Here we will look at the piece presented by Ben as well as his artist statement and the answers to a few questions I had.
“…and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,” – Romans 11:17
The image of grafting a foreign plant so that it might flourish from an established root system of another has been embedded in my mind for a long time. To compare myself to that grafted plant and to understand that once grafted, I partake in the privileges that flow from that union, makes me appreciate that I am no longer struggling to survive on my own. It is a beautiful relationship in which the trunk I am grafted into does not change me into something I am not. It simply nourishes and strengthens me into giving fruit that I was originally designed to produce.
To really grasp the concept, I imagined two extremely contrasting plants; the nopal (prickly pear) and a red cedar. The nopal, as a member of the cactus family survives in desert climate with little to no water and yet, the paddle and its fruit are edible and were a prominent staple for me growing up. The red cedar is slow growing, long lived and resistant to decay, which makes me think of a solid foundation upon which to grow. As I began creating the imagery the influence of family and culture came to mind. I thought of Loteria, the bingo-like game I grew up playing with my siblings and how with simple illustrations it was used to teach reading writing, history and social values.
This card is a visual statement of being grafted into a solid foundation in which one can flourish. Whether it is faith, family, culture or location when we are embraced in truth by those who have proceeded us, we are encouraged to produce good fruit without being changed into something we were never meant to be.
Along with the above statement, Ben also had this to say about the opportunity to exhibit in the Bryan Oliver Gallery, “I am thankful for the opportunity to create work that is not client based. It has been over 20 years since I got to show work in a gallery, so this was actually fun to do and I look forward to doing something like this again. When designing for clients you need to follow the parameters and the desires of the client while attempting to instill your own voice, style, or aesthetic in the work. This project allowed me to be completely free and in charge of the subject, the message and everything in between. It was a bit daunting (even with just one piece), but worth the experience and is adding fuel to the desires of doing more things like this in the future.”
I asked Ben about the media he used and his working process, and he had this to say, “This is a digital illustration created in Adobe Fresco, Illustrator and Photoshop using an iPad and a MacBook Pro. My process begins with ruminating over a concept and then translating those thoughts into doodles. I don’t spend a lot of time refining sketches or detailing things out on paper. Many times, these doodles exist on meeting notes, scratch pieces of paper or throughout my sketchbook. I will also search for resource images from the internet or my local surroundings and collect them on my phone. I try to capture images of textures, colors, or imagery that may or may not be used, but that I can have access to on the fly. Once I have gathered what I feel is a good start I begin creating the piece digitally. This piece consisted of using Fresco, which is a mobile app that allows you to create vectors as well as bitmapped imagery. As I build the piece, I continue gathering, doodling and researching through the entire process to help me develop the final piece. The ability to transfer files easily from paper to digital and from mobile to desktop has created a much more fluid workflow and allows for a lot more experimentation and adjustment through the entire process.”
Ben’s statement had a lot of good information about this piece and its content, and I had a few follow up questions. First, I asked him about the season we see represented in this image, and its significance to the content, and he responded, “The scene is set in winter and the intent was to remove the cactus from its natural setting and place it in a location not commonly associated with it. The concept was to express its reliance upon the cedar for existence by placing it where it doesn’t seem to belong and yet is able to continue thriving and bearing fruit.”
I was also interested in the mix of subtle gradation of color and tone and harder linear elements and flat sections of color, and asked Ben how he balances these elements when creating a composition? “In an effort to maintain the illustrative style of the originals I created light washes and added heavier outlines to define the objects and create texture. Because of the heaviness of the lines, there is a struggle in maintaining a visual balance as the heavy line work can be overpowering. By using lighter washes in the sky and snow, I feel I was able to create a balance with the texture heavy tree.”
I was also curious if this poster is the beginning of a series of images, and this is what he had to say, “I would like to complete a few more images following the Loteria theme and illustrating various Christian metaphors. I don’t know if I have the determination to create a whole set of 54 cards, but it could be a great long-term project. In the short term I would like to create a few more, but experiment with creating a faux four-color halftone look on the card in order to capture the look of the original cards.”
And finally, I asked Ben what he plans on working on next, more traditional graphic design work or creating graphic images for gallery presentation? “Now that I am at Whitworth and I have the opportunity I would love to create graphic design pieces that are more suited for gallery showing than the corporate setting. Plenty of artists have been doing this in the past from Alphonse Mucha, to Warhol to Barbara Kruger, and their ability to marry image and text to communicate a message or emotion has influenced designers like me for a long time. I believe that there is a fine line between art and design and there is nothing wrong in blurring the line or crossing over in order to create something new and exciting.”
If you would like to see more of Ben’s work, you can find him online at https://www.sites.google.com/view/ben-necochea