Based in Ballarat in Victoria, Ben Sanders discovered his passion for illustration at an early age and since then has built a successful career in the industry, and also as a children’s book author. Here, Ben takes us for a deep dive into his creative process and explains how combining creativity with mindfulness can boost your mood.

A Creative Upbringing

Ben Sanders discovered his creative talent for illustration at the age of 11.

Ben’s parents knew from a young age that he had a talent for drawing that needed to be explored. “I’ve been illustrating professionally since I was 11,” he says. “I snagged my first commission after filling my first visual diary with silly cartoons of animals doing human activities: a horse answering the telephone, a penguin relaxing on the beach, a koala taking photos – you get the gist. I used an encyclopedia of animals for photographic reference. My dad took those sketches to a publisher and I got my first paid job.”

With an artist and photographer father and calligrapher mother, Ben was always surrounded by creativity, so it’s no surprise that he has his own natural talents. “I guess [I was always a creative person]. I had a creative upbringing,” Ben says. “My dad would draw, paint and take photographs and was a typesetter and printer. My mum was a calligrapher and very handy at hand-lettering using ink and a brush. There was always someone doing something creative in the house, even if they were just decorating a cake.”

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Relax Into the Creative Process

Ben’s process is quite simple: put all of your ideas on paper and relax. “I churn out as many ideas as I can in a short amount of time,” he says. “I put down my bad ideas as well. Then I go back through and say, ‘Actually, there’s something in that fourth idea. I can take that somewhere’.” 

“If I look back over the times when I feel I’ve created my best work, the common thread would be that my thoughts were relaxed,” he says. “If I’m relaxed and happy, I’ll create more freely. If the ideas aren’t flowing, I tell myself that good ideas are just around the corner… just go and have a peek!”

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Find Your Flow in a Comfortable Environment

Illustrator Ben Sanders suggests getting comfortable and removing distractions when tapping into your creative process.

You don’t have to be sitting at a desk in silence to tap into your creative process. Instead, Ben suggests making yourself comfortable any way you like, removing distractions and playing some calm music. “Cocoon yourself in a nice environment, turn off your phone and don’t look at the screen,” he says. “You can have music on but maybe it’s not the stuff that’s going to distract you. And then, you’re on track.”

For many artists, ‘flow’ is a state where you’re so deeply immersed in a creative project that you forget the outside world and all your worries. So, what does ‘flow’ feel like for Ben? “I usually don’t notice that I am in flow until it’s almost finished, and I usually can’t remember how I got there!” he says. “ While in flow it feels like I’m being swept along a river. Next thing you know you’re a long way downstream, hours have passed, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride and you have written your best story, created your best characters or drawn your best scene. It’s quite a ride.”

But for flow to take full hold of your creative process, he reiterates the importance of removing distractions. “Flow won’t happen when I’m on the phone, listening to loud music, interrupted by emails, sitting at a messy desk or when someone else is in my studio,” says Ben.

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Be Kind to Your Mind

 Illustrator Ben Sanders applies mindfulness practices to his creative process to help give him a creative boost.

For many artists, mindfulness and creativity go hand in hand and learning to lean into your thoughts while being creative can actually help to enhance your creativity. “My mindfulness practice really happens as I’m working through a project,” says Ben. “I think it’s a really good, integral part of the way I work.”

While practising mindfulness plays a huge part in benefiting Ben’s creative process, he also finds that being kind to his mind in his daily life gives him a happiness and wellbeing boost, too. “I have become aware of the importance of mindfulness only recently, but was pleasantly surprised that I had some mindfulness practices already integrated into my day,” says Ben. “I’ve never been a multi-tasker, I focus on one thing at a time. I’m often thankful for the small things and little victories. I recently learned that this improves resilience and can keep you positive.”

So, how does he get into his mindfulness zone? It’s as simple as contemplating things he enjoys. “I like to think about things that make me smile: things that are good, funny and have merit,” Ben says. “If I spend time thinking about good things, there is less time to think about all the things that surround us that aren’t so nice to think about… [that are] mind pollution.” (For more tips, see Smiling Mind.)

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How to Get Started With Creativity

Do you love doodling and illustrations? Is watercolour painting your thing? Are you into paper crafts? The trick is to simply try your hand at different types of creative mediums and you will discover what speaks to your inner creative. “What would you like to be creating? Learn some basic skills in that medium and then get rolling!” says Ben.

Also, brush off any preconceptions that you need to be perfect at the medium you decide to pursue, says Ben. “You don’t need to achieve perfection in any form of creativity to enjoy it. I gave up on perfection a long time ago and have enjoyed the ride much more as a result,” he says. “Just relax into it and start creating and you will see progress.”

Discover What Interests You

Determining the subject matter that you’re going to illustrate, paint or create doesn’t need to be a long, thought-out process. It can be as easy as tuning into things that you like, such as animals, flowers or certain objects, having a go at drawing them, and seeing what resonates with you.

“Expressive characters are fun to create,” says Ben. “When I visit schools, I introduce my characters by drawing them live. I allow the audience to participate by telling me how the characters feel, then drawing that emotion. The kids pull all sorts of facial expressions as they explain what they want the character to feel. It’s hilarious! It helps to understand that emotion in order to convey it effectively through illustration, and also to understand that all these emotions are normal and good.”

What To Try 

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