Colouring in with Ben
Ben Winwood used his art to strengthen and inspire his community when under lockdown for Covid-19. He ended up with a precious gift in return.
Ben Winwood lives in Launceston. Before his spinal cord injury in 2014 he worked as a school chaplain. He weaved in his lifelong love of drawing by using cartooning as a support tool.
After his accident, drawing became the main act. At festivals and markets he sold everything from portraits to dinosaurs.
When Tasmania went in to lockdown for Covid-19, Ben decided he wanted to do something for his community, online. He started drawing a colouring-in page a day and posting the drawings on his Facebook page.
He also wanted the project to be interactive, so he asked for requests. From there it quickly took off.
"There weren’t many days I didn’t know what to draw," says Ben.
"Friends would get in touch and say, ‘My four-year-old would really love this, can you do it?’ It was such a thrill! Especially with the more challenging requests, like drawing essential workers.
“How do you make truck drivers and warehouse workers look fun? People stacking shelves - not super fun. But I managed to get a fork lift in there, and a truck, and people stacking toilet paper.’
Ben did sixty days in a row.
Ben’s a man about town and had also been designing signage and artwork for a local food co-op, set up during the Covid lockdown for people to share what they could and take what they needed. He met a woman there who ran a skills-sharing project called the Waverley Community Skills Cafe.
One day this woman got in touch. The cafe had been following what Ben had been doing online. She remembered that he’d once shared his dream of publishing a children’s book - and said the cafe wanted to help Ben turn his posts into that book.
"It was like a covid miracle,” Ben said.
"I approached my local book store and said this is what I’ve done, this is the story behind it, would you be interested in selling it? And they said yes.
"I’d said to a friend at the start of the year: 'This year I’m going to do a book. I’ve been told so many times I should do my own children’s book, and I’ve wanted to do it for so long. This year I’m going to do it.'
"And because of Covid it actually happened."
Not only did the drawing-a-day project fulfil Ben's dream of publishing a book, it also made the daily reality of Covid-19 restrictions more than bearable for him.
There was the structure of it, the creativity, and the social connection it offered through friends and family making requests, commenting on the work or posting their coloured-in copies.
'It was like a Covid miracle.'
Ben has had excited reports of kids colouring in pages from his book from as far away as Western Australia and an orphanage in India.
With restrictions easing, he misses being able to sing as loud as he likes for online church services in his lounge room. But he’s glad to be seeing his community in person again. He’s still making art for people. His next project is illustrating a friend’s children’s book.
To buy Ben's colouring book, Community Colours, find him on Facebook: Art by Ben. The book costs $25, and $5 goes to the Waverley Community co-op.