As part of our Squarespace Studio Series, we caught up with Ben,of bentew ltd in his studio at Portland Works, and got to check out his impressive workshop. Currently based in Sheffield, he is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and also holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Industrial Design from Virginia Tech. He founded bentew ltd in 2015 to pursue his passion for designing and building imaginative installations and experiences for himself and others.
Can you describe the journey from your home to studio?
To get to my workshop I walk down a very steep hill, along Abbeydale Rd, past two very good places to get coffee and a really good bakery that isn’t open at the time in the morning that I go past. I usually make it into my workshop by 9.
What is the area like where your studio is based in terms of shops, galleries, bars, cafes, restaurants, amenities, etc.? Do you have much interaction with others, creative or otherwise, in the locality?
My current workshop is located in an old cutlery works called Portland Works which is filled with various metalwork based crafts people ranging from forging to engraving but also traditional artists, a guitar maker, a bike frame builders, a distillery, a rug maker, and a healthy number of rock bands. It’s an up and coming area with other similar Works set up around the area with other creatives but also other odd bits of industry. The area isn’t yet developed to have all the shops, galleries etc that somewhere like Kelham Island Might have, but it definitely has potential. Harland Works around the corner has a great little cafe and quite a few other creative tenants. That being said, Sheffield is not a huge city so its not a big deal to wander into town and head to a good pub for a pint after a days work.
Any daily routines that help you start the day?
Exercise then Coffee.
Can you describe the layout and structure of your Studio? How does the space affect your working practice and how has your practice impacted on your space?
My studio is currently just myself and my wife Sarah. I have a big network of people I call upon to bring projects to life. In terms of space, my studio is in a bit of a transitional phase. I have just completed the workshop part of my space but I am just starting the build out of the studio “clean” working area. That room is full of old machinery and scrap metal at the moment! So a lot of the digital and non hands on work is done from our home office. It is going to be really cool and exciting space once it’s all done.
Having a workshop space that I can work quickly to build both at partial and full scale is vital to my process. It’s hard to beat being able to fabricate and iterate ideas right away. Having full scale mock ups and being able to work in the actual final materials really helps push the limits of what I am able to create.
When I took on my space it still had a ton of different stock materials, I find it very useful to have a palette of materials to experiment with. Having the odd bits of material lying around can be really inspirational as you are immediately able to have a hands on feel of somethings size, weight, texture, etc.
How many people share the space?
I have my workshop to myself but, I believe that Portland Works has quite a few tenants at least 40.
Can you talk us through your essential workshop/studio toolkit?
I tend to utilise a pretty large toolkit to bring work to life, but there are a few key things I couldn’t do with out. My sketchbook is probably the most important and where I keep track of all my early ideas but also keep track of details of designs as I move along. After that, it really does depend on the project. Some projects I will move straight into digital design (CAD) of the concept, others I will head to my workshop and start making small scale models of what I am thinking about. Ultimately, It all does come back the digital realm as I need to communicate to myself or my fabricators the final products. Depending on the scale of the project I will end making it in house or for much larger installations things go out to trusted fabricators.
Do you surround yourself with objects that inspire or comfort you? If so can share some of your favourite “things” in your studio and why you love them?
I do. My desk is covered with prototypes from past projects, old toy robots, a few of the smaller interactive pieces I have designed and maybe a few too many legos.
I love keeping them around me as the remind me of all the tiny details that went into projects that are sometimes forgotten. I love keeping new and old toys around as they have some really clever little details to them, but also they remind me to keep from getting too serious and have fun with my work.
My workshop is a similar situation. I took over an old school motorcycle fab shop and it’s full of interesting old bits of motorcycle nostalgia and well worn machine tools. I’ve got bits of it everywhere and more than a few copies of old school motorcycle mags. It’s an eclectic mix of old motorcycle parts and prototypes I am developing.
Is there music playing in the studio?
Always! Could be anything from BBC radio 6 to Heavy Metal.
Are you still working in a discipline that you studied at college?
Yes in one way or another. I studied engineering in undergrad, but industrial design in grad school.
Do clients visit your studio?
Yes they do, clients love to see workshops as it gives a bit of context to how ideas are brought to life.
Do you work until it’s done or have a strict going home time?
I give projects the attention they need at the time. This can mean either going home and letting it rest or if a deadline is looming putting my head down and getting it done.
Evenings – still checking work emails or switched off and wound down?
I switch off as I think it’s important to disconnect, keeps my head clear and avoids creative burnout.
Favourite piece of creative work in 2016
Yours: Liquid Crystal w/ Jason Bruges Studio.
Someone else’s: KAWS exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Tell us about your find of the year?
Thats tricky, but I would say that the most exciting piece of technology I have recently worked with was some of LG flexible OLED’s.
Tell us a bit about your “current” favourite:
Exhibition: KAWS exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture park.
Gig: Smashing Pumpkins when I was 14
Festival: Any Food Festival
Meal: Maine Lobster … Im a transplant from the US 🙂
Album: The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire
Book: Currently reading Jupiter’s Travels
Film: No way I could pick just one… I do like most things by Wes Anderson though.
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Photos by Marcus Sarko.