Make yourself unavoidable - Ben the Illustrator

Ben O'Brien’s always been self-employed. Right after graduating he hustled as a freelance illustrator and animator for two years, and grouped together with a team to run an animation studio for a few years after that.

Although the studio work was successful, he had enough of “wearing multiple hats” there. He'd been doing illustration work on the side and really enjoyed it. He decided to “break up the band” in 2005, go solo and became…

Ben the Illustrator!

He still has the daily concerns that you get with running any business, but he can now wear his favourite hat most of the time: that of a creative freelancer.

He’s got the work-life balance down pat. He wakes up early to get a couple hours in, with a few more during the day and sometimes a bit more in the evening. The rest of the time he can be there for his family; he drops off and picks up his son from school every day, and has quality time with him every afternoon.

It was brilliant hearing stories from him about working remotely for clients around the world, side projects as leads for potential clients, and the renegade nature of freelancing.

Key takeaways:

 - Showcasing your originality and ideas can be really helpful in generating leads
 - Promote what you do where the right people will find it, and
 - Consider working for other people in your field before charting your own path

More from Ben the Illustrator

Ben on Twitter

Ben on Instagram

Ben's site

Illustrator's Survey

Ben's Print Store


Who the hell is Steve Folland?

Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.

Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.

Transcript of Being Freelance podcast interview: story tips and advice from illustrator Ben O'Brien - Ben the Illustrator

Steve Folland:      Ben, the Illustrator. Hey, Ben.

Ben O'Brien:        Hi there. Thanks for having me on, Steve.

Steve Folland:      The power of branding is that your actual name is Ben O'Brien, but all I've written down anywhere is Ben, the Illustrator. So, yeah, we'll have to come to that. But, for now, how about we get started hearing how you got started being freelance?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, I've always been freelance, to be honest, or self-employed in some way or another since I left college. I studied animation, graduated in 1999. At the time, I was very keen to work in the music industry. Music videos were at a real high at the time and there was lots of exciting things going on, so I decided that was for me sort of thing. 

Ben O'Brien:        I started touting myself around to do animated music videos before I finished college, when I was about halfway through my final year, and I was making ... This is pretty much pre-internet, really. I was making show reels on videos and I was taking them round to people, dropping them through letterboxes, taking them to record labels, and sort of selling myself really, I guess.

Ben O'Brien:        I kind of got lucky around the time I graduated. I got asked to do my first music video, which was kind of a low budget thing, quite a DIY, lo-fi sort of production. But it was fun and it was a good learning experience for me to just get started. So, I came out of college and just started working straight away from there, really. Naively, with no business experience or anything, set myself up as a freelancer and got on with it, really. 

Ben O'Brien:        The first couple of years, I was doing music videos, and then I started to collaborate with a few other people on different animation projects. We ended up forming an animation studio. It was just the three of us, but we had a kind of community of freelancers that worked with us. 'Cause I was at a point doing music videos where I couldn't do any more on my own. I sort of had to be working in collaboration with people, and so we formed a studio and we did all sorts of things. 

Ben O'Brien:        This was when internet was really starting to kick off, so we learnt Flash software and we started doing web animations. We did some TV work. We did a series for CBeebies and all sorts of other things. We were doing some web design and other bits of artwork and stuff. We were doing artwork for T-shirts and whatever else 'cause it was quite ... Early 2000s this is. There was kind of a lot going on. We were in London at the time and it was very exciting. There was always something going on, and we found a lot of new opportunities to get our work out there and to pull in work to be done.

Ben O'Brien:        I was doing that for ... Three or four years, I think, we had the studio. Maybe less. I had been doing some illustration work on the side, and I started to realize that the illustration work was where my real passion was. It wasn't necessarily the animation, 'cause the animation we had like massive production processes and a single project that could last nine months. I was doing a lot of coordinating and producing and dealing with freelancers, and it wasn't really what I wanted to be doing. I only really cared about how things looked, doing the creative work. 

Ben O'Brien:        So, having done the illustration work on the side and realizing that was, I guess, my calling, I left the ... Well, we disbanded the studio, and I became Ben the Illustrator. Because when I was at the studio, I felt like I had a lot of jobs, a lot of tasks that I had to do. Some days I was a producer, some days I was creative director, and I sort of wanted to simplify everything and I just wanted to be the illustrator. Hence, the name. I thought it could work as a brand, as kind of a selling point. So, I just went ahead with that. That was 2005, I think, and it's been like that ever since. 

