Illustrator and artist Ben Mitchell is one of our longest serving Roosters (and self-appointed Roost Legacy Officer), though it appears he’s still got plenty of ideas for how to give back to his creative community.

For 18 months between 2018-2019, Ben was hard at work with his graphic design client workload, academic research, university lectures, comic books and one particular labour of love – his Rooster of the Month project.

Though Ben first joined The Roost Creative in 2011, he took some time away from the community in 2014 to set up a print studio. He took it upon himself to draw each of his beloved Roosters in his signature Storm Clouds style. “It was sort of a parting gift,” he recalls.

The portraits went up on the office wall as part of the 2015 on-site exhibition and five-year anniversary celebration, and were such a hit with Roosters and visitors that they remained on display.

“Every time we got a new member, they’d see the wall and ask me, ‘When are you going to draw me?!’”

With the Roost’s growing popularity, it wasn’t long before Ben realised it would probably be an impossibility to ever draw the entire community in one bulk load as he had with the 2015 exhibition. But one day an idea came to him – there was another way to show his love for the Roost.

“I had to put a pitch to the board and everything,” he laughs.

And so, the Rooster of the Month project was born. Each month, Roosters would participate in a secret ballot and elect one of their colleagues for their services to the community.  The winner would have their portrait sketched by Ben, which would be unveiled at a special lunchtime ceremony and remain on display in a golden picture frame for a month.

“It was a good idea because it made everyone happy, it was social media friendly, and it only took me two hours a month,” says Ben.

The project also gave Ben an opportunity to practise his portraiture skills – being able to draw just one a month meant he could pay more attention to detail. “I got really good at breaking peoples faces into shapes – and now I just automatically do it.

“I get asked to draw a lot of portraits as part of my illustration work. Quite often I have to draw musicians I’ve never met before: it was a very different experience sketching people I actually knew, as there’s only so much you can get from a photograph. I think the best example of how that came across was with Mic (Michael Herne of Blackfish Design) – I really managed to capture his chaotic energy.”

Of course, the Rooster of the Month project didn’t just stop at monthly portraits. We also had two Rooster of the Years (along with their associated RotY celebrations), and a 2020 RotM Calendar (which Ben managed to keep a secret from everyone in the office).

“I remember the 2018 ceremony was a bit…unceremonious. The trophy was just hidden under a pillowcase – I wanted 2019 to be different. I was planning it all year! When I finally showed the run sheet to Oliver (Roost GM and owner of Civic Web Media), he said, ‘Ben, this looks like it’s going to go for over an hour’ and I was like ‘Yep.’”

Ben enlisted the help of Purnell Trophies & Apparel in Islington to transform a full-body sketch of the ROTY into an actual trophy – a metallic acrylic statue of the RotY mounted on a wooden base. The shop was sworn to secrecy, as Ben needed the winner to be a surprise for his long-awaited ceremony.

“The design has to be laser etched so there was less detail than a normal drawing – it meant I had to be really careful about the details I did chose to represent as they had to speak louder.”

Despite all the sparkle and anticipation of the ceremony, the 2019 RotY winner did not come as a surprise to many of us. Andy Jones, director of Colour and Sound Creative, has worked tirelessly to promote and support his community since well before his election as Roost President in 2018.

The ceremony (including a remote speech from Roost founding president, Luke Oliver, and live music from local jazz singer Zana Kobayashi) took place in front of the wall of portraits where it all began, on a stage lovingly crafted by Ben, complete with lights, PA and a lectern. The spectacle was live-streamed on Instagram and culminated in a grand Roost-wide giveaway of the 2020 RotM Calendar. The after party continued through the night, to the delightful sounds of a carefully curated Spotify playlist.

“By the end of it, people were screaming at me over this free calendar – I had a couple of friends watching in Melbourne, and they were like, ‘Is this a cult?!’”

Now that Ben has retired his well-loved RotM project, he’s still got plenty to keep him busy. For the next few months, some of his comics are on display at the Australian Embassy in Berlin, and he’s just had a comic featured in an anthology to support the RFS.

On the immediate horizon though, he’s illustrating the menu of his favourite sandwich spot, Chiefly East. “It’s great, I get to taste all the sandwiches – I need to be able to draw accurate portraits of them, and you can’t do that from a photograph.”