Ben Heine is a name every art teacher should know. His deceptively simple technique, which he calls ‘Pencil Vs Camera’, combines photographs with drawings transforming the image into something new. It has an illustrative quality that is often narrative or reveals a message. There is so much to engage students with and as it combines photography, drawing and imagination, it seems like the perfect art room project to me. Keep reading as I’ve been lucky enough to speak to Ben and get some first-hand tips for working in this way.
Ben Heine is a Belgium artist and entrepreneur who’s roots are in journalism and is self-taught in art and photography. His work has been exhibited and published worldwide and he has worked with high profile clients such as Samsung and Mazda. He also has a series of digital works called ‘Digital Circlism‘ (see below) and ‘Flesh and Acrylic‘ where he has camouflaged real people in paintings.
Ben has worked with lots of schools in Belgium, Canada, USA, France, Jordan and many more worldwide. I wanted to know more and asked him the following questions.
Did you enjoy art at school? Do you have any memories of art at school?
“I studied a bit of art at school in Belgium and at the academy of art in the UK, but it was a bit too formal for me. I always tried things differently that what I was told to do. I remember an art teacher telling me to not put black paint in my painting because it would make it look too dark and heavy, I think I did the exact opposite. I had to make trials and errors by myself. I think it would also have been nice to have more exercises to train creativity and imagination.”
Did you have a favourite teacher that inspired you?
“Yes, I had an amazing history of art teacher when I was about 17 year old, her name is Anne-Marie Lansmanne. I’m still in touch with her. We studied many art movements together in her class. She gave me the passion for history of art, for poetry and painting. My best memories are when we visited the Picasso Museum in Paris and when we travelled to Florence with the class. She was a really passionate person herself.”
After school, where did you study? How did you end up as a successful artist?
“I completed a Masters Degree in Journalism in Belgium. I also studied marketing in The Netherlands and sculpture in the UK. One of my creative original concepts titled Pencil Vs Camera was published worldwide. This helped me to work with many brands and companies.”
Do you keep a sketchbook?
“I have about 20 old sketchbooks and thousands of rough sketches and drawings. I’m not keeping new sketchbooks but I do some studies for my new projects.”
Where and how do you find inspiration?
“My artistic work is mainly the result of new experiences I live. I’m like a sponge, everything around me inspires me. Life is always full of surprises and stimulations. My ideas often come by accident, while I am doing something totally random, like taking a shower or having a walk outside.
I’m inspired by the people around me, by music and nature. I’m also inspired by the daily world news and social injustices. I really like Journalism. I think artists are some kind of creative journalists but without political association. It is important for artists to be creative mirrors of the society they live in.”
I wanted to know more about how Ben Heine goes about creating his artworks. Below he describes four different ways to approach this way of working.
“A) (Traditional way ++) Make a crazy drawing on paper, take a picture of your hand holding it with a nice landscape behind. When it’s possible, try to draw things that are more or less connected with the environment behind the paper or it won’t work very well but don’t forget that there needs to be a contrast between your imagination and the reality of the photo (this is the technique I have used most of the time).
B) (Traditional way+) Take a photo of a great place, print it, make a surreal drawing still connected with the atmosphere of the photo, place the drawing over the picture with your hand holding it, take a new picture of this composition, reframe and retouch the arrangement afterwards if necessary.
C) (Digital way+) Take a photo of your hand holding the paper with a drawing on it, take another photo of any landscape, match them and assemble them aftertwards in any digital photo editing software.
D) (Digital way++) Make a full digital work : create a digital drawing over a digital painting (landscape + paper), you don’t even need a camera if you choose this method, but you’ve got to have some serious skills in painting to make everything look natural…”
I particularly love the image below. Wouldn’t it make a great ‘Identity’ project?
Click the image below for a free presentation on artist Ben Heine which has been created with lots of input from Ben himself. It has been made specifically for art teachers to use in the classroom.
There are also great resources for teachers on Ben Heine’s website where he has a page for schools which include lessons plans. There is also a brilliant gallery on his Facebook page that includes inspiring student examples. Be sure to check it out!