The IWC Journal spoke with Ben Li who - using just markers and pens - has drawn various models from IWC’s latest Pilot’s Watch collection with breathtaking accuracy
Ben Li is a Hong Kong-British visual artist from UK who focuses on a collection of watch illustrations using primarily markers and pens. He was born and raised in Milton Keynes, a town located in Buckinghamshire, England. After studying Graphic and Media Design at University of the Arts London, Ben worked at various design jobs, including a jewelry design studio. That’s where he had his first introduction to watches.
WHY DO YOU DRAW WATCHES?
I initially started it as a personal project, something to help me stay focused during the lockdown in the UK. I chose watches because I have always had an interest in them – but never quite looked into them further – and thought they would be a good subject for me to practice my illustration skills. As I began to create more, I realized that something about drawing the different designs, as well as perfecting the different symmetries and material of the watch made it a very therapeutic process. I was really into it. It was an amazing and very Zen project to do.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
I ended up drawing so many watches that I decided I really needed to create a space to share and archive my work online. This then opened me up to an online community of watch enthusiasts, who I got to know better through my drawings and learnt that each person has their own story and connection to watches. Discovering how watches have a correlation with art, music, fashion, cinema and cultures, whilst also consistently evolving and becoming more symbolic, really inspired me, and my aim is to learn about and express these elements through my work.
WHAT DOES INKDIAL MEAN TO YOU?
Inkdial was initially my way to escape loneliness, and not only has it helped me through some trying times, but it has also very quickly turned into a passion and something I truly find joy in creating. I’ve been able to express my interest in watches as well as contributing to the watch community through creative and fun artworks.
Stage 1 - Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 IW388104
Stage 2 - Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 IW388104
Stage 3 - Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 IW388104
Back side - Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 IW388104
Stage 1 - Big Pilot’s Watch “Mojave Desert” IW506003
Stage 2 - Big Pilot’s Watch “Mojave Desert” IW506003
Stage 3 - Big Pilot’s Watch “Mojave Desert” IW506003
Stage 1 - Big Pilot’s Watch IW329393
Stage 2 - Big Pilot’s Watch IW329393
Stage 3 - Big Pilot’s Watch IW329393
What pens do you use for your drawings?
I use Copic markers as my primary medium. As I’m not a huge painter, markers still offer rich and vibrant colors similar to paint, but also the freedom of drawing illustratively, which really comes in useful when working on the finer details of the watch. Sometimes I like to add in pencil, fine liner and other mixed mediums.
What happens if you screw up a drawing?
Usually Tipp-Ex can fix most mistakes, for example if you draw off the grid or misspell a word. But if I use the wrong color on an entire area then that’s something difficult to rectify, as you can’t erase or cover up markers. In this case, I may have then truly screwed up.
Have you ever torn up your drawings to start over again?
Yes! And quite a few times. Especially when I first started and wasn’t familiar with watches. However, this has helped me learn to become more observant every time I put my pen on the paper. Their sacrifices will not be in vain…
Walk us through the drawing process. Where do you start, where do you finish?
Most of the time, I follow a three-step process which I’ve made myself. I begin by first creating the outline with pen and pencil, as well as highlighting important spots to later cover over. I then apply the base color using markers. Lastly, using pen and pencil to apply the final touches, I can create the finer details within the watch and bring out the texture of the materials. Sometimes, watches with more complicated designs need extra steps to be created, but usually they all involve this three-step process.
Which IWC watch has been the hardest to draw?
The Perpetual Calendar models have been the most challenging. They have a unique character and silhouette to them that I hadn’t drawn before, so it was quite new to me, especially the amount of details and textures in the dial. It took a while to find the right combination and process to approach the drawing, however this also made it a refreshing experience, and in the end, I was really happy with the outcome.
Pilot’s Watch Chronograph IW377724
IWC Ocean 2000 Porsche Design
Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Le Petit Prince” IW327010
Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 IW388103
Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Perpetual Calendar Edition “Mojave Desert” IW503004
Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar IW503605
Big Pilot’s Watch IW329304
Pilot’s Watch Spitfire Chronograph “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation” IW371712
Pilot’s Watch Chronograph "Tribute to 3705” IW387905
Big Pilot’s Watch IW501001
Portugieser Chronograph IW371605
Collection of “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation” Timepieces
Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Le Petit Prince” IW327010 with sneakers
What or who do you draw your inspiration from for your artwork?
I draw inspiration from vintage art deco posters, mechanical drawings, comic book art and everyday things I come across, which I take note of or write down. Before drawing watches, I was a full-time graphic designer and also created a lot of portraiture/abstract art on the side. I feel that a lot of my styling and approach were influenced by these areas. Some of my favorite artists are Pierre Fix-Masseau, Roland Ansieau, Yoshitaka Amano and Kim Jung Gi.
What music do you listen to while drawing?
My playlist for drawing always changes depending on my mood, but right now I find myself listening to a lot of indie and techno house music. The good vibes and uplifting beats help me to concentrate and stay focused. Some artists I’ve enjoyed listening to recently are Boyd Jarvis, KOKOKO, Gesaffelstein and Peggy Gou.
Click here to listen to Ben’s playlist on Spotify.
When and how did you get into watches?
My first watch was a gift from my grandmother; I treasured it and wore it throughout my secondary school years. After graduating university, I did various design jobs, and one particular place I worked at was a jewelry design studio. A client we were working with was wearing an IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, and without knowing what it was at the time, I was simply drawn to its aesthetics, the neat dial layout and the chronograph buttons on the side. I was a big fan but also curious to find out more, so we then started a conversation about it and from there I had my first introduction to watches.
One of the first watches I drew was the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph because of this. When IWC contacted me to work on some artworks for their new release, I was overjoyed and honored to be given the opportunity. It still blows my mind that I get to work with the brand that got me interested in watches in the first place and that will probably be a story I’ll always tell while wearing my IWC watch.
What do you do when you’re not drawing beautiful mechanical watches?
I try to spend more time connecting with friends and family, and continuing my studies in design when I’m not drawing. I also enjoy going out for long runs, working out, reading books and playing the guitar. Although I love drawing watches, at times it can get a little stressful when I encounter creative blocks, so I like to go to different places or find new activities that help to change up the scenery and allow me to relax and stay inspired.
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