Meet Benjamin Zayas
What's your background?
Originally, I’m from Florida, via Maryland, but I've spent most of my life in Eastern Tennessee. Knoxville is my current home, and where I spent most of my formative years collecting comic books, exploring nature, and desperately seeking outside influences.
Most of my artistic, musical, literary, and cinematic tastes came from a desire to stand out from the crowd around me and explore new styles, voices, and ideas that I didn’t see every day.
Knoxville was, for most of my life, a fairly quiet little spot in the South that provoked weirdos like me to seek something bigger, bolder, and wilder. It was probably a combination of this atmosphere, my severe ADD, and the odd mixture of scientific curiosity and my creative nature that led me to art as a form of expression.
I bought comic books to copy the artwork, I bought fashion magazines to draw actual human beings, and I bought art books to find masters who could inspire me to do it better. Eventually I had an actual art class, with a real teacher, in my second attempt at college where I learned the simple structure I had been missing for most of my early art years. I learned color theory (a true blessing), design theory, and was introduced to a variety of tools I never thought I’d be able to use.
What's your medium of choice when you're creating art?
I use a wide variety of tools when I create, but it almost always begins with one tool. A pencil is my favorite tool, and a mechanical one specifically, because it never gets dull (pun intended).
Since the 5th grade my favorite pencil has been the Pentel P205, which is a 0.5mm graphite pencil with capped eraser. It’s sleek–black with chrome accents–and feels indestructible. In fact, I still have the one I used in middle school, somewhere. A few years ago I purchased a Japanese Pentel pocket pencil, which uses a 0.3mm lead, and is a very tiny tool. To round out my graphite tools I use a simple graphite holder, and a 1mm lead. Using these three, I've created nearly all of my graphite portraits.
For color I alternate between Prismacolor colored pencils (I have about 45 colors) and Copic markers, but currently I am working on watercolor, using a travel kit that I absolutely adore, by Cotman and Windsor Newton. It’s a real challenge to rethink how I apply color, but I just love the results and finding techniques that work exclusively in that medium.
How did you build your creative habit?
The biggest key, in my opinion, to staying focused and creating a habit is to keep telling yourself that it’s ALWAYS a process. There is no end to it, and there shouldn’t be. It’s okay to feel that your work isn’t as good as it could be, as long as you are constantly learning from your mistakes and successes, as long as you are constantly trying to find ways to do it better, and as long as you can make it fun and enjoyable.
When you find yourself in a creative rut, how do you get out of it?
When I do have creative blocks, and they come more often than I like to admit, I will go into explore mode, which is wide open. I look at source photos, I look at other people’s artwork, I listen to new music and I often just shift gears to try something completely new. But I always tell myself, that no matter what, I’m at least doing something. I can improve upon it later, I can add to it, I can digitally transform it, but you have to have something to work with, and it’s always a process. Always moving forward. If you stop, you simply aren’t moving anymore, and you’ll have to get back up to speed . . . and that’s always my least favorite part, getting back to that flow.
It’s worth forcing it for a while, and just drawing something every day, to get to the point where it just comes naturally if only to avoid having to go through that awkward forcing stage again. And, like so many other things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I can definitely attest to that, because creating every day has allowed me to overcome so many crutches that were actually impeding my progress, and speed.
Years ago I would spend an entire evening just prepping a piece before I actually began drawing on it. Now, if the mood strikes me, I can just pick up a pencil and draw exactly what I see with a decent amount of accuracy. That took a lot of time and dedicated practice, but it’s totally doable. Seriously.
Which of your recent Sktchy artworks most expresses who you are now as an artist?
The portrait I did of Mic Leboeuf from May 2nd. I decided to try something new and return to painting using many of the techniques I’ve learned in the last few years. I am currently attempting to bridge the gap between my semi-formal training and becoming a more academic artist (in the classical sense). I’d like my artwork to show the amount of work and study I put into it, while retaining the human element of inaccuracies, blunders, and interpretation.
This piece truly felt like I had succeeded in coming one step closer to that goal, and I was so proud of the effort that I actually signed the piece in the medium . . . which I very rarely do, but should probably start doing.