We can just see them now: Little Erin Bennett and Timmy Banks doodling away as kids, unaware of the love connection that lay in store for them. The couple met at the Savannah College of Art and Design more than a decade ago, married, and now they work as professional illustrators from their home in James Island. But despite their years of shared history, the artists maintain distinctly different styles.
“I always say that Tim’s illustration style is the kind I would have wanted to read as a kid,” Erin explains, “and my style is the kind the teachers or librarians would have picked out. I do tend to get more into educational content, heavier themes. Tim’s work is so clever and witty, it’s fun.”
Monsters, Greek gods, and “weird-looking men” are some of Tim’s favorite things to draw, and his imaginative work stems from hours of boredom-fueled practicing — in church.
“I can remember as a very young kid, my mom always letting me draw in a spiral notebook in church,” he says. “That was my one way of making it through the two-plus hour services — so long. As I got a little bit older, I would draw on tithing envelopes. I tried to challenge myself to do a complete picture.”
He eventually started using his skills to make money by doing commissioned work for classmates — $1 per poster, $2 for front and back. By middle and high school, he was drawing on everything.
“I went to a small Christian school with no budget, so there were no art classes or awareness,” he says. “But in a way that was good. It let me figure out things on my own when I was very young, whereas maybe being directed by someone to paint or draw a certain way might have impeded my interest. Who knows?”
Eventually, he went to Bob Jones University to study studio art, then went on to SCAD, where he received his Master of Fine Arts in illustration.
“Originally I started out wanting to be a fine artist, and when I was an undergrad … I found that you could do illustration,” Banks says. That’s all it took to put him on a road that includes work for high-profile companies like Nike, Cartoon Network, and McGraw-Hill.
“I’ve always drawn stuff out of my head, it just comes to me,” he says. “I really enjoy just making stuff up. I’ve always done better when I’m not restricted in that way. I always come up with these story ideas or series concepts. One of them is monsters.”
His most recent piece in his monster series is a half-hairy, half-scaly sea monster.
“I guess it’s just the freedom,” he says of the appeal of drawing monsters. “They can kind of be whatever, which is pretty cool. You can give them any kind of character trait, and people really respond to them.”
Another recent favorite is the “Bird Chronicles.”
“When I’m drawing the pictures, I’m not thinking about making this for a specific reason, but as I start to draw, I think of maybe an awkward interaction I had or something that I like or don’t like. I think it starts to come out in the pictures,” he says.
Tim has illustrated three published children’s books, including The Land of Caring Bou, a project for Caribou Coffee.
While he admits to feeling slightly burnt out on the children’s book circuit, his wife continues to enjoy it.
“Children’s books are definitely the most rewarding — and time-consuming,” Erin says. So far, she’s illustrated three educational children’s books including Hush Harbor, which was named Best Book in the Language Arts by the Society of School Librarians.
The child of “hippie parents” in upstate New York, Erin grew up in an extremely creative environment and eventually went to Houghton College to study studio art.
“Toward the end of my undergraduate years, I started researching graduate programs and realized that illustration would pull together my love for creating images to tell a visual story,” Erin says of narrowing down her field. “I was the recipient of a graduate fellowship from the Department of Education, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, that allowed me to pursue my M.F.A. degree at any university. So I chose SCAD, which had an appealing graduate program in illustration.”
Both her children’s books and editorial work have a signature bold look with a multicultural flair.
“I’ve primarily done African-American historical fiction or African folk tales — kind of Afro-centric stories,” she says. “My style is very shape-oriented. People have compared it to kind of a block- or print-making feel.”
In her free time, she enjoys fashion illustration, including what she calls her vintage Art Nouveau series, which is inspired by 1920s design. She’s sold some pieces to art vendors who have redistributed them to stores like J.C. Penney and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Erin also works for SCAD’s recruitment team.
“I didn’t exactly intend to move to the South,” she admits. “But life had a different plan for me. I met Tim in one of our first graduate drawing courses at SCAD. Our mutual affection for illustration, and each other, put me on a different path. We lived in Atlanta for several years after completing our grad degrees in Savannah. And then we moved to Charleston last year, drawn to the Lowcountry charm that we had experienced together in Savannah. It definitely suits our personality.”
While the couple’s work continues to veer in different directions, they’re currently working on a children’s book together called Henry.
“I think the main idea of the story came together on long road trips,” Tim says. “Erin would bring a notebook and write down our ideas, then later on we both would sift through the ideas to make a cohesive story. I think I worked on the sketches on and off for about a couple of months. We haven’t pushed the story too much yet. It’s still in development, but I have the story up on my site — just in case.”