Saturday, August 26, 2017

He Said He Didn't Like Cartoony Art, I Went Full Toon


Most modern artists will end up having to talk to this special class of people called gallerists. They are the gatekeepers that get you in and out of the art scene. Here's a brief discussion I had with an LA gallerist:

Gallerist: "I like your art."
Me: "Thank you."
{fifteen minute (or more) art networking jibber jabber ensues}
Gallerist: "Hmmmm...well...we don't do cartoony art."
Me: "Well thank you for your time." *

My art has been called many things "fun", "colorful", "whimsical", "saturated", "odd", "anime-like", and so on, but this was the first guy that ever used the word "cartoony". At the time, my work wasn't *that* toon-like to me. So the gallerist's statement stuck out. If the cartoon label was the sticking point for this person, it could also the focal point for other people. By pushing my art even further in the cartoon direction, I would attract more people that would recognize the pop art influences.

For my purposes, I'll call it "toon-shading".

While it makes sense to me, I actually have to be more careful about making sure that I I'm communicating that I have more that surface visuals going with my art. This isn't just eye candy or something "fun" to me. People's gut reactions are to be expected, but I have to be careful about falling into holes I can't get out of...like the bad pop art hole.

Anyway, maybe the toon-shaded look won't work out and I'll have to go with something else. Maybe it will work out, and I'll suddenly be that cartoony guy. Either way, the art isn't having the desired conversation, then I have to change what I'm saying with it. Such is the way.

- Mr Benja -

*Note on talking with gallerists/galleries: 
The quick back and forth is basically how a good portion of art meetings with galleries go, and that's okay. You can replace "cartoon art" with whatever sticking point they have. They want to keep people interested and they want to have a stable of artists around that they can use, but they usually don't envision a use for you right away. It's a timing and numbers game. I'm not mad at it, but it can be annoying.

Also, it's not that I wouldn't work with that gallery guy in the future, but there were more promising opportunities to pursue at the time. Anyone looking to get into a gallery or museum situation should  build a relationship with that gallery and take their time. Leave doors open for working with gallerists, but don't waste time going on a fool's errand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When? Every. Fucking. Day.

The Everyday Minis



Every. Fucking. Day.

I'm making a commitment. Right now. To release a painting every day, ad infinitum. This blog post is going to be my accountability metric. These little things have gotten me places I didn't expect, so I'm just going to keep doing them. They've turned out to be a better investment than I initially thought. But how did this all get started? Most every art advisor has told me to "go big". While that's not generally bad advice, I've learned that it's the small things that count. 

I didn't really set out to create pieces of diminutive art, but they were started as a way to form habitual painting practice. I got the idea after seeing how heavy some artists got for Giant Robot's Post-It Note show, where all art is created on a 3x3 inch Post-It. After wondering how much (or how little) work it would take, I created a few pieces, and it was cool! And since I'd already created a few powerup styled paintings that were relatively small, this wasn't that far of a leap for me. So the next art event that came around, I displayed the notes, and they sold! Huh. 

That was nice, but it wasn't enough to get me cranking them out. I was more interested in selling larger paintings and needed to feel like an artist creating his latest masterpiece. "GO BIG!" kept ringing in my head. But I was trying be more habitual, and with the minis I saw the opportunity for a good habits to be built. So far, it's been working.

Here are some results I've seen from working on the minis:
  1. Ideas manifest more quickly.
  2. Concepts are explored without a heavy investment.
  3. Public reactions to ideas are gauged/measured.
  4. I remain in closer contact with the audience.
  5. Processes are refined and developed faster.
  6. The older ladies tell me, "They're fun."
  7. Break through artists' block easier.
So while I'm doing these, I'll continue creating larger paintings. They have a feeling all their own, and I won't screw with that dynamic, but in the meantime, you can see them as they're posted:

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Pixel Aesthetic



I never liked pixel art as an aesthetic. For the most part, I felt the look was a bit kitsch. It felt like an odd throwback to the days of retro video gaming and bad graphics. (Because it was.) And that's not to say I disliked pixellation, I just didn't have a strong affinity for it. I feel the same way about polka-dots and most electronic dance music. In the 2000s and the early 2010s, I'd seen many uses of the form on Etsy, on Tumblr blogs, at conventions, and in indie games. 

My own venture, The 8-Bit Cubist, attempted to be something interesting in terms of art that respected people that came from that era, but was not "geek" in the traditional sense. We strove to be more than kitsch. In fact, We heavily restricted the use of pixel art as a way of expressing ourselves. The 8-Bit referred to where we came from, not a definition of a visual or stylistic period. So in that sense, using pixels (what are literally 8-bit graphics to people) would have confused the message.

But recently, I've rethought what the look means to people in 2017. I believe that we're far enough away from the hipster-retro aspect of pixels, that I can confidently present the look without communicating the wrong thing. The hand-painted pixels can be seen as representing art created traditionally in contrast to computer generated images that no longer maintain such a primitive look.

It's a continuing study into a complex conversation about the reality and the fantasy, the timeless and the temporary, the organic and the synthetic, and of course, the medium and the message.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I Just Hit The Reset Button

While I was working on moving to a new station in life, my parents, Earl and Shirley, passed away. This occurred around the time when I was starting to play with pixel art, so this happened:


Creating their images was honestly the weirdest creative feeling I've ever had. Most other projects are just jobs, but this was the first time I'd tried to recreate family members. I would move a pixel to the wrong spot and feel frustrated or disappointed. Then I'd move another and feel happy because I could actually feel when I was getting closer to their likeness. Moving the mouse was like operating a ouija board as I felt my way around. *shivers*

I was happy with what I'd created, but I started to become aware that these pixels weren't just a thing to do. They were reflecting my thoughts and feelings. These images made me think of my parents' life teachings. They often expressed that I should always do what I think I should be doing. Sound simple? Yep. You're right.

