Next up in our Prints & Inks artist profiles is Andrew Benson, a designer, art director, illustrator and screenprinter based in Edmonton. Originally planning to go to school as a chef, his roots in the local DIY/punk scenes led him to pursue a creative career in graphic arts and communications, currently as art director for the ad agency Free, and freelance designing gig poster and album art for bands around town. Inspired by silly comics, photocopied textures, slimy creatures, wobbly lines and scribbled type, Andrew enhances the punk aesthetic of his illustrations through the limitations and imperfections of the screenprinting medium. He was awarded an an Applied Arts 2013 Illustration award for Editorial Illustrations.
Here’s what he had to say about his work:
1. Describe your path to becoming an illustrator and screenprinter.
It’s funny because most people will say they’ve been drawing since they were a kid, but to be honest I was never terribly good at art as a kid.
My little brother is a phenomenal painter and artist and was always expected to do some sort of creative career and my parents assumed I would go into engineering or carpentry given my affinity for building (and more likely) taking things apart.
After I started designing show posters as a teenager I got really into gig poster art and slowly started to try my hand at illustration. It’s only in the last 2 years or so that I started taking it really seriously. I worked in a screenprinting shop about 3 years right out of college, and that taught me a lot about printing and really started my love of that. A friend of mine moved out his house into apartment, so I inherited all his screenprinting gear and basically taught myself how to use it (with the help from awesome printmaking pals).
2. What are some of your influences? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love old photocopiers, stamped artwork, crappy old letterpress plates. Anything that derives it’s texture and imperfections from the medium is super cool. Basically the aesthetic of early 1990s emo and punk rock. Nothing gets me more stoked than a crappy old 7″ record sleeve with the artwork stamped in black on worn kraft paper.
I’ve always loved the look and feel of DIY/punk culture, which is why I’m drawn to screenprinting.
I could probably list influential and amazing artists all day. Dan Black (LandLand), Geoff Mcfetridge,Henry McCausland, Raymond Biesinger and Nick Butcher & Nadine Nakanishi (Sonnenzimmer), but honestly that list changes daily. I’m also very lucky to be pals with some crazy talented people in town, so it’s nice to see what they’re up to as well. Definitely keeps me going and pushing.
3. Describe your creative process when you decide to take on a project.
I have the worst creative process! It involves lost of procrastination and self doubt…but when I get past that it usually starts with me scribbling in a notebook of some kind. If I’m doing work for a band I’ll listen to a bunch of their music to try and get a vibe for the band. A lot of times, personal work starts as silly doodles I’m making when stuck in meetings at work or while watching TV.
Basically just lots of sketching and erasing and frustration and swearing.
4. A lot of your work is for the local music scene, like screenprinting posters and shirts. How did you get into it?
I never learned how to play an instrument as a teenager, so designing t-shirts, posters and album artwork was sort of my way of being part of the scene without having to deal with the crushing anxiety of performing music.
When friends finally convinced me to suck it up and join a band, artwork was my contribution past screaming and shrieking and lying on the floor. It balanced itself out. Pretty much all my friends play in bands too, so I get a lot of work that way, which is great! Designing for bands is a lot of fun, and I get paid in records and merch, so I almost always have rad new records to jam.
5. Currently you’re based in Edmonton. How’s it like living there as an artist? Pluses and minuses?
Pluses: Super awesome creative community that is supportive and friendly. In the grand scheme of things, Edmonton is a pretty small place, so it forces people to really produce great work. I’ve heard stories of art students in Calgary or Vancouver getting gallery shows right out of college…that just doesn’t happen in Edmonton, so if we want to be noticed, we have to create amazing work…which is always a great driving force.
Can’t afford to get lazy here. There’s a lot of opportunity to collaborate and work with people you look up to in Edmonton. It’s definitely a city that has had a bit of a identity crisis for a long time, and arts is finally starting to become a big part of the community, so I think people are really excited and hungry for it. It feels like a really exciting time to live here. Lots of cool new shops and galleries and restaurants popping up all the time.
Minuses: Winter. Frat Boys, rig pigs and conservatives that say “For the cost of that art we could have fixed all the potholes”. Ugh.
6. What’s one piece of advice you would you give to someone starting out as an illustrator or screenprinter right now?
Learn the limitations and strengths of your medium. It forces you to be creative and resourceful and makes you think more about size, amount of colors, opacity, blending, etc. It really helps you become a better artist and printmaker. Working in an apparel print shop for 3 years taught me more about the technical side of design and printing than any amount of schooling could have.
7. What creative projects are up next for you?
I recently signed a lease on a piece of crap/amazing building in downtown Edmonton with a few pals and creative partners. We’re slowly converting it into a gallery/studio space and print shop. I’ll be sharing space with Fort Heavy, this really awesome letterpress studio in town. Hopefully we’ll get up to lots of cool stuff and create some awesome work.
I like designing album artwork and it’s sort of been a staple of my freelance career…so there’s always something music related on the horizon.
I’d like to do more zines, so I think I’ll spend some time in the fall working out a few ideas I have for that. I want to do a mural soon too…haha, anyone want a mural??
I’m also headed down to Portland this July for an illustration conference. Really excited to see all the cool stuff that will be there!
8. Top 3 artists/illustrators/printmakers/designers you’re into right now?
Henry McCausland is super awesome. Really good mix of painted textures and super fine lines. He did this crazy giant xeroxed poster that I just got in the mail. It’s unreal!
Nathan Levasseur is a pal from Edmonton. He’s just starting out, but I feel like he’ll be a big deal in a few years. His brain works in bizarre ways and he’s always putting out really creative and awesome work.
James Heimer is doing some really cool stuff. He does a lot of band stuff, so I feel pretty inspired by that constantly.
9. Bonus question: Your favourite music artist/band/album?
Shotmaker. Best band to ever come out of Canada, and from Ottawa for bonus points. Maybe North of America too…depends on the day.