Ben O'Brien:        I'm still illustrating now, still freelancing and still getting on with it, and still enjoying it.

Steve Folland:      Wow. That's so cool. There's so much to unpick there. First of all, how did you meet the other people that you formed the studio with, and how did you know that that was the right thing to do?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, the three of us at the core of it - here was one guy that I was actually at college with, and we had sort of kept in touch through other people. He'd studied animation as well, but he'd gone into web design when we left college and found some real skills and talents in that area. The other guy I'd worked with on a music video, I think, and he was editing it as far as I remember. We had a lot of things in common, but we also had quite different roles. The things that we wanted to be doing were quite different, so we weren't going to be stepping on each others' toes. We sort of knew it would be a tidy little team, I think.

Steve Folland:      As you then disbanded that and moved into just being solo again, was there anything that you had learnt over that period that you took away from it? Maybe business wise or client wise.

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah, I think I had. Because starting up straight away from leaving college, it's fun and what have you, but it's not the best business decision. I suddenly had no idea, like how am I really going to make money out of this. But, working as a studio, I'd come to learn how to do the business side a little bit more and to ensure there's always work, and to understand cashflow and accounting and everything else a lot better. Then, when I went solo again, I was in a much better position to manage my business, but also be doing the creative work that I wanted to be doing.

Steve Folland:      And you just didn't enjoy managing the people, kind of chopping and changing roles? Has it worked out, or do you still find that actually you still have lots of things to manage?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, there is always something to manage, but I get far more hours doing creative work now than I did then. There's always something to manage, whether it's self-promotion or bookkeeping, or whatever it might be, but the more creative work I'm doing, the happier I am. So, generally, it's better.

Steve Folland:      As far as the studio went, were you literally in a studio? Did you all hire a premises and work together?

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah. We took a premises in ... Where were we? In South London. I've forgotten what it's called. It's called The Biscuit Factory or something. They used to make Twiglets there. It's now lots of little workshops and they have this big TV studio there. Yeah, so we took the premises there. For a long time actually, maybe for a year or two, we weren't in the premises. I think we were in there for about two years, but we'd been working together in one way or another for a year or two before that, separately, where we were all ... I think, essentially, we were all just working from home.

Steve Folland:      Is that what you do, do you work from home now?

Ben O'Brien:        I do, yeah.

Steve Folland:      Do you ever miss that thing of having other people around you at all?

Ben O'Brien:        I do, but I'm kind of an introvert so I function better on my own in a lot of ways.

Steve Folland:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben O'Brien:        But, at the same time, I know that I need to get out, and I need to speak to people and chat to people whenever I can. But, when it comes to actually getting my work done, I think I'm better off on my own, to be honest, in my own space, where I'm free to work as I need to.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. So, let's go back to when you left the studio and you became Ben the Illustrator. How did you go about finding those first clients?

Ben O'Brien:        To be honest, I think I just did everything and anything. I was emailing people, I was sending postcards out to people, knocking on doors. I was kind of lucky on the ... Because through working in the studio, I already had some contacts, and so there were some clients that I could take with me, if you like, and carry on working with.

Ben O'Brien:        There was an ad agency in London that as a studio I'd worked for, for maybe three months in-house at the ad agency, but representing our animation studio. When I left them, I said to them, "Look. I'm not part of an animation studio anymore, but I am still illustrating." So, they were kind of keen to keep me on as a contact and I carried on working for them for a little while. 

Ben O'Brien:        Also, because I was solo, I was in a position to get work from other animation or design studios who I guess previously had been our competition or whatever. But, then I was at the point where I could get in touch with them and say, "I'm available. I'm here if you need anything," and took some freelance work through them.

Steve Folland:      When you've been working so closely with those other guys for a few years, how did you broach the thing of, well, breaking up the band?

Ben O'Brien:        I don't think it was that much of a tragedy, I think. We'd finished a big longterm job that we'd been doing for CBeebies, and we were all starting to do other things, and I think it was almost like a natural end to what we were doing. It came at a good time. It didn't really disrupt anything. 