Recently, I'd noticed in my art and life is that I wanted extraneous factors to be removed. That included what I ate, scheduled, drew, posted, created, etc. I wanted to do more, but I needed to remove unnecessary friction. To accomplish this, I made simple guidelines. For example, I decided to avoid high-fructose corn syrup. Just avoid HFCS, and you'll live a better life. And it worked for me. There was a little bit of work when reading labels, but that part was easy. The hard part was figuring out a good rule that makes sense for a given position in life. You can also view it as avoiding bullshit.

With pixels, I have found a way to make my art communication easier. It's a simplification that provides a stronger message. With this new outlook, I feel like I can face the day with a new outlook. I feel like I just hit the Reset button.

Thanks, Mom.
Thanks, Dad.

- Mr Benja -


Bonus Note:
I wrote this blog post and several others numerous times before deleting them many times over. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with what I was doing. Then I realized that the hosted Wordpress blog on my site was bugging me for quite a few reasons. I have now jumped over to Blogger to create a fresh start. Heck, I'm even using the free 'Simple' theme. It says so at the bottom of the page. 🙂

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Empowered Up

(Note: This is an older post republished for this blog.)


From "Mr Benja's Ice Cream Social" in North Park, San Diego.


Hearts, hats, weapons, tools, fruit, candy, icons, symbols, … I use all of these to empower life through art. Just a little push to get through the day. A focal point for the thoughts of the month. A reminder that this year will be better. In general, as a way to empower myself and others. Might sound goofy, but it’s true. I realized the power of ar when I was younger and traveling with my parents. They took me to the Picasso museum in Spain so that we could all experience something great. I didn’t know what I was really looking at, but they patiently informed me that I was viewing really important artwork. I took their word for it, but I didn’t get it. I just guessed he was famous.

At the end of our art day, we found ourselves inside the museum cafĂ©. I noticed a napkin with an image of a house on it and wanted to know who’s drawing was on it. It was an extremely adept sketch and it was on a disposable cloth! Wait. It was an early Picasso work? You mean the SAME guy with the grotesque paintings we’d seen all day did this as a kid? Everything changed. I felt like I knew nothing about how the world worked.

That small work of art shifted my entire paradigm. Everything I thought I knew about life had changed in one brief moment. That may sound like hyperbole, but these artists and their weren’t exactly real to me until then. The context in the art had now been made clear. I was now connected to the most primal forces of the universe. I was connected. Hell, I felt like the food critic in Ratatouille. (You know the scene I’m talking about.)

So to this day, the lesson of the napkin still sticks with me. It was a symbol of learning, travel, skill, misinterpretation, abstraction, wisdom, guidance, and so much else boiled down into a microcosm of lines on paper. Ever since that moment, I started making a conscious effort to keep things in my environment that powered me up and connected me in some way.

Art is functional and important to me. It can touch lives. So as pretentious as it may sound, I want to invigorate the observer with tangible sensations. Or maybe it’s just halfway decent wall candy. Hopefully though, when you walk past a piece of art, you get powered up.
– Mr Benja –

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Holiday

(Note: This is an import from my older blog. It wasn't working for me.)


The 2017 New Year is here. I hadn't thought of it before, but this is my favorite time of the year.  Not like the partying or celebrating, I mean the resolutions and change part. A new year is a great time to enforce internal growth and change. There's something about the it that makes it easier to move forward. It starts from sometime after Halloween and goes all the way through the first week of the New Year. I find myself thinking about where I've been and where I plan to go. (Huh...that's about 20% of the year thinking about what the other 80% will be.)

For those that don't know me, I make plans, but don't speak on them very often. I've usually got something in motion, and talking about it doesn't do much for me. I've never been very good at getting much support from people by simply speaking. I'm just not good at it. I prefer to let  results move the needle. Unfortunately, this strategy can be frustrating in this blah-blah-blah era. Action as communication also has the benefit of forcing me to create actual assets that can be publicly released.

I've been talking about a blog for a while, but it was time to actually do it. I'll figure it out. I like to think of it as my own slice of Internet real estate that's uniquely mine. I had a blog a long while ago, but deleted it in the face of such tools as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But things have turned out a little differently than expected. Those outlets have a strong bias to what their audience expects. Because the message ends up being the medium, right? (I mean anything is possible. I read a book publishing article thoughtfully written up on Imgur, but I can't go around suggesting that it's the best place for you to post such work.) In the end, my own webpage is the only place where I can reasonably keep things in improper working disorder.

And before I go too far with this, I'd like to list some credits to people that I've picked up some positive cues from: Seth Godin, Chuck D, Mike Rowe, Tim Ferriss, Elizabeth Warren, Boyce Watkins, Bobby Hundreds, Guy Kawasaki, Shaun King, Kevin Smith, Rachel Maddow, Robert Greene, Scott Adams, Philip DeFranco, Beyoncé, David Choe, Kevin Kelly, Micah White, Cenk Uygur, Shane Smith, Tariq Nasheed, Kaws, Colin Kaepernick, Ries & Ries, Robert Scoble, Shepard Fairey, Eddie Huang, Joe Rogan, Lil B, Pharrell Williams, Earl & Shirley, Big Mal, Elijah Mobley, Lisa 'n' Lori, and others.
As for the plans for 2017?

They'll manifest when it's time.