In spite of success at the Royal College, when he left in 1957 his instinct was to avoid the limelight. In 1960 he applied for a part time post at Plymouth College of Art, teaching mainly in the adult education classes. In 1961 he moved to Ermington, a village in the South Hams, not far inland from a beautiful stretch of the Devon coastline.
He lived a solitary existence, only interrupted for his few hours of teaching each week in Plymouth. Much of his time was spent wandering in the surrounding countryside, sometimes on foot, sometimes on his bicycle, always with a notebook to hand. His constant observation and affectionate recording of his immediate environment fed directly into his work.
Always a devout Christian, in 1968 he entered the Catholic Church and remained a devout practising Catholic to the rest of his life. During College vacations he managed to travel: in England, Ireland, France and the Low Countries, all well recorded in his notebooks.
Aside from exhibiting a painting or two in a local annual exhibition, he made little attempt to show his work. However, in 1976, he was contacted by Bernard Samuels, director of Plymouth Arts Centre, who began showing his work to an appreciative public. He soon became aware of Ben Hartley's need for privacy, so he avoided subjecting him to unwanted publicity and he was able to continue his way of life, alone but highly productive.