Arts Creatives in profile - interview series

Creatives in profile: interview with Rosie Benson

Philosophy, dogs, satire and fine art combine as we catch up with Rosie Benson to talk illustration, books, and crowdfunding.
Artist Rosie Benson shows off some of her illustrations, which will appear in her book, ‘Philosophers’ Dogs‘, which is currently crowdfunding through Unbound. Photography via WG.

What if all human philosophers stole their ideas from their dogs?

This is the central idea at the heart of a new, satirical book that has been illustrated by a UK-based artist and illustrator, Rosie Benson.

Philosophers’ Dogs answers such important questions as ‘who really is a “good” dog?’ and whether tennis balls are always real – all while introducing readers to canine philosophers like Karl Barks, Sun Shih-tzu, and Mary Woof-stonecraft.

Throughout the book, Benson’s illustrations bring to life scenes from hitherto unknown philosophical history, including Socrates’s dog protesting his innocence against the crime of pooing on the rug, as well as Nietzsche’s dog staring into the abyss of an empty dog bowl.

The book has been picked up by award-winning publishing company, Unbound, and Benson is currently crowdfunding for the book along with her brother.

Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with Benson to talk art, illustration, books, crowdfunding, philosophy; and, of course, dogs…

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

BENSON

I’m now in my 40s and I have acquired a little knowledge, mostly that there is so much more to learn.

I currently live in the North West, I have a wonderful partner & we have recently found out that we are expecting our first baby. Of course a baby is a miracle for anyone but we feel particularly blessed as we didn’t think it was a possibility for me to have children & had both concluded that they wouldn’t be part of our future. I guess what people say is true, the moment you stop trying and relax is when surprises can happen. This wonderful news proves – the future is yet to be written.

INTERVIEWER

Is art your first love, or do you have another passion?

BENSON

Although Art plays a large role in my life, it isn’t my only passion. For me, to be passionate about life & all things in it only adds weight to the ideas I put down on paper.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

BENSON

I find inspiration everywhere. My only issue is trying to remember the things that have inspired me when it comes to using them in my art.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us about your crowdfunding project, ‘Philosophers’ Dogs’ – what’s the idea behind it, and how did you come to be involved in the project?

BENSON

My brother Sam is the brainchild behind Philosophers’ Dogs. As soon as he approached me with the idea I was instantly on board & knew in which direction I wanted to head with the illustrations needed to convey this fun, satirical and fascinating subject.

INTERVIEWER

Which have been your favourite philosophers to reimagine through the lens of ‘Philosophers’ Dogs’?

BENSON

It is difficult for me to choose a favourite Philosopher I enjoyed depicting because for me it is the story and idea behind each subject that inspires me, not necessarily the philosopher themselves. The way Sam described each scenario made me want to convey this in an image that put the viewer in that moment in time. 

“Canines control the means of walkies!” – Karl Barks.

INTERVIEWER

Have you always been a ‘dog person’? And do you have a particularly special memory of any dogs you’ve owned?

BENSON

Yes, I’ve always been a dog person. They have always played a part in my family life. However, it was only when I got my own dog, Hector, a Dalmatian, that I truly understood the bond that can be felt between “man and beast”. He truly was my best friend, we went everywhere together and I talked to him as if he understood everything I was saying – of course he did. He is and will always be missed. 

INTERVIEWER

You have a very unique, detailed style that perfectly juxtaposes the serious nature of philosophy with the joy-de-vivre of dogs. How challenging is it to draw both humans and animals together, and what’s your artistic process? How do you take an idea for an illustration and turn it into a beautiful drawing?

BENSON

I find it very challenging to combine animals & humans in the same scene, as I do when giving animals human traits and vice versa, as with any subject a challenge is well worth it if I can feel happy with the end results. This is easier said than done.

It’s taken a long time; but I’ve finally learnt to be satisfied with “less than perfect”. I now believe there is no such thing as perfection, so I need to move forward rather than striving to achieve the impossible. Yes, life is made up of moments and things that may seem perfect but they and we are forever changing. To keep up and not get left behind by focusing on making one thing perfect, I’d rather create a bundle of happily imperfect, relevant pieces –  before the world moves on again to the next new thing. 

To achieve each image, I usually have an instant idea that leaps to mind, I have to try to remember this idea and think of the best composition to convey it and what information is important to include and what can be left to the viewers’ imagination. I will research details for different subjects and time periods. 

I try not to get too bogged down with these but also try to avoid including obvious bloopers that simply don’t make sense to the scene I’m trying to depict. 

INTERVIEWER

You’re still on your crowdfunding journey; what’s your experience of crowdfunding been like so far?

BENSON

Crowdfunding was a totally new concept for me. When Sam explained it, it made a lot of sense. It felt like the right and obvious approach for getting published in today’s society. That doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing; but it does feel as though it gives future authors and the publisher a certain amount of teamwork and co-operation to see the project through to completion.

It does feel a bit like being on a roller coaster, as you can feel extreme highs when you see the target moving rapidly in the right direction, then pretty low and frustrating when it seems to spend forever at the same level! Sam is really very good at coming up with continued ideas and strategies on how we can keep moving forward.

The 50% marker we reached recently felt like a milestone we really needed to achieve to get moving in the right direction, now we’ve achieved that we’re thinking about how to reach the next milestone! 

INTERVIEWER

What are your hopes for the book?

BENSON

My hopes for the book are that, even if it only reaches a select audience, it intrigues them, makes them happy and that they want to pick it up again and again.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us about some of the other projects you’re working on?  

BENSON

I currently have a few varied projects on the go, including a mural, which is a collaboration with my partner, we work really well together and are always happy to snap up the chance to do so. It’s a different style to my illustrations.

I also have a storyboard and another book idea I’m going to illustrate for someone I met through Philosophers’ Dogs, who tells me he likes my illustration style. I have a few other irons in the fire but am trying to get organised, put things in appropriate order and achieve things on time. 

It’s not just dogs and philosophers; world leaders have also been the subject of Benson’s artistic flair. Picture: ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ – copyright Rosie Benson 2019 (@RosieBensonArt)

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

BENSON

I believe creativity is available to all. I believe it is about making something from what may appear to be nothing or from something of no apparent use or interest. 

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

BENSON

She dreamt. She worked. It happened. 

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for artists?

BENSON

  1. Believe in yourself. 
  2. Get help from people who believe in you. 
  3. Try not to isolate yourself (something I struggle not to do!).
  4. Go outside AND get inspiration from the world; not just a screen. 
  5. Life will have its ups and downs. 
  6. Be patient. 
  7. Put yourself out there.

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

Favourite breed of dog?

BENSON

Dalmatian

INTERVIEWER

Favourite book/author?

BENSON

J.K. Rowling

INTERVIEWER

Favourite artist?

BENSON

Turner

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

BENSON

Cult classic

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

BENSON

Wouldn’t like to say!

INTERVIEWER

If not illustration or art – what would you do?

BENSON

Woodland park ranger.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

BENSON

A few!

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment?

BENSON

Too many to mention!

INTERVIEWER

What’s something you’re particularly proud of?

BENSON

My resilience.

INTERVIEWER

One piece of advice for your younger self?

BENSON

Trust your instincts. 

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