My creative process

My creative process with Ben Kirchner

From the arts to the sciences, Bath Spa University has a culture of professional creativity, continuing to engage in the pursuit of new narratives and ideas. BSU celebrates the creativity of our staff, students, partners and the wider South-West region.

In this series, we’ll be speaking to professionals from a range of specialisms, gaining valuable insights into their career journeys and creative processes. We’ll find out what a day in their life looks like, where they find their creative inspiration, what advice they would give someone hoping to follow in their footsteps, and much more.

Ben Kirchner

Ben Kirchner is a freelance illustrator, Bath local and regular contributor to publications such as The New Yorker and The Washington Post. His professionally creative journey has spanned two decades and, aside from eminent newspapers and magazines, his work has been featured on book covers, children’s books and even Christmas window displays!

Represented by Heart Agency, Ben’s job is never the same two days in a row. Working with multiple clients on a variety of projects keeps Ben’s work full of creativity, opportunity and innovation.

A day in my life...

After the school run, I try to fit in a short workout. I find it helps my concentration and the quality of my work. I love running along the river and usually pass the Herman Miller campus. Then it’s time for breakfast and up to my office in the loft.

Most days, my work is drawing based - either sketching roughs for clients or working on final artwork for specific projects. Admin is mercifully minimal. I also work as a visiting tutor at a University so occasionally I have an early start and a two hour drive to the campus where I offer guidance to illustration students on the undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

My creative process...

Nearly all my illustration commissions begin with copy from the client. For example, a magazine article that I need to illustrate. I begin by reading the text and highlighting key info. This important stage helps me zero in on the point I’m trying to illustrate.

I write keywords from the text down on paper (or in Adobe Fresco on an iPad these days), plus any associated words and phrases. This creates a pool that I can start thumbnailing from, mashing objects together in sketches to generate visual metaphors.

I get my inspiration from...

Ideas often pop into my head while out walking or jogging. That’s why it helps to read a brief as soon as it comes through - so you can start thinking ideas through away from the desk. But I also get a lot of inspiration from teaching. Working with students helps (and forces me) to keep in touch with trends etc within the industry. Finally browsing the work of my favourite illustrators on Instagram or getting books out of the library. It all feeds in!

I get my motivation from...

Working freelance can be tricky and you have to be self-motivated. It’s particularly hard when deadlines are further away as it’s easy to get distracted. When a drawing is fun, the illustrations create themselves and motivation is less of an issue. But some jobs are going to be less exciting than others. In those cases, making jobs fun helps keep things moving, I ask myself, “What would I love to draw for this job?”

My creative space...

I always illustrate in my home office space, so I work in a consistent environment. It’s the stuff I do outside the office that fuels my inspiration - walks, running, beautiful views and natural spaces. I’m lucky because my office looks out onto The Cotswold Way. I try to take a moment to admire the view every day.

The most creative project I’ve worked on...

Some of the more interesting are window displays. I’ve drawn characters that were built by 3D model makers. I did one for Ted Baker a while back where I had to draw a bonkers penguin with a jetpack made of Christmas stuff. That was fun. I’m currently working on Christmas kids' books where I’m adapting the text from traditional Christmas songs alongside the illustrations. That’s a totally new process for me and I find it super engaging and exciting.

The creative project I want to work on...

I’ve worked for The New Yorker over the years but have never illustrated a cover. That’s the holy grail gig for illustrators so I’d have to go with that one. That said, their deadlines can be tough and they’re an exacting client, so it would certainly be a demanding job.

My creative idol is...

I love Richard Scarry. I grew up reading his kid's books and love all the little details in his scenes, his animal characters, his brilliant sense of humour and his slapstick.   

Three things that enhance my creativity...

The top of my list? Sleep! Although it’s a sedentary job I think you have to infuse your work with a lot of energy. If I’m sluggish the artwork always suffers. Likewise, exercise also helps keep me focussed and able to think visually.   

Finally, you have to keep looking at other work. It’s impossible to create art in a vacuum so I love to look at the work of other artists and illustrators and save cool stuff to Pinterest.  

What creativity brings to my life...

Working as an illustrator, you usually have different projects and clients from one week to the next so it’s never repetitive or dull. I love starting a new project and wondering how it’s going to turn out. It’s an engaging profession and forces you to keep in touch with the world around you.

What do I do when I have a creativity block... 

I get the worst blocks when trying to create personal projects because there’s no clients directing. In that case, the best solution is just to draw anything and try not to worry too much about the concept or style. Typically, drawing seems to free ideas up. It’s the thinking beforehand that can be problematic.   

One piece of advice I would give to someone wanting to follow in my footsteps...  

Illustration is not always the most sociable hours-wise. My family is incredibly understanding and used to me working evenings and weekends. Good illustration is often time-consuming, so you have to be prepared to put the hours in and be passionate about it.  

When you’re starting out, it helps to work out where you fit within the industry. Research and discover other creatives that inspire you. Then look at the type of commercial jobs they’re doing to get a sense of where your work fits. This all helps develop your own visual identity. 

What is your professional creative journey? Let us know at

If you are interested in studying Illustration, visit the Illustration webpage or explore our Art courses

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.



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