Artist Interview: Ben Weiland

Ben Weiland is a German born artist who moved to North County San Diego at the age of thirteen. He studied graphic design at Point Loma Nazarene University and has since started Arctic Surf Blog, been a contributor to Surfer Magazine, and most recently he went on a trip down to the South Island of New Zealand to write and illustrate an article for Surfer. (Check out his his Storybook Land construction paper time lapse we posted a few weeks ago in you missed it…)

From what I have seen you have a pretty extensive bag of tricks. What mediums of art do you work with? Is there a favorite?

I enjoy working with graphic design and type, illustration, construction paper, and a little bit with music and photography. Most of all, I love coming up with ideas for new creative projects that encompass a variety of artistic disciplines and putting them all together.

How did you get your start in art? Do you have any formal training or just learned on your own?

Since I was a kid I’ve loved drawing. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My parents were very supportive. They told me that if I wanted to work as an artist or designer, I would need to set a very high standard. I’m very thankful for the challenge. By the time I applied to college, I knew that I wanted to get a degree in graphic design. I learned from teachers and fellow students, and from teaching myself through books and looking at other artists. One of the aspects I enjoy in art is teaching myself. When something inspires me, it drives me to create.

What makes art and surfing work so well together? In other words, it seems like the two go hand in hand. What do you think is the connection that leads one to the other and vice versa?

I think it’s because surfing is done in nature, and a lot of art is inspired by our experience in nature. Not only that, but surfing is incredibly elusive. There are many geological and meteorological conditions around the globe that we don’t see that come together to create good surfing conditions. We see the waves themselves, but we can’t see the ocean floor, where the swell is being made, or where the wind comes from. We have to rely on indicators and signs. So there tends to be a feeling of mystery and imagination about it, and a desire to capture the fleeting moment.

As an artist, where do you find your inspiration to keep creating? Do you think you will ever get to a point where you stop?

A lot of inspiration comes from seeing other people’s art, and that challenges me to create something myself. With the amount of work that is available to look through on the internet, it is much easier to find reference points. The downside is that if everyone has the same watering holes to find inspiration, then art and design will become more and more homogenous. It’s important to refer to personal experiences so that your art tells a story from your own perspective. Influences are instrumental in art, so it’s good to understand where they are coming from and what they are doing to your work.

Growing up in Germany and then moving to San Diego, were you introduced to surfing once coming to the US? Or do you think you’d be surfing rivers and find ways to get to the ocean if you had stayed in Germany?

I don’t think I would have been surfing in Germany, but I’m not sure, because I would love to try river surfing. I was surprised to meet some German guys surfing in Oceanside a few months ago, it was awesome! I didn’t know you could surf there. They said that it can get pretty fun. When I came to San Diego I was attracted to surfing because it seemed dangerous and amazing. I didn’t understand how it was possible to feel so comfortable out in the ocean. I also was interested because I thought surfing might make me less of a nerd.

For you, what is the best part of being an artist? What do you find hard about being an artist?

The best part is seeing an idea become real. In the beginning there is nothing but the concept, and whatever you create has to rest on the foundation of that concept, so hopefully it’s a good one. A lot of times I’ll get started on something and be halfway finished, when I realize that it’s not working because the concept wasn’t good. Then I have to start from the beginning. The challenges of making art include feeling uninspired, unoriginal, or that I won’t meet my own or other people’s expectations, or not having as much time as I’d wish to work on projects. But I think the things that block the art and design processes are the things that can actually lead to something new and interesting.

What made you start a blog about “arctic surfing” when you live in sunny Southern California? What got you interested?

I was curious about whether the best waves on the planet remained undiscovered. Maybe they are in places no one would ever care to visit. Surfing in polar regions sounded outrageous, and it didn’t seem like there was much written about it.

Seems like it’s an untapped niche of surfing that most surfers avoid…cold water, unknown places, and severe weather. But you have some pretty unreal information and photos that I would imagine takes some research and knowledge of knowing where to look. How do you go about your investigation for your next post?

A lot of times I’ll look at a map and see an island or coastline that looks interesting, near a body of water that has a large fetch. Then I’ll search for it online and look through old scientific photo archives. There are many websites and blogs that journal about geology and ornithology in remote regions. I look for pictures that show the coastline in them, or I’ll look on Google Earth or Nasa’s satellite photo archive. I try to focus on cold places that are not commonly known to be good for surfing.

What have you learned about surfing in the arctic since starting your blog that you wouldn’t have otherwise known?

It is surprisingly expensive and time-consuming to actually get to some of these places, and the weather and swell conditions are very unpredictable. It would be interesting to see future expeditions document new waves around the poles, but it is a large risk to invest in a trip like that. I think it is happening more and more, but it will be a while before some of the really remote areas are visited by surfers. It’s exciting to think that there is still so much to explore.

What’s next for Ben Weiland? Any art shows or new projects in the works?

I have a few more ideas in line that I am currently working on. I’m working on artwork for fin templates and I’ve been thinking of extending the cardboard cutout lineup scene into a series. Also, I have an idea for a book series on surf exploration and I’m working on making some of my surf art interactive. I am also looking into new coastlines around the world to feature on Arctic Surf Blog and planning a few trips, including one to Alaska in May, and another trip later this year with surf photographer Chris Burkard. I’m really excited about surf spots in weird places.

For more on Ben, be sure to check out:

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