Q&A with Bennett Ewing, CEO of Eyevan Tumbleweed Found Wood Sculpture

Tell us a bit about Eyevan Tumbleweed Found Wood Sculpture.

Since the year 2001 I have experimented with found wood as a material for 3-dimensional sculpture. My primary focus with the medium has been an ongoing series of relief faces from non-carved, naturally colored wood that I collect myself from nature’s diverse regions.

I consider what I’ve been doing with the faces as an adult to be the recreation of my childhood experience perceiving nature spirits in the woods. Awe-struck, I truly believed I was privy to extraordinary beings who were able to show themselves through the various forms of nature. It was later explained to me that my artistic mind probably had an advanced case of pareidolia; the phenomenon of seeing faces in things that are not, in fact, faces in the usual corporeal sense.

The wilderness at large has always been my main source of inspiration and the importance of my connectivity to the earth and its secret magic is alluded to in my art.

I assemble my sculptures in an improvised manner, almost mosaically from wood of various kinds, shapes and sizes, first using medium temperature glue as a tack weld-like method whereby the compositions can be solidified by needle-nozzle carpenter’s glue injections. They are then structurally reinforced with epoxy from their backsides. I typically will employ multiple applications of adhesives at different stages of development throughout the assemblage process. Where suitable I also sometimes use pin nails or screws to hold pieces of wood permanently in place.

Once a work is compositionally complete after countless hours of trial and error the aforementioned finishing techniques take 50 hours of work on average, after which I typically apply a matte finish wood preservative. The backsides of the wood not seen by viewers are chemically treated more thoroughly with urethanes and such.

People often ask how much time goes into the composition of a sculpture and the answer is that each one differs. I often get 80% of a work completed and then have to wait years to find the appropriate pieces of wood to continue or resolve an area to my satisfaction.

Although I am always learning new tricks I have not exceeded 5 finished works within one year. Much of my time is spent gathering materials from the outdoors, which happens about 3 times a week year round.

I have made somewhere around 35 found wood sculptures so far in my career and I am looking forward to diversifying my collection in the future; straying a bit more from relief work as I have recently gotten more comfortable with 360 degree forms.

What gave you the idea for your business and how did it start?

People often ask me how I got the original inclination to put the faces together from small bits of wood and I rather enjoy telling the story.

The art came about on its own long before the idea of it being a plausible business. You might say it started in that pure sort of way where it was simply art for art’s sake with none of the business considerations that often complicate an artist’s process.

It all started in Prescott, Arizona where I attended college at 19 years old. Before attending Prescott College I had pencil drawn these wild, intricate helmets which were also masks with the idea of actually creating them to wear for performance art. I called them “wilderness helmets”. In an art class called Art & Nature I proposed the idea of making one having lied about making several before. In reality I had collected materials for years in New England with the intention to make one, employing wood, rocks, shells, etc., but never actually had.

So finally I did make one in the class that was quite something visually, although cumbersome and painful to wear. I attempted a second wilderness helmet that was a little more ergonomic and very otherworldly even though its components were ironically terrestrial. In the process of hunting for materials in the pinion pine forests and chaparrals I started seeing eyes and parts of nostrils and lips and the rest was history. I quickly made 2 faces which were more successful than the helmets in receiving emphatic responses from both my classmates and the college’s faculty.

Eventually the hobby became a collection and I took the art evermore seriously, eventually realizing the value and uniqueness of what I was doing. As I got better and better at the faces they started selling and after a decade and a half my work was demanding increasingly higher price points.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

My favorite thing about my job is probably the treasure hunt out in nature and not knowing what I will find. Much in the same way, I never know quite what will come of any project I start as it all sort of just evolves from the process.

Also the excuse to go into nature frequently is life enriching.

I have gathered wood from all across North America and also from Ireland. I love uniting the pieces I find, knowing they often come from such a wide range of places and geographical biomes.

I believe the results of my art are really the results of my life in a grander sense; Had I not gone to the places I did for whatever reasons, the pieces of wood I happened to see and collect would probably never be side by side, let alone integrated together in a piece of sculptural art.

I also marvel at the mystery of where driftwood found ashore might have come from. I often wonder how old the tree was, how and when the piece of wood detached from where it started and how long it has been drifting and eroding.

Undoubtedly some of the wood I find has been around for quite some time; much longer than a human life span. Ive been told redwood root pieces and knots can be thousands of years old in some cases, potentially even dating back to times Before Christ.

Each piece of wood I find on the shores of the Atlantic or Pacific oceans has likely had its own journey and I find that particularly fascinating to think about.

What are your keys to making yourself productive?

I consider myself fairly prolific for my medium seeing that the sculptures take more time to complete than work in most mediums do.

I attribute my productivity to two things. One being inspiration and the other being exploration.

I rarely ever experience the creative blocks many artists do and I think it is due to a combination of the aforementioned concepts regularly applied.

In simple terms, I collect materials obsessively and the aesthetic qualities of my materials are my inspiration from which passion is derived.

Once I’m adding finds to my piles I just mess around with possibilities a lot and I’ve found that consistent natural compulsion and curiosity leads to results.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

A long term career goal of mine is to become financially stable enough from sales that I’m able to travel the world exhibiting my work and collecting wood in in other continents and countries.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

One lesson of value I’ve gained from experience having an art career is to hold on to at least a few early works rather than selling them off before making new work. Early works can be vital to the future of an artist’s career by demonstrating an earlier stage of technique and insight into the development of their process over time.

Similarly there are pieces an artist may not want to have for sale in the next emerging middle phase of their career.

In the business of art I’ve been advised to not sell my work for less than it is worth with the exception of certain key members of the art world interested in buying, such as museum curators, who may be able to bolster an artist’s reputation; effectively increasing the value of their collection as well as the demand for their work from art collectors.

For the reason that a photo-documentation of one’s work suffices for a portfolio alone, I have new owners of my art sign a purchase contract stating they consent to the temporary relief of possession of the work in the event of a retrospective exhibition.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

I would advise artists to stay true to their processes while also considering the business aspects of being a career artist.

While making faster, dumbed down works at lower prices may be a better business model by making the art more accessible to the average admirer, not allowing myself to do that was what ultimately got my career some spotlight, accolade and promotion from people whose opinions mattered. So while faster