Using an original technique he calls Digital Circlism, artist Ben Heine creates detailed portraits of celebrities like Eminem, Bob Marley or Elvis Presley. A Belgian artist born in the Ivory Coast, Heine is most famous for his Pencil vs Camera series, which was covered by many of the major online media outlets, but his Digital Circlism portraits are equally, if not more impressive. Using a sharp round brush in Photoshop CS4, he applies thousands of circles on a black background, until he creates a colorful, realistic portrait. You might think he uses some kind of automated process to apply every circle, but that’s actually the most remarkable thing about Ben Heine – he adds every one of the circles individually. Each circle has a different color, a different tone and a different size, which makes creating a single one of these artworks very time consuming. His latest work, a portrait of hip-hop icon Eminem, is made exclusively with flat circles on a black background, and took nine days of intensive labour to complete.
A new technique, developed by Ben Heine himself, Digital Circlism could certainly develop into an important artistic movement.
Ben Heine is a Belgian artist who has produced through the years a huge number of artworks. He is currently best known for his original series “Pencil Vs Camera”, “Digital Circlism” and “Flesh and Acrylic”. He has a degree in Journalism and is a self-taught person in drawing, digital photography and music (piano and drums). His graphic creations have been exhibited widely in Europe and more recently in Asia. His favorite art movements are Surrealism, Pop Art, Geometric Abstraction, Expressionism and Social Realism. He started creating electronic music in 2011. A documentary about his work was released in 2012. Ben is married to Marta and their son Theodor was born in August 2012.
BORN IN IVORY COAST
Ben was born in 1983 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he spent the first seven years of his life, with his parents and three sisters. The whole family relocated in Brussels, Belgium, in 1990. His father was a commercial engineer and his mother a choreographer and a dance teacher. As a young boy, Heine was attracted by the things young men are happy to explore such as sport, music and friends. Heine started drawing at 11 year old and quickly understood that graphic art was a powerful tool of communication and expression. At that time until recently, his curiosity for drawing was his keenest interest.
Heine undertook studies in different countries, including Ivory Coast, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands. Ben has a diploma in Journalism completed with distinction at IHECS school of Journalism in Brussels. He also studied History of Art, Painting and Sculpture at Hastings College of Arts & Technology in the UK and at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Throughout his academic training, he was also able to learn several music instruments (drums and piano) and several languages. Besides perfectly speaking French and English, the artist is quite fluent in Dutch and Polish and speaks some bits of Spanish and Russian.
Hundreds of millions of people have seen Heine’s creations. He has exhibited and published his artworks all over the world since 2006. The artist presented his pieces of art in countless fairs and galleries in Belgium, South Korea, the UK, Romania, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, the US, Turkey, Brazil, and Spain. His pictorial works have been published in some of the most famous newspapers and magazines (see “Press” and “Exhibitions” for more info). Moreover, Heine has a huge presence on the Internet as well, and his works continually pop here and there on social media and online news outlets, making him one of the most watched artists on the web today. Ben is an enthusiastic traveller, he has visited hundreds of cities and countries, each one of them being a huge source of inspiration for his creative projects.
PENCIL VS CAMERA
Pencil Vs Camera is an original visual concept invented and popularized by Ben Heine in April 2010. It is the artist’s special trademark and one of the most creative art concepts of the 21st century that has influenced a big number of other creators. Pencil Vs Camera blends drawing and photography in a unique way. The idea was the result of a long artistic exploration and a logic outcome of Ben’s evolution: “I wasn’t satisfied with only drawing or only photography, so I had to find a way to merge the two and this is how Pencil Vs Camera was born.” (“Cultural Voices” June 2014). Ben’s hand is always visible because it represents the connection between the viewer, the artist and the artwork. In these images, everything seems possible and Ben likes to tell a story and convey timeless messages using imagination, illusion, poetry and surrealism. Starting with simple sketches, Ben brought major innovations to the concept in 2012 and 2013, adding colors and black paper or increasing the drawings’ size (more info in the comprehensive chronological bio below). Since 2012, several smartphone applications emulate Heine’s Pencil Vs Camera’s style. Many creators have borrowed from Heine’s brilliance and started to fashion for themselves, something of a replica. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. (see “Interviews” for more info)
FLESH AND ACRYLIC
This is a project Heine started in 2011. In this series, Heine creates abstract acrylic paintings on large wooden panels. The artist blends the model (a living person) with the background. The particularity of the project resides in the fact that a living person is integrated in the artwork and is part of the whole composition. Heine wants the model to become almost invisible. The end result is often a very colorful, wild and eye-catching creation. When the painting is finished, Heine takes pictures of it so that they can be exhibited later on. The artist has made several public live performances featuring his Flesh and Acrylic concept (see references in the comprehensive chronological bio below) and he often comes dressed with hand-painted acrylic outfits in public events or exhibitions. In 2013, Ben started the “Black Stickers” series, a variation of “Flesh and Acrylic”.
