape of the subject. I don’t just put any random patterns because it’s important to me that the shape of the animal is properly shown. I also like lots of tiny details, and I do most of my shading with a ballpoint pen. From what I can gather, there are very few artists out there using the ballpoint pen as their main drawing medium.
CG. What is the core idea behind the intricate patterns and symmetry you shape your workaround?
Ben Kwok. It’s a practice in meditation, to be in the “flow state”. One of the major benefits of drawing is that I get to get lost in the process. To get lost in all the intricate details. It allows me to get out of my own head, and just focus on creating. Aside from the mental benefits of my artwork, I do enjoy inject sacred geometry and other various patterns to compose the drawing. As for the patterns themselves, it’s all pretty random. I just draw whatever I feel like drawing. I try not to overthink the process.
CG. What do you feel is the balance between marketing, portfolio and quality of work when it comes to acquiring work? Do you think there’s anything more a designer needs to do?
Ben Kwok. I was taught that I should be proactive in acquiring work. I’ve had little to no success when I reach out to random possible clients asking for work: I’m not great at it. It feels like begging, and it doesn’t feel good. Clients tend to shoot down artists who are asking for work. Maybe, asking for work shows that you’re not highly sought after? So, my strategy is to continue to grow as an artist and create work I want to work on. It’s no accident that my portfolio is 90% ornate illustrations. It’s what I love doing, and what I want to get hired to do. In short, just do the best work you can do, and hopefully, the right clients find you. As for marketing, every artist/designer needs to be on social media. Regularly post your work so it’s out there for people to appreciate. Please keep in mind that your amount followers are a reflection of the quality of work you produce, so only put out your best work.
CG. What is your approach towards acquiring clients, and how do you fulfil their needs?
Ben Kwok. I just do my best work, and let the clients contact me. I don’t recommend this method because it takes a long time to be established and to have an internet presence. I’m just one out of millions of talented artists that are out there. The only difference is that my work is very clear and focused on ornate illustrations. If a possible client is interested in ornate artwork, my name should be on top of that list.
I fulfil the client’s needs by asking lots of questions about what they want. I try my best to give them what they want, but, at the same time, I’m the artist, and if I think the concept could be enhanced, I will advise the client. However, at the end of the day, it’s what the client wants, not what I want. Clients should keep in mind that the more freedom and trust they give me, the better the work I will produce. When I’m constricted to certain design parameters, the artwork always suffers. I’m at a point in my career where I have the freedom to say no to projects I’m not excited about. As a younger artist, I would take whatever comes my way.
CG. What advice do you have for young and new designers regarding how to balance finance and passion?
Ben Kwok. In regards to finance, always live below your means. If you make $3000 a month, don’t spend all $3000. If you want freedom, you need to have financial independence. Try to have at least 3-6 months of emergency funds. Meaning if you suddenly lose your job, you have 3-6 months worth of savings to keep yourself afloat while you look for another job or project/s. Ideally, you have zero debt, because the more financial freedom you have, the more you can pursue your true passion.