Head in the clouds

This post has been written by Martlets volunteer Jill Cochrane.

Illustrator and mural artist Ben Cavanagh was on cloud nine when he was selected to be one of the artists for Shaun by the Sea. Like a lot of people we were curious about his love of clouds. 

It’s fair to say Ben has had his head in the clouds one way or another for some time. As a child he was an avid reader of fantasy books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

“I was one of those kids staring up at the clouds. When I stayed with my nana and grandad in Kent, I used to sit on the beach, look up at the clouds and create things out of them, imaging different worlds, seeing people and far away places.” 

Happy place  

When Ben was establishing his work he always went back to where he was happiest – with his head in the clouds. It’ll come as no surprise then that Ben’s signature clouds feature prominently both in his artwork and his sculpture design for Shaun the Sheep. 

“When I first saw my Shaun sculpture, I immediately saw clouds because of his undulating wool coat. Straightaway I imagined him as one big fluffy cloud.” 

Ben has recently had his first solo exhibition at The Brewhouse Project in Arundel. The show, brilliantly titled Head in the Clouds, incorporated some new work inspired by anime and cartoons – and of course, his signature clouds were ever present. 

Smiley faces 

Time and time again, those who have been involved in one of Martlets’ Art Trails have said how brilliant they are at bringing people together – and Shaun by the Sea will be no exception. 

Ben adds: “This year’s trail will bring a lot of happiness to a lot of people. And there’s a lot to be said for how art can change a person’s mood and support their mental wellbeing. Whenever I’ve had a bad day, seeing great art or listening to music makes me feel better. I think a multi-coloured Shaun the Sheep covered in clouds with a cheeky face will make at least one person smile.” 

My guess is there will be thousands of people smiling at Ben’s cloud inspired sculpture. Martlets’ Art Trail is a perfect way to get out and about with family and friends, and as you can probably tell, Ben is a big advocate for outdoor art and art trails too. 

A sneak preview of Shaun in the Clouds in progress

We’re going on a sheep hunt 

“My kids love treasure hunts. And now I’ve seen so many of the sculptures in the artists’ studio, I’ll be setting them some fun challenges when we do the Martlets’ Art Trail as a family. I’ll say something like – ‘Today I want you to find a pirate, a punk rocker and a big flowery sheep.’ I have so many friends coming to enjoy Shaun by the Sea, I think I’ll end up doing it ten times over, but the kids will love it!” 

In the summer holidays Ben’s been hosting weekly mural art workshops with children as young as six and seven and they’ve all been super creative and seriously messy. 

“I love doing mural painting with kids. It’s fun for them to get dressed up in masks and googles alone. And it’s great to give them the chance to work on a big mural using spray paint and acrylics. I let the kids got for it, so they can really express themselves. What’s brilliant is seeing them with the freedom to paint and watching them grow each week. I bring the mural all together, but everyone has ownership, and importantly, the kids can still see their own work in it.” 

Art for everyone 

As an artist Ben is also a big fan of making art visible for all. That’s pretty much what inspired him to take up mural painting and street art. 

“People might not be comfortable going into a gallery, so making art that’s visible means anyone can see it. My style is big, bold and colourful – something to brighten everyone’s mood. I’m drawn to street art and murals because they can bring so much colour to places where there isn’t any.” 

Ben’s mural work has been located in and around the South East, including in Littlehampton, Bognor Regis, Southampton and London too. He’s also been commissioned by Bangers & Burgers to furnish their restaurant interiors and he was in the first group of artists charged with creating designs for Camden Market’s famous wooden shutters.  

HeArt trail 

This is the second time Ben has been involved in an art trail after he was selected as one of only ten artists for Littlehampton’s Eggstravanganza Art Trail which took place in April last year.  

“I had so much fun creating my work in a three-dimensional way because typically as a graphic artist I work in 2-D. When I saw that Shaun by the Sea was in Brighton & Hove I jumped at the chance to be involved.” 

Martlets has got a real family feel to it. The team there is so upbeat, which given what they do for other families on a day-to-day basis, is truly remarkable. What we’re all doing with the Art Trail is so positive, it’s such a happy, heartfelt thing to be involved in – and a real antidote to the world.” 

Ben’s Shaun sculpture is sponsored by Fastnet International. 

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