Sketcho Minute with Illustrator BEN TAN, Interview with Marcin Migdal for our Sketchozine: Vol2:SEXY THINGS Issue.
MM: Today, we have with us Ben Tan, Ben It’s a thrill to have you on Sketcho minute to talk about your sexy, sexy work!
BT: It’s a thrill and an honor to be asked!
MM: So, I accidentally stumbled on your work on gallery.bellefree.com, we briefly chatted on Facebook and here we are. Could you tell all our readers a little about you and how you got started in art.
BT: Here’s the cliche artist answer: “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember.” Cars inspired by Speed Racer’s Mach 5, vans, rockets and jet planes. Then Star Wars changed all that. Followed by LotR and high fantasy stuff back when it was simply called D&D. But I had a long period during my college and post college years where I didn’t do ANY drawing at all. I finally got back into it because I got inspired by J Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl series to pick up the pencil again. That was right around the time that all these online communities started to sprout up. So here I am today, the modern day artist equivalent of the reality TV show “star” who’s had a few moments in the bright lights.
MM: As unbelieveable as your art skills are, you don’t do this fulltime?
BT: Heh...maybe I’m wrong, but unless you have a very popular style (e.g. photo realistic) and are an endless self promoter, it’s hard to make it drawing girls all the time. Besides doing it full time as the sole source of income would take some of the fun out of drawing.
MM: How do most people and female enthusiasts react to your drawings?
BT: You know, I’m constantly surprised by how many female fans I have. They’re some of my biggest fans. As far as general responses, I can probably count the number of rude comments I’ve gotten on one hand, and generally they’re more about someone being an a-hole than an actual complaint about the content.
MM: What would you say is the most vital component of any image?
BT: I think it might the “spark” that draws you, the viewer, in. But it’s hard to quantify. To me when I’m working on a piece, often times there will be something in there that is calling to get out. It’s almost like the idea of sculpting a block of marble to release the statue that’s inside. I can’t always verbalize it, but I know it when I see it. Heh, that sounds more like pron.
If it’s missing, the piece has no life. If it’s there, it’ll reach out and grab ya. And it can be any number of things, a look, a curve, a highlight, a story, anything! With the characters in the drawing, I usually have some back story in mind.
The model is not just a body, but someone with a past and a future and emotions in the present, and my job is to tease that out in the final piece. Recently an erotic photographer made a comment that a lot of my art has the “mischievous complicity” of the subjects, which I think is a great description of what I look for.
MM: In your opinion, aside from talent, what skills or traits makes an artist successful?
BT: In my definition of success (which is not necessarily public acclaim or wealth), I would say two things. First, an ability to recognize areas that need improvement and an ability to listen to and be willing to put in the time to address constructive critique. Unless you’re Picasso, you can’t do it on your own, and you need to put in the time. Second, you really have to have something to say. It might not be verbal, it might not even be conscious, but you have to find it in the picture. I suppose you could say it’s an ability to find the spark, recognize it as such, and bring it out (and not smother it).
MM: Both geat points, but how does an artist get famous these days?
BT: If you want to include popularity or public acclaim, you have to include considerations like appeal to the masses. Plus a whole heaping portion of luck. Actually the only reason we’re having this conversation I think is because I happened to be in the right place at the right time (i.e. the drawingboard.org circa 2001 back when it was really Shane Gline’s board).
MM: Do you recall the first paying gig you got and how it made you feel to get paid to draw?
BT: Wow. That was a long time ago. Actually, I believe it was this piece: www.bit.ly/k2XLCP. An avid gentleman collector asked me to do a construction girl. I remember thinking, “Whoa, really? Someone wants to pay me to do something that I love? Amazing!” And of course, I felt very flattered, because he had some pretty incredible work already in his collection by some big name artists.
MM: Do you have any favourite pieces you’ve done, in the Sexy or Non Sexy Genre?
BT: This is a hard question. Usually with most pieces there is something I like about them,
accompanied by some glaring issue. So finding something that transcends both is a
challenge. I don’t think there’s any one piece that does that. But here are a few that almost
do that for me. The first: www.bit.ly/kMBmrA, This one was never popular, but for some
reason I’m very fond of it...something about the mood perhaps. And I’ve always liked the
story elements and composition in www.bit.ly/jIYWvC
MM: Do you promote or advertise yourself? What’s the best way to get work?
BT: Really the only promotion I do is what is on my web sites. I would say I’ve probably gotten the most number of commissions at Deviant Art. But the more significant commissions probably come from the visibility of the bellefree site. Best way to get commissions? I dunno, probably doing stuff that people like and letting them know you do commissions.
MM: What’s your favorite media to work on and you favourite tools?
BT: I’m all digital from sketch to finish. Mostly Photoshop, occasionally Painter. I tend to use only two or three Photoshop brushes 90% of the time. These are just slight tweaks on the default brushes. I believe one is a charcoal pencil, one is a hard round set to pen pressure for both width and flow, and the other is a soft round brush set to pen pressure for flow only. I do feel like I need to expand my repertoire. I actually really love the look of watercolor and pencil, which I can’t seem to recapture with the current version of Painter.
MM: Where do you see yourself going with your art career?
BT: Unrealistically? I’d like to be paid ridiculous amounts of money to draw whatever I want to draw. To be honest, I actually have mixed feelings about doing client work. On one hand, I love the challenge that clients provide. They inspire me to draw things I would not otherwise think of. But it can also be a drain to only do client work, especially those jobs where I find myself trying to chase down some visual idea the client already has in their head. Some artists are probably great at that...I’m not one of them. That said, I would love to appear in one of the Spectrum annuals one day.
MM: Do you think talent is something you’re born with or can one work on it?
BT: Talent will give you a leg up, certainly, but anyone can work on it. But you can’t learn in a vacuum either: you need someone to push you, show you things that are invisible to yourself.
MM: What are some of your favourite artists, mentors or influences?
BT: Boringly standard. Milo Manara for, well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Frank Frazetta for that complete package of mystery, story telling, dynamic human forms and figures. Shane Glines for the way he pushes form and creates curiously appealing shapes. Claire Wendling who is, in my opinion, probably the modern artist who is most able to take me to the places that Frazetta did. There are plenty of others who have pushed me in one direction or another, but these four probably have had the deepest influence. Ask me tomorrow, and you’ll get a different answer.
MM: What are your Top 3 visited websites?
BT: I really enjoy http://babelab.blogspot.com/. Other than that I tend to hang out at the usual social networking sites: FaceBook and Deviant Art. I resisted Deviant Art for a long time because I had the impression it was all anime/manga all the time, but it turns out there are a whole lotta other artists there these days.
MM: Any words of advice or inspiration to anyone wanting to be a success?
BT: Work hard. Find someone to push you. Draw stuff that inspires you and it’ll show. Oh, and did I mention work hard? There are no shortcuts. Insights that completely transform the quality of your work, maybe. Sudden punctuated equilibrium-like bursts of creative genius, definitely. But all of that emerges from the grind.
MM: Thank you Ben for sharing some of your wisdom with us, everyone visit www.bentanart.com and bentanart.blogspot.com to find more of Ben’s work and of course on Sketchohoilc.com/BenTan.
BT: Thank you for the feature! Wisdom I leave to the Masters. I wouldn’t consider this anything more than random musings of a journeyman...