Ben O'Brien:        When I left, I don't think I was entirely sure what I wanted to be doing or if I was going to definitely be in illustration maybe for a few weeks or something. But, I took some time away and had some time to myself and thought about what is it that I really want to be doing, because it's not the animation production side of things, it is something else. That's when I realized that it really was the illustration thing, and that that can be a full-time job and not just a thing that I'd been doing on the side.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. How have you managed it finance wise as far as being a freelancer goes?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, it's not always easy. I mean, it's all I've ever known, to be honest, is being self-employed. There can be ups and downs, and I still go through periods now where I can get very worried about the volume of work coming in. But, I just keep on working, although I do a lot of side projects, which more often than not will bring about client work. If I've got a week and I've got no work booked in, I'll get on and do something to put out there, to put online or whatever. Very often, this can then lead to someone seeing it and wanting to commission something similar or an old client wanting to get back in touch.

Ben O'Brien:        So, yeah, I'd never say that it's easy, and it's probably the only downside for me of freelancing, is not knowing that you've got a regular wage forever more and just always having it in my mind that I've got to make sure that I'm set for the next month or the next week, just to ensure that everything keeps running smoothly.

Steve Folland:      Obviously you like working from home. Do you ever travel with work or get to take holidays?

Ben O'Brien:        Not really, no. I mean, I have traveled with work. I did a week and the BBC in Glasgow on a project and a few other things. I like to get out to meetings. We're not far from Bristol and there's a lot going on in Bristol. I have a lot of clients in Bristol. So, it's always nice to go up there sort of thing. But, it's not really a major part of the job. 

Ben O'Brien:        I think I'd like to travel a lot more, but at the same time, I'm a dad, I've got an eight-year-old son, and I don't want to be a dad that's never around. One of the benefits for me of freelancing is that I take him to school every day and I pick him up from school every day 'cause my wife works different hours and she can't do that. For me, that's one of the high points of being a freelancer, is being flexible in that way that I can be at home all the time for my son.

Steve Folland:      That's one bit of work-life balance nailed then. Does the work seep outside of those hours? 'Cause, obviously, when they're at school, that's like five/six hours. I do a similar thing. So, yeah, how about the time around that?

Ben O'Brien:        I don't want to work every hour anyway, as much as I love it. I think I do better work when I'm not completely exhausted. Sometimes I will wake up at 5 a.m. and I can do a couple of hours then.

Ben O'Brien:        I read a really good article, which I keep telling people about and, annoyingly, I can't remember who wrote it. But, there's a researcher in the States and he only works for three hours every morning, but he works from four til seven or something because he can't be interrupted, and he finds his mind works in a certain way that he can focus, completely focus, during that time.

Ben O'Brien:        I've sort of found that I can do a similar thing where ... If I've got lots of little jobs to do, I wouldn't do them at that time, but if I'm literally just drawing or just illustrating on a computer, then I can get as much done between 5 and 7 a.m. as I would do, I don't know, four or five hours during the day. So, quite often I do this little early session from five til seven. After I pick my son up from school, if my wife's home then I might come upstairs and do an hour, but if she's not then I'll just spend my time with him.

Ben O'Brien:        There's always other things I can do. I can pick up emails at any time and that kind of thing, but I don't really want to be chained to my desk when my son's at home. I just try and manage myself as efficiently as possible so I get everything done during the day, which generally seems to work. It seems to be going okay.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. Oh, man, that's so good. Obviously you're down in Somerset, which listening around the world is quite a way from London, and is much more rural and lovely. So, I'm just intrigued as to whether, yeah, at what point that change happened?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, it was 2007 I think. I'd been illustrating for a couple of years. I met my wife, or then girlfriend. She's from Melbourne. She came over to London and we were both at a point ... Because we'd just met and I think everything felt very exciting, we were at a point where we were both a bit tired of cities or the city life sort of thing. We'd both just turned 30 I think at the time, and so we quite abruptly sort of ran away and we actually ended up in Cornwall. So, quite remote, down by the sea. 

Ben O'Brien:        We lived in Cornwall for four years, which was amazing. It was an amazing experience, with us both being from cities originally and having spent however many years in the cities before we left. We went to Cornwall and it was amazing to be by the sea. It's a beautiful place. But, it was kind of, after a while ... Then we had our son, and we realized it was too remote and we missed city life. We missed being around people, our families and our friends. 

