Let’s Talk SHOP: Ben Keffer

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

The artist with his family. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Words are powerful. Innovative and memorable quotes can leave a lasting impression on all of us. When we hear well-thought out words and phrases they can offer focus, motivation, and even perspective. For artist Ben Keffer, founder of Wandering Press, words offer inspiration! Ben brings meaningful excerpts and quotes to life through his hand-drawn and hand-printed designs. His artwork engages you, as the viewer, by asking you to discover the woven quotes and phrases hidden within the image. And when you see his powerful work, you can’t help but feel a connection. This week in the Shop, we’ll better understand Ben’s artistic process and voice!


“I am originally from the small town of Johnstown, Ohio, on the east side of Columbus. When I was young we had these VHS tapes of a program called McGee and Me, in which a kid draws a cartoon character and it comes to life. Throughout the series the boy and his cartoon companion have adventures, but mostly learn things like listen to your parents or don’t lie. All good things, however, my takeaway was, “I want a drawing to come to life!” I have been painting, drawing, and creating ever since. 

The start of Wandering Press was actually the fault of my wife, Nicole Moore, who is an immensely talented watercolor painter. She would always say, “If you are going to be hanging out with me at my shows you should start selling something, too!” Eventually, my wife’s challenge began to sink into my stubborn brain and I started tinkering away. The results of that tinkering eventually led me to printmaking, and the creation of Wandering Press. 

Starting was a blast. I began buying equipment, set up our crawl space as a darkroom to burn screens, added a spray nozzle to our bathtub to wash screens out, and turned our spare room into a print studio. It was a super hodgepodge set up but something about MacGyvering my way through it was so much fun! Even now that I have a “proper” studio, I always look back at those early times with great fondness. 

As they say, the rest is history. I started doing art shows across the Midwest and it’s been amazing.” 


THE PROCESS

The start of the process kind of shifts: sometimes I read a quote from a book or hear a song that brings an image to my mind while other times I think of an image, draw it, and just sit on it until I stumble upon the right words to go with it. 

The actual design is always hand-drawn. At first, it was pencil to paper, then it would get inked, and then I would scan the image and clean it up a little. These days, however, I have moved a lot of that process over to my iPad and Apple Pencil.

The artist designs using an iPad and Apple Pencil. Photo courtesy of Ben Keffer.

Once the design is finished, it gets printed on a piece of clear inkjet film.

The printed design. Photo courtesy of Ben Keffer.

The film is placed on a screen coated in a light-sensitive emulsion. Once the emulsion is exposed to UV light it hardens and becomes non water-soluble. This is called burning a screen. After the screen is burned, I wash it. The places covered by the black part of the inkjet film don’t get exposed to light and stay water-soluble. So, when I spray it with water, those parts wash away and I am essentially left with a detailed stencil. 

From there, I can print on almost any flat surface. Currently, I print on French Paper (made in Niles, Michigan, and seriously, this stuff is the best!), leather Moleskine style journals, t-shirts, and wood panels. 

To print, the screen is attached and aligned in my press. Ink is then forced through the screen using a squeegee.

FUN FACTS

  • Sometimes I take misprints and print on the clean backside of the paper, leaving a note on the back saying, “Hi, I was a mistake but you should never waste good paper.”
  • I was obsessed with Charles Barkley as a kid and he keeps me company in my studio.
  • My favorite squeegee is named Liam.
  • My press is named Wanda.
  • Sometimes I have to fight the urge to burn a screen, print one print, never show anybody, and never print the image again.

Ben is committed to providing affordable ways to acquire and enjoy hand-printed artwork while at the same time giving back to a world in need of love. He is committed to donating $1 from every item sold to provide clean drinking water for the people in the Central African Republic through Water For Good.

Here is just a sampling of his work:

A pen and ink print of an astronaut, with stars in the background, and a Ray Bradbury quote in his helmet.
Astro print, hand-drawn and hand-printed on French Paper. “We are an impossibility in an impossible universe” -Ray Bradbury. Pricing: $15.00 (8.5” X 11″); $30.00 (12.5″ X 19″).
A pen and ink print of a skeleton hand making the rock n roll symbol (point and index fingers up, other three ringers down) with a phrase by Neil Young below it.
Rock and Roll, hand-drawn and hand-printed on French Paper. “Rock and roll can never die” -Neil Young. Pricing: $15.00 (8.5” X 11″); $30.00 (12.5″ X 19″).
A black and white print of a human heart with a quote inside.
Heart print, hand-drawn and hand-printed on French Paper. “People were created to be loved, things were created to be used”. Pricing: $15.00 (8.5” X 11″); $30.00 (12.5″ X 19″).
A black and white print of a bicycle with a Pee Wee Herman quote on the back wheel.
Pee Wee Print, hand-drawn and hand-printed on French Paper. “I wouldn’t sell my bike for all the money in the world”-Pee Wee Herman. Pricing: $15.00 (8.5” X 11″); $30.00 (12.5″ X 19″).
A grey print of a lightbulb hanging from a string with lyrics from the band Death Cab for Cutie.
Bulb print, hand-drawn and hand-printed with white ink on grey French Paper. “I will following you into the dark” -Death Cab for Cutie. Pricing: $15.00 (8.5” X 11″); $30.00 (12.5″ X 19″).

To see the featured works and more of Ben’s prints (he currently has 23 designs!), come visit us at the Paradigm Gallery: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm!

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