Ben Harley: Inspired by a film and driven by an interest in the human mind

Ben Harley’s special brand of creativity is attracting a lot of favourable interest at the Scottish Design Exchange. And, what immediately catches the eye is what Ben calls his examples of ‘conceptual illustration’

“You start with a sketched idea, then create spin-off ideas. You are effectively brainstorming using associated visuals. If I am lucky, something will emerge. My most popular illustration so far is about a love of reading: it's a person sitting out a storm from under her tent, but the tent is actually a book on its side.’ I just love creating metaphors that communicate in a way that challenges people – you draw them in, then get them to think about what they see. Each person sees something different”

So how did 27-year-old Ben get into the world of art?

“It was while studying Psychology at Aberdeen University when a quirk of fate intervened. I missed an exam so was unable to complete the degree I signed up for. Around the same time, I saw the film Scott Pilgrim versus the World. It was whacky and nerdy but I loved it.It inspired me to make my own graphic novels, but I knew I didn't have the art skills at that point. I started making my own cartoons to learn the craft, and I'd publish them online. Usually a few frames with a punchline ending."

That was the beginning of Ben’s artistic journey.

“Although I get embarrassed when I look at what I did in the early days; I realise that it’s a sign of just how far I have progressed since then.”

At first, the move from Psychology to Art may seem an unconventional one but for Ben, it feels like the continuation of a journey. “I have always been interested in people and what makes them tick. As an artist I am driven by the same curiosity.”

It was when Ben entered the world of magazine illustration that he found a field in which to take his creative talents to even greater heights. “The challenge is in taking sometimes complex ideas and making them attractive and accessible to the reader. They say a ‘picture is worth a thousand words.’ A great illustration does that too. Magazines also give me almost unlimited creative freedom and that means I can really delve deeper into my imagination.”

At the moment Ben works part-time with Edinburgh Leisure to support his passion. “That is ideal for balancing my time.” Hopefully, The Scottish Design Exchange will come up trumps for Ben. ”It was at the end of last year when I saw an advert for SDX on Creative Scotland. I followed them on Instagram and before I'd mustered up an application, they had reached out to me.'. When they contacted me and said that I was in and the team at SDX thought my work was great and would really stand out. it was a real confidence boost. Not only has it been an opportunity to showcase my work it has been a learning journey – understanding the commercial world and how I can improve my products for the marketplace. Earnings at the moment are up and down so the staff’s guidance is proving invaluable. If I can increase my profile and sales, I hope to sell out a bit more.”

To see Ben Harley’s paintings and illustrations, go to the Scottish Design Exchange store in Ocean Terminal, Leith.