Ben O'Brien:        So, then we found an exciting little town in Somerset. It meant that we could be near our friends in Bristol and Bath, and we can get up to London not too difficulty for weekends. So, we settled here. We've been here for five years or so now. I think we still both yearn to be back in a city, but, for now, we're in a nice place for really our son to grow up. So, yeah, we'll see how long we'll be here for.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. So, are most of your clients remote then?

Ben O'Brien:        Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Pretty much everybody. I have a lot of clients in the States, a lot in London and wherever else. Actually, the last year I was in London, I was working from a studio in East London, and it was great, our work was going really well, and then I had this odd realization that even though most of my clients were in London, I hadn't been to a ... I'd been to maybe one meeting in a year. Everything had just been done online or on the phone. So, I sort of realized that I don't have to be in London anymore if I don't want to be.

Ben O'Brien:        At the time, I wanted a break from it. We'd all sort of got to a point where everything was online at this point, and everyone could communicate online and it was all easy and natural, and we didn't have to be going to meetings or sending everything by courier anymore. It was just a good time, I think, to get out and try living somewhere else.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. So, how has finding those clients changed over time? Because, obviously, you were very much knocking on doors and sending cold emails, and there was the residual affect from the studio. So, how's all of that changed?

Ben O'Brien:        The main thing, there's just so much more. There's so many more options now. You have to make sure you're not wasting time with too many options, but I love doing my self-promo. I feel like if you have a creative job, then your self-promotion, it's not just about showing people your work, but it's almost showing people how you can promote yourself. So, if I do something that's a really good idea for promotion, then it's going to get noticed by people in the advertising industry because it's the same thing. If I can sell myself, then maybe I can help sell a client. So, it pays to have some original ideas now and again, or even just getting yourself out there to the point that you're sort of unavoidable, that everyone will stumble across your work in some way.

Steve Folland:      So, do you find that a lot of your clients are searching the various social sites looking for people like you then?

Ben O'Brien:        I think they were. I think people were up to a few years ago, but I feel that social media, Instagram especially actually, hasn't become as useful for promoting yourself as it was a few years ago. I still use it and I do enjoy it, but I don't feel the benefits of it as much anymore. It may be different for other people, obviously. But, personally, it's not doing a huge amount for me at the moment.

Ben O'Brien:        There's a couple of portfolio sites that I have portfolios on that I feel are targeting the right people. 'Cause there's however many people, there's a billion people on Instagram, but percentage wise, not many of them are going to commission illustration work. Whereas, if I get onto the right portfolio sites, there's art directors looking at it, there's magazine editors looking at it, there's all sorts of people that are the right people. I think you have to, if you're promoting yourself online, you've got to make sure that you're targeting the right people and not just maybe the general public if you're looking for a job that the general public can't help you with.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. By the way, everyone, you've got to go and take a look at Ben's work 'cause it will cheer you up. It can't fail to put a smile on your face. But, one thing that you'll notice when you link through from to Ben's work is you've got a pretty distinctive style, and I'm just wondering have you always done that? It's almost like having a niche in that you've got a very distinctive style, and whether that helps you.

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah, I think it does. If I look at my work from 10, 12 years ago, it's not massively different. It's still what's called vector illustration. It's kind of clean and graphic, but it has evolved and it's, I'd like to think, got better. Maybe it's more refined. I understand how to make things simpler sometimes to get a point across or to tell a story or what have you in a much simpler way. I think that comes from experience.

Ben O'Brien:        But, for me, it helps to have a specific style that people know, they know what they're going to get and will remember it. But, at the same time, you need to have a style that's flexible. You can't only depict one thing. If you can only do dogs, then it's going to limit how many commissions you might get, but if you've got a style that is brilliant for all animals perhaps, then there's a lot more chance of you getting work.

Ben O'Brien:        So, I think no one has to necessarily illustrate everything. But, for me, there's certain kind of things that I like to illustrate and so that's sort of what I put in my portfolio, within that style sort of thing. Certain subject matter, sorry, that I like to work on.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. The other thing that you'll notice on Ben's site is he has his own store as well, as a lot of illustrators do. Has that been important for you?

