THE BIG QUESTION – Artist Benjamin Vincent / by Bo Gerard

For my next series of blogs, I am going to profile some of the great artists and performers I have worked with in the last 40 years and ask THE question I have always wanted to ask them – The Big Question - at the end.

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This week’s profile is of my good and very talented friend, Benjamin Vincent, a freelance illustrator based in Dallas. Almost a Texas native, he has drawn for advertising agencies, been an artist scribe, illustrated notes for meetings, done book illustrations, and is a well-known caricature artist drawing digital caricatures, classic caricatures on paper and fashion vogue sketch; making people look great for events large and small. http://www.caricatureartists.biz

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What were your influences? My mom started University while we were in elementary school with a degree plan in Art Education. We grew up talking about art, talking about all the artists Mom liked. The French impressionist felt like family friends. As a kid, I loved the story tellers like Norman Rockwell, NC Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, and Maurice Sendak…. as well as Mad Magazine artists like Jack Davis and Mort Drucker- those guys seemed like “gods” to me.

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What other jobs have you had? Well, various odd jobs as a young teenager and then I started working at Six Flags in ’75. I was really just a “kid,” and not really knowing much, I thought that was the height of success. I worked as a portrait artist for a couple of months then transitioned to drawing caricatures: drawing profiles on over-head projectors for $1.97 + tax…. it was all commission. Our take home was about .60 a sketch. It wasn’t much, but it was better than minimum wage. That was a great time, learning from the other artists and their influences while getting paid. I worked there a couple of years while attending local college before going to Art Center College of Design in California. Received my BFA in illustration and returned to Dallas in the early 80’s to work as an illustrator and always doing caricatures on the side.

Do you have any hobbies? Big surprise: I love to sketch and paint, which mostly happens when we are on vacation. My wife and I love to hike, so we look for opportunities when we take a break to explore.

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Can you tell me about some of the highlights in your career? Working as an illustrator, I've had a few cool projects, like traveling with Ford Motor Company to sketch out the vision for future plans for various business groups. I did this for several years and had a great time going to meetings in Detroit, London, Sweden, Germany and Brazil.  Myself and a couple of other illustrator banded together to have a studio at 3910 Bowser Ave, where we can take on large storyboard projects and turn them around overnight. Storyboards and Comps for ad agencies became my bread and butter for many years. It's not high art or food for the spirit, it was like a regular job. Of course, I'm always drawing caricatures at all kinds of events, both classic and digital, and for various corporate clients and individuals.

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What was the craziest gig you ever did? There have been some fun ones, an especially a memorable one was in Hollywood. I started doing fashion Vogue sketch and an agent I worked with said she had a job out in LA area that would pay no more than the usual College gigs and cover travel. It was the pre-Emmy's party with all the stars, talent, producers, etc. in attendance. You know the experience, you look across the room and say that looks just like that actor… stopping yourself realizing it is that actor. I sketched a number of big names in TV, and as I was sketching one lady I commented on how cool she was dressed, and she said to her husband standing behind me, “Hey honey, the artist likes the way I’m dressed." I finished the sketch and she said, "Oh, can you include my husband in the sketch too?" She filled the entire page and there was only a corner where I could place someone looking over her shoulder. I said, "sure we can squeeze him in.” I turned around to see the husband was none other than Tim Allen! He told me stories of his woebegone attempts at art that were so unsuccessful that he decided to try acting. Really nice guy. My drawing of him in his leather jacket behind his wife made him look like a stalker!

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What has changed the most in your business in the last 10 years? Well besides growing 10 years older, which has been a trip in how people perceive me, because I still feel like a kid having a good time. Most notably though is working at improving my skills as a caricature artist, like attending caricature conventions, and I can see huge improvements in my work, pace, and style. About 10 years ago, I started drawing digital caricatures at events. The equipment and pricing have changed to make it easier to set up and break down. So, these days, it is an exciting time to sketch on paper, as I get a better “feeling” for what needs to be exaggerated in each person. It's that first impression that takes time to develop. Working on the computer at events always prepare one for the unexpected, which is almost every event. Learning the new programs and expanding my working knowledge of all aspects of the technology we're using now really keeps all of us on our toes and keeps it fun.

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THE BIG QUESTION - As a caricature artist, you have to make a quick assessment of your subject and exaggerate some aspect of their appearance. How do you know where to draw the line between drawing what you feel and drawing something that the client will like? Drawing caricatures at events is interesting because of the rapidity of assessments, you feel a lot, trying to connect with people and create a drawing. My general rule of thumb is “make everyone look good”. I want them to leave feeling good about themselves. It used to be only women I wanted to make look good; however, I’m often surprised when men are sensitive to various exaggerations. Caricaturing is about feeling the weight and shapes proportions of a head to feel what needs to be exaggerated, but also understanding the person's character or personality. Looking at someone before drawing the artist takes in that first impression of weight distribution and space between nose, mouth, eyes, fore head, ears, asking the question is there more weight above or below the eyes. It’s the water balloon principle if you squeeze the top of the balloon the mass shifts below, squeeze at bottom and it goes above. To exaggerate one thing something else is made smaller, the mass has to go somewhere. For example, editorial cartoons that have hilarious exaggerations is relying on the first impression of what makes that person’s likeness. Most caricature artist don’t exaggerate just one thing; some features are reduced in size, some enlarged. At events exaggeration is admittedly dialed back a bit so not to offend. If the person is joking and we have a rapport in those first few seconds when they sit down for the sketch, then I push the exaggeration for a greater laugh.