Hello fellow comic book nerds and nerdettes! This is We Love Your Work #2, where we spotlight creators, writers, and artist we admire. We will discuss their work, careers, and share personal stories about their impact and influence.
By trade, Ben Robley is an arts educator and painter. His work is vibrant and whimsical. Ben attended Towson University just outside of Baltimore where he received a B.S. in Fine Arts. In 2011, Ben enrolled in Art Education program at the University of Maryland Baltimore College (UMBC) and would go on to earn a Masters in Art Education. He then transitioned out of the corporate world and took a job teaching art at a school for children and teens with emotional disabilities in Baltimore City. Ben also serves on the board of the Baltimore City based non-profit: Art with a Heart.
Ben Robley and art teachers like him across the country deserve our recognition for their contributions to the artistic community through their own original work as well as the young people they inspire to pursue the arts.
Check out Ben Robley’s “The Artist, the Knight, and the Teacher” and our interview with him below…
When I was very young, I went to daycare. At daycare, my fellow kiddos and I would spend a lot of time watching television shows and playing Nintendo. The shows alternated between the girl favorites and the boy favorites, for example: Gem, GIJoe, The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Price is Right. Everyone loved the Price is Right with Bob Barker. This was the mid-80s and with all this media exposure, I got pretty good at guessing the price of various canned goods and I would frequently remind people to “always spay and neuter your pets.” At some point in my voracious analogue consumption, I got bored. I got bored of watching TV, Mario was repetitive, and who couldn’t beat Duck Hunt once you realized you could put the laser gun thing directly against the television.
If I recall right, I had experienced this revelation in the 4th grade so I ditched the TV and started drawing. I drew a lot and on everything. I would draw on leftover computer paper with the cool perforated holed strips on the side, drew in the sand at the beach during family vacations, and stayed up late drawing on a white geometrical IKEA desk in my bedroom. I was a machine drawing Ninja Turtles, Bob Barker, He-Man, and Ninja Turtles. Ok, so maybe I didn’t totally ditch TV and Video Games, but that is what got me into art. I just needed a way to help my brain process all the media and stories flowing into my little brain.
Who are your greatest influences when it comes to your artistic style?
This is a question that has always frustrated me because I feel like my art style is a product of everything I have ever looked at. My personal definition of art is a physical process by which a person interprets a stimulus and creates a physical response that others can react to. I know that sounds overly general, effectively I view an artist as someone who is a “filter.” My greatest influences are the things that I encounter every day as they inspire me to filter out a message. Art is similar to a martial art, where engaging with the act of art making is transformative for the art maker. Art is a process of “learning to see”.
With the above in mind, here is a list of artists that deserve a “Honorable Mention” for the space they occupy in my brain.
First, my teachers over the years: John Habercam who constantly hounded me to use “darker darks”, Nora Sturges who taught me how to use color, Tonia Matthews who taught me printmaking, and Cindy Rehm who opened my eyes to alternative art expression through performance and ritual.
Other influential artists include: Henri Matisse, Frida Khalo, Gustav Klimpt, Katsushika Hokusai, Marc Chagall, Eric Fischl, Brom, Maurice Sendak, Banksy, Sweettoof, Jean-Michelle Basquiat, Ryan Miller, and Romare Bearden. I could go on and on as this topic is a very deep rabbit hole. Youtube is a lovely place to absorb interesting works of art.
Is there anything in particular, outside of other artists, that you find inspires or informs your art? (e.g. authors, books, music, films)
Everything I said in question 2 applies here.
Honorable Mentions for Entertainment related Brain Space:
George Lucas (even the bad stuff is good, admit it), Tolkien, Robert Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), Any game that uses 20 sided dice, William Gibson (Neuromancer), Philip K Dick, Bethesda Games (“Fallout” & “Elder Scrolls”), Jack Chalker (Dancing Gods Series), George RR Martin (Song of Ice and Fire), Old top down NES RPGs (“Final Fantasy” & “Dragon Warrior”), Conan the Barbarian, Westerns, Kung-Fu flicks, and any movie rated 1 star on Netflix.
Honorable Mentions for Mental and Emotional Growth:
Teaching, working with at risk students in Baltimore City, reading about History (“1471” & “Guns, Germs, & Steel”), Bill Bryson (A walk in the woods), walking in Maryland’s parks, spending time time with the family, and listening to my surroundings.
Is there something you can tell us about your process that is unique to you? (e.g. materials, tools, software)
I love technology but am a Luddite when it comes to writing and drawing. When it comes to illustration, I prefer a hard bound sketchbook and pencils to any other medium. A close second favorite is a choice between oil paint, watercolor, or block printing. I act like an old man sometimes behind closed doors.
When you begin a piece, do you typically have an idea in mind of what you want that piece to be or does it evolve in a more fluid manner?
When writing I prefer to start with the ending. I like to be able to distill a book down to a sentence so that I can be certain that the story, side-arcs, and imagery all reflect the tone of the core theme. Once I have a strong ending, I then try to realize real characters. With real characters, the story kind of writes itself as characters need to change and experience to become what I want them to be for my chosen ending. The process is both structured and fluid as ideas tend to float in which can cause both moments of both great excitement and utter failure. The key is to be resilient and write through the tough spots. There was a fantastic TED talk that discussed this very issue, if you would like to listen to it then click here. (Although the whole talk is good, skip to 12:24 for my favorite part that specifically addresses the creative process.)
If you could see any artist, living or dead, create art based on any comic character of your choice, who would that artist be and what character would you choose?
Do you have any projects that you would like tell our audience about?
Absolutely, please check out my article on the upcoming Art With a Heart fundraiser…
If you could choose 5 people, living or dead, fictional or nonfictional, to be on your side in a bar fight, who would they be?
For more of We Love Your Work, check out We Love Your Work #1: Jo Chen
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