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah. Yeah, it is. It's quite useful to have, you don't have to, but a few different resources for income basically. For me, art prints, it never outweighs my commercial work, but it's always nice to have these things there and to have that income on the side. Art prints, for me, generally have come out of side projects or having a bit of downtime for a couple of days and thinking, well, I just want to make a piece of art of a cactus of whatever, then it can be an art print. 

Ben O'Brien:        I think I've also learnt quite a lot technically by doing products and prints because the print process, let's say, isn't necessarily something that I do with a client. If I work with an ad agency, then there's someone in the agency who's dealing with the printing, so there's always been a few things that I wouldn't have understood. But, through doing prints myself, I've been able to learn technical things, which I think help you to have a broader sense of what illustration or design is, if you're taking things right through to print. 

Ben O'Brien:        Also, I don't know, it's kind of fun. It's nice to do a print and then people to buy it, and then you're dealing directly with the customer. There's something very warmhearted about doing it, I think.

Steve Folland:      Yeah, nice. Another thing from your site, and many people may have seen this on Twitter, for example, especially if they're an illustrator, but obviously there's lots more people listening. You did an illustrator survey. So, what's the illustrator survey?

Ben O'Brien:        Right. So, I started this last year. I'm always talking to other illustrators. A lot of my friends are illustrators. I have friends through Twitter and what have you that are illustrators. We're always talking about work and we're talking about the ups and downs, and I sort of realized that even though I talk to a variety of people all over the world, there's always more people and you never really get the general consensus. 

Ben O'Brien:        If you and your three best friends are having a great week or a bad week, then you're only going to see what's in your little bubble. I realized that maybe it would be a way of bringing together all the illustrators, but on a level, if you like. So, not being organized by a design magazine or a university or anything else, but just on our own level within our community.

Ben O'Brien:        So, I thought I'll ask the questions not necessarily that I wanted an answer to, but the questions that other people ask me about or the things that I see other people querying online or whatever. So, I put together the survey and I had no idea if anyone would even bother answering it or whatever. I put it online and I said, "Okay, it's here for illustrators. Fill it in and let's see." It almost took on a little life of its own and it spread really well. People were far more receptive of it than I thought they would be. People, in reading the questions and answering it themselves, became quite excited to know ... People who might feel they're the only one in a certain situation, it would be good to know if other people are in that situation. 

Ben O'Brien:        It was up for just under a month, I think, at the end of last year, beginning of this year, and that had 1600 or so people answer it. The results were amazing. Really interesting. Some great, some not so great. There was a few negative ... Well, not negative answers, but finding out the percentage of people that have anxiety problems or the number of people that work from home, it was very interesting and quite enlightening about our community and where we're all at. 

Steve Folland:      Yeah. Then you've created it into like a, well, I guess like an infographic, results of it, so you can scroll down and take a look at those. So, what was it that stood out for you, and did any of that resonate with you?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, the one I just mentioned, that ... I forget the exact percentage. But, around 80% of people have problems with self confidence or anxieties that affect their work, and that was huge. I was quite staggered by that. I mean, I have a few problems myself, mental health problems, and they have affected my work over the years, but I never thought that that many other people could have similar problems. 

Ben O'Brien:        I don't know, it's quite sad to find out that so many people feel like that. It was also quite reassuring. I think a lot of people started to realize that we should talk about this stuff more because there's a lot of us in the same boat or a lot of us going through the same problems day to day. I think people felt some kind of nurturing support just from knowing that other people have these problems.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. Yeah, 79% it was. How have you dealt with that over the years?

Ben O'Brien:        Well, I mean, one thing, like I said, I'm a bit of an introvert, and sometimes it helps me to have my own space, to not have to talk to people, to not have to go out, let's say. I'm not necessarily shutting myself off because that's not healthy, but I know when I need to have a bit of quiet time to myself, and working from home is a good opportunity for me to do that. But, at the same time, I always have to kick myself sometimes and tell myself to get outside and talk to someone. 

Ben O'Brien:        I've generally dealt with it, I think, okay. I mean, work in a funny way has always helped. Because I do digital illustration, this might not make sense, but I find it really satisfying. It's quite therapeutic to do it, to do the vector artwork. So, creating the shapes and colors, and I do everything very clean. So, for me, it's quite meditative and it's quite therapeutic, the actual process of doing it. So, I sort of know sometimes if I'm not feeling great or I feel a bit sluggish or something, if I give myself something to illustrate, then I'll come out the other side feeling a lot better. Then, also, I've got a little bonus illustration done. 

Ben O'Brien:        So, I do turn to my work to help me. I think it does help sort of thing. Freelancing isn't always the best solution because then you've got the issue of your work being unsteady or having to deal with maybe late paying clients, that kind of thing, and that kind of thing isn't great for mental health, obviously.

Steve Folland:      Overall, you feel like it weighs in the positive?

Ben O'Brien:        I do, yeah. Yeah. I can't say that it would be the same for everybody, obviously, but, for me, personally, I feel like it is beneficial for me to be freelance, to help with that side of things.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. One of your other questions was about creative and business goals. Are you somebody who sets yourself goals?

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah, absolutely. I nearly always start the year with some kind of a plan, a bit of a refresh, think what I want to do this year, what I want to do differently. I might go through and sort out my portfolio a little bit, take off projects that I don't want to be out there anymore and look ahead to what I really want to be doing each year. I don't necessarily have business goals in the same way businesses do with financial targets and that kind of thing because I don't necessarily know ... I'm not a salesman. I don't know how to hit a target like that. There's sums of money that I know is the amount of money I need to be sustainable, but I don't necessarily set business targets like that. 

Ben O'Brien:        Because I'm never at a point where ... I don't have employees. I'm not looking to grow my business necessarily into owning shops or anything else like that, so I don't necessarily have business plans like that, but I do have creative plans and targets. Sometimes there's certain things that I'd like to be illustrating a lot more of content wise, and sometimes there's types of projects that I'd like to get into. Quite often, at the beginning of the year, it's a good time to think, right, do I want to work with some animators this year or do I want to work on some products this year, and then find a way to go about achieving those things.

Steve Folland:      How do you stay focused on those sort of things when it's you who's driving it rather than when you were back in the studio and there was a few of you?

Ben O'Brien:        I'm not sure, to be honest. I just do. I try and keep everything quite simple as far as ... At the moment, I have a big piece of paper stuck on the wall by my desk, and it just says, "Hell, yeah. Do this. Illustrate cafes, interiors and animals." That's basically the three things I'd really like to illustrate more of this year. It's there, you know. If I put it in big writing, print it and stick it in front of my desk, then I can't avoid it. I see it every day. I might change it. I might think, actually, if I've just ... Maybe I don't want to illustrate so many cafes, but I might think of something else that I do want to do more of.

Ben O'Brien:        My main thing this year, I want to do more travel related illustration. So, it was quite good ... When I thought what do I really enjoy illustrating, it's generally travel and hotels or restaurants elsewhere, when we've been on holiday and stuff. I'll always have my sketchbook and I'll do a quick sketch, and then I come home and do color illustrations of things. So, this year, I've kind of said, "Okay, travel." It's good because if you think of something like that, an industry you want to work in, then it pushes you to find more potential clients. 

Ben O'Brien:        I was thinking, right, so what travel magazines are there, and there's a couple that I've worked for and I keep in contact with, but then I've never necessarily gone out and looked for other travel magazines or marketing agencies that work in the travel industry or anything like that. So, kind of picking an industry or a type of content that you want to make more of, it does push you to go out and seek more potential clients that maybe you wouldn't have if you were just thinking, well, I just want any work, then you don't know which direction to go in.

Steve Folland:      Yeah. If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Ben O'Brien:        It would probably be not to go freelance from day one, to be honest. That was the toughest thing I've ever had to do, was leave college and be freelance from day one. I think I could have learnt a lot more if I had gone and started out at the bottom in a design studio or an animation studio and worked my way up and learnt from other people who knew what they were doing. 

Ben O'Brien:        In the long run, I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't recommend that everyone do it like that. I think it's installed a kind of toughness in me, I think, an idea of how to get things done yourself. I sort of like the renegade nature of being freelance, but if someone was starting out ... I tell this to students quite often. I think if you want to be an illustrator and you want to be freelance, maybe start that on the side of a job in a studio, 'cause I think it could have helped me and it could have moved things along quicker for me, I think.

Steve Folland:      Ben, thanks so much. Really nice talking to you, and all the best being freelance.

Ben O'Brien:        Yeah. Thanks a lot. Thanks so much for having me on, Steve. It's been great.