PHOTOS AND DRAWINGS
Heine has been interested in painting and drawing since he was a child. He eventually added photography to his repertoire because it empowers him to create images that are more eye-catching, dramatic, precise, and realistic than most paintings or illustrations. Today, Heine is equal parts illustrator and photographer, creating commissioned works for clients such as Samsung, McCann Erickson, Diesel and others, while still making time for personal projects. He made thousands of drawings and took even more photos in various destinations around the world. Many of Ben’s photos look like drawings.
There are other less known series in Ben’s photographic work such as the “Double Landscapes”, “Wild Animals Downtown” or “Black Stickers” pictures, among other ideas. When editing his pictures, Ben removes all the imperfections and improves the lights, tones, colors and composition. All the edits Ben makes are only meant to express a specific message and he wants to preserve the essence and authenticity of the original shot. These are the cameras and lenses Ben currently uses: Canon: Canon EOS Mark II. Canon lens EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. Canon lens EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. Samsung: Samsung NX10, NX11, NX20, NX200. Samsung lens 50-200mm f 4.0-5.6 ois. Samsung ifunction lens 20-50mm f 3.5-5.6. LG G2 smartphone camera. Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone camera.
This project started in 2010. In this series, Heine makes portraits of celebrities (mainly singers and musicians) with digital tools by using only flat circles. Heine defines it as a synthesis of Pop Art (art including imagery from popular culture such as advertising, news, etc.) and Pointillism (painting technique that uses small, distinct dots of pure color). Through the use of graphic softwares and a whole lot of creativity, Ben recreates iconic faces from history and pop culture with circles of various sizes and colors, in order to give them a dynamic and 3-dimensional appearance. Each portrait requires between 100 to 180 hours of work to be completed. The artist explained his workflow in an interview for Adobe Photoshop. Many of Ben’s circle portraits have unfortunately been copied, stolen and plagiarized in various countries around the globe.
An aspiring musician with an unmolested love for electronic music, Heine plays drums and the piano and started sharing his creative sounds for the first time in November 2011. “Music is more powerful”, a startling confession for an artist whose claim to fame is a non-musical endeavor. His love for music marries well with his love for graphic art, “It complements my graphic work and it helps me to grow as a graphic artist too” Ben says. (“Cultural Voices”, June 2014). Ben owns a professional studio since 2012. He uses Novation and Akai midi/audio synthesizers and plays drums with an electronic Roland drum kit. He edits all his sounds in Ableton Live. He is currently mainly interested in progressive house. In 2014, Ben started to collaborate with other musicians and singers.
In 2010, Ben was one of the first photographers to become an official Samsung Camera “Imagelogger”. In this context, Ben had the opportunity to experience and shoot with Samsung latest cameras and lenses between 2010 and 2013 (in particular the Samsung NX10, NX11, NX20, NX200 and Galaxy NX cameras). Samsung also sponsored his promotional brochures in 2011, his collective exhibition at Samsung D’light in 2010, his project with the Samsung Note 10.1 in Lisbon in 2012 and his solo exhibition at “Hyehwa Art Center” in Seoul later in 2013.
Heine started putting pencil to paper when he was only eleven years of age. Traditionally trained in journalism and communications at the renowned IHECS School, Heine tried his hand at political cartoons. This brief encounter was far less charitable to him than he had hoped. His political activism, at the cusp of his youth, unleashed a string of criticism and threats. In the end, Heine felt it was perhaps wiser to spend his talent elsewhere and walked away from political cartoons in 2009, vowing never to return.