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“Craft your style carefully to own it!”: Shanee Benjamin, Catapult Artist for February 2020
“Find a unique niche and rock out! Understand that your illustration style is yours.”
We came across Shanee Benjamin’s work while looking through Instagram (for work, of course). Her bold and bright style depicting intimate scenes immediately drew us in. Imagine our excitement when she said yes to being our Catapult Artist for February! Shanee worked on a mix of pieces for the magazine—some essays for Black History Month, some new columns—all of them beautiful, blending wonderfully with Shanee’s own art.
Matt Ortile: When did you know you first wanted to become an illustrator?
Shanee Benjamin: I’m actually not an illustrator!
I’m a designer who likes to illustrate.
Graphic design is my passion and what I studied in school. I liked to draw as a kid, but didn’t want to pursue an “art” career. About three years ago, I started playing with vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator and it was fun. People started to like my work and it took off from there!
That’s a cool approach to the whole thing, I think. Makes it a bit more laid-back. I’m curious then about your creative process. What’s it like?
It’s random, to be honest. I get bored very easily, so it takes me a while to finish a piece. Sometimes inspo strikes while I’m doing everyday tasks, sometimes I see an image that I like and then I add my own spin to it. It’s mostly based on how I’m feeling at the moment.
Yeah, there’s a lightness, or kind of an easy-going vibe to your work. So how do you get your pieces in front of people? We first found you on Instagram, which feels like the most obvious channel these days.
I post on Instagram a lot. That’s about it. As much as I want exposure, I actually don’t. It’s hard to get exposure without your personal life being scrutinized. So I post randomly and sporadically—just enough so that people remember my work, but aren’t interested enough in my day-to-day.
Totally. It’s nice to have some kind of buffer between your art and your personal life. What kind of challenges do you face as an artist then? How do you tackle them?
So far, the only challenge I’m seeing for myself is that I’m stuck in an LGBTQ genre, which—I am gay, but my illustrations are more than just queer love. I’m trying to include more illustrations that aren’t targeted to LGBTQ audiences, but people don’t seem to like them as much.
Do you have mentors in the field or the industry? If not mentors, then who or what do you look to for that drive or motivation?
I don’t have mentors! My drive comes from my dislike of working in an office, so I motivate myself so I can continue to be self-sufficient.
What tips would you give to emerging illustrators trying to make a career in art?
Find a unique niche and rock out! Invest in the tools you need: iPad, Procreate, a printer, et cetera. Understand that your illustration style is yours, so craft your style carefully to own it!
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A Roundtable With the PEN America Best Debut Short Stories Judges: Tracy O’Neill, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Deb Olin Unferth
So many of the stories I liked best played with understatement and a sort of quiet, confident pacing.
“In illustration, we have to understand the writer's mind as much as we can to make the work.”
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“Conveying emotions, narratives, stories. This, I believe, is at the core of all art.”
“I’ve wrapped my business model around my kiddo and his schedule and changing needs. That has been a decision I’ve never regretted.”
Learning to apply my curiosity wherever it’s needed has made my illustration career more fun and maybe more successful, too.