Ben Bauchau, a 28-year-old freelance illustrator from Brussels, used to primarily focus on drawing characters, but has since chosen to work out multiple visual identities. By working on projects like Eko Toko, a duo creating children’s illustrations, he broadens his horizon. His dream of publishing children’s books and comics might not be achieved yet, but when Ben gets to the point he does, he’s bound to show us a whole different identity than we will see today.
The moment illustrator Ben Bauchau graduated from an artistic high school in Brussels he didn’t have a clear direction to head in. ‘’I knew I wanted to do something related to art, but I thought illustration wouldn’t get me very far, financial wise.’’ With illustration off the table Ben decided to study digital art, mainly focused on animation. ‘’Anyway, after having studied digital art for three years, I felt like I had a lack of understanding and preparation for the animation industry. So, I did a master in animation at a school in France for another three years.’’
In France Ben made some personal discoveries. ‘’My years in France were really nice, much harder than digital art in Brussels. We learned a lot about the animation industry. This made me realize I didn’t want to be part of that industry.’’ Ben simply wanted to create, but teamwork and production were taking a major part in the process of animation, especially concerning bigger animation projects. To Ben these factors restricted the amount of creativity necessary to work in animation. ‘’I love starting out with a piece of paper, not knowing where I’ll be headed. The process is raw and disorganized, which is the exact opposite of animating. To me, animation was production, not creation.’’
Illustration was the way to go after all. ‘’I currently work as a concept artist, but it’s not what I want to do my whole life. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but you never ever create something that’s purely you. In an ideal situation, I would be making children’s books and comic books.’’ He doesn’t regret his time studying digital art and animation, as he refers to it as enriching. ‘’But in the end, I realized I just wanted to illustrate.’’
What did your first steps as a freelance artist look like?
‘’After getting a master’s degree in animation in France I struggled freelancing for a few months. I started by reaching out to animation studios I considered interesting, and asking them if they’d be interested in my services as a concept artist. After a while I would find myself working with different studios. The thing is, I live in Brussels, but I barely work with companies from Belgium. Most of my employers are stationed around the world, for example one of my last jobs, which was in Montreal, Canada.
”I landed my first job at a studio in Brussels. They were making a monster movie, and I got to do character design. It was a pretty stressful time, as I was uncertain whether my skills were sufficiently developed. You see, they wanted me to make the concepts very realistic, which is not, like you can tell, my focus in illustration.’’
There’s a reocurring mix of Western and tribal cultures. Why do these elements constantly return?
‘’My godfather has been living in Africa for a long time, and he used to give me all these tribal objects, like masks. He gave me something special when I was nine years old, from Cameroon. I believe it was a ceremonial costume, and he taught me it was a lucky charm. It was so intriguing, which I think made me fall in love with mysterious characters. There are a lot of really weird things I can’t explain, and I think it’s nice to have some mystical elements return in my drawings. Just elements, as I do believe other times and other realities are intensely enjoyable, but today’s world is just as important.’’
You’ve recently worked on a board game called Until Daylight. How did you get in touch with this project?
‘’I was contacted by Gary Paitre from Flyos Games, which is a small company in Montreal, Canada. He reached out to me by saying he really liked the designs in my series Street Savages. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in working on Until Daylight’s visual design. Gary wanted designs based on the Street Savages, my own design, so this obviously sounded great to me.
”We ended up talking about the game and discussing the specific direction they wanted the board game to go in. While working on Until Daylight I was granted a lot of creative freedom, but at the same time they did want me to design very specific objects and characters. In the end, I still portrayed them in my own way.’’
During a contest, back in 2017, you won first place for some of your illustrations. Could you tell me some more about this contest?
‘’Yeah, there was this contest in the Netherlands, the Start Awards, back in 2017. I was rewarded the first prize. People could take part by drawing illustrations based on The Jungle Book. I honestly never expected I would win the award, as the contest wasn’t about winning to me. Trying to get a new style out there and developing that style was my main goal. It was a huge surprise to me.
”I previously had a hard time focusing on a single visual style. At the time of the contest I was working on another visual identity, and I thought the Start Awards was a great way to further develop the identity. I haven’t had a lot of time to work out these visuals, but that changed. I’m using that same style in a project I’m working on, joined by my girlfriend. It’s called Eko Toko.’’
What is Eko Toko?
‘’My girlfriend and I met when I was studying in France, during the master. She’s currently working as a compositing artist, which is a little different to what I’m doing. She loves working with colours, and we thought it would be fun to let her colour my illustrations. Eko Toko is exactly that.
”Eko Toko’s goal is creating a children’s book, but we must find time to work on the illustrations first. Apart from my freelance work, a children’s book would be priority number. I want to achieve two things: make a children’s book and a comic book. A children’s book would take less time, so why not start with that?’’
As a freelance illustrator, how do you stay relevant?
‘’People occasionally contact me first, which is the result of my appearance on the internet. I use various services, like Instagram, Béhance and my website. I try to be as active as possible. Especially Béhance is helpful when trying to grasp people’s attention. Being active isn’t that hard, drawing is like an addiction. Whenever I can, I draw. This has helped me a lot, as I think it’s important to show I’m constantly developing my skills as an illustrator. Every time people reach out to you, you should have something new to show them.’’