To the Point: An Interview with Ben Heine
Last month, Ben Heine created his first ever tutorial, exclusively for Tuts+ readers on how he creates his Pencil vs Camera compositions. Today we spend some time finding out more about his work.
Looking at your work across deviantART, Flickr, and your portfolio, you obviously love creating. It must take an incredible amount of imagination to constantly come up with new characters and scenes for your unique works. Have you always had a very active imagination?
I'm an innovative person generally speaking, I always like to do things that have not been tried before. I had to train the way I'm using my imagination over the years to use it at its full potential and not be blocked during the creative process behind every image I make. Most of all, it's a lot of work and trials and errors. I think it has nothing to do with divine energy or magic. When I'm searching for ideas, I usually start with very small things and it becomes more and more complex when I develop them according to what I want to express.
Where do you get your inspiration for your works and do you ever feel like you'll run out of ideas?
As I often say, my inspiration mainly comes from the experiences I'm leaving and the people I meet. I think it is important for artists to be a creative mirror of the society they live in. I'm a rather spontaneous person and I get easily overwhelmed with my emotions. I really try to channel all my passions in my art. Some projects are more powerful than others and that's still a mystery for me. When I run out of ideas, I simply stop and start something completely different. And my well is full again after a certain time.
Is there anything in particular you find extremely inspiration? Something you find yourself coming back to time and again for creative fuel?
I like to find myself "lost" in a new place or situation, for instance when I'm traveling for the first time to a new destination. It can be anywhere in the world. It is very enriching and it always gives me inspiration later on.
You have several outstanding art series but it seems your most popular works are for your ongoing series entitled "Pencil Vs Camera"; is this also your personal favorite or do you have another?
Well, I didn't expect Pencil Vs Camera would be the most appreciated series in my work. I didn't know it was so new and different. It has been my favorite concept for many years, but now I really long to do something else. As a creative person, I like to progress and see a distinct evolution in my work. The great thing behind Pencil Vs Camera is that it opens doors to a creative universe with unlimited possibilities and renewed content, but the form is always the same: a combination of photography and drawing. I've brought many innovations to the concept to refresh it such as colored drawings on black paper and then giant 3D sketches, but I need something completely different now. I don't have any other favorite, I think and I hope it's yet to come.
In your Pencil Vs Camera series you always have such unique and whimsical stories to tell. Are these scenarios born from an idea for a photograph or a sketch?
Both options are possible. Sometimes I do a sketch first at home and I do everything I can to find the right location so that it will work with the sketch. In other cases, I find a spot first and then do the drawing, making sure the sketch will match that specific place. Both techniques require a lot of work and the sketches are always handmade.
What are your tools of the trade? Is there any one thing that makes your job as an artist easier?
I always use simple equipment. The title of my series often describes the main tools I'm using. In Pencil Vs Camera, I use pencils, (with charcoals and pens in some cases), paper and my camera. In Flesh and acrylic, I use acrylic and human models (and my camera again to capture the final results). I also don't mind retouching my photos to make sure the final result is the way I want.
The life of an artist can be hard, but artists do it because they love their craft. What do you love and hate about being a professional artist, and where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
I've made a small graph recently; it describes all the things I usually have to deal with on a daily basis as a professional artist. You can view it here. I love creating and producing art, this is my favorite part, I also love sharing my work (communication, journalism…), but I find it more difficult to handle all the commercial and marketing aspects although these tasks are as important as the other ones. Fortunately, these are things you learn when practicing. Artists have to understand and control all the steps presented in this graph if they want to make a living with their work, or they have to automate or devolve these things to external agencies. Time is money you know.
I see you were born and spent some of your childhood in Ivory Coast, Africa. How much has your hometown affected your work, if at all?
Psychologists often say that the early years of the human development determine the architecture of the adults' behavior. I'm pretty sure that the fact that I was born and lived so far away from where I'm based now has brought me a certain conception of life. For instance I tend to feel as a citizen of the world, I prefer the universal and I tend to ignore the particular. On the other hand, I'm not sure where my real roots are and I'm always trying to find who I am.
Do you have any other artistic influences that fuel your artistic nature?
Yes, definitely, music and dance. My mother is a dance teacher and I inherited a lot from her. Music is my fuel. Music equals life.
You're quite a social butterfly on the net. Do you have any suggestions for the reader on how to gain exposure on the web?
I'd suggest artists to always think out of the box and try to get in touch with people who can talk about their work such as journalists, asking them to publish their body of work because there is an original or innovative concept involved. It's a good way to gain more exposure. Then artists will have to be selective with all the opportunities that will come eventually. Making the right choices is the most difficult.
Thanks so much for the amazing insight! Are there any parting words you would like to share with our readers?
I'd just like to thank Tuts+ for the great opportunity to share my first tutorial. And I wish the best for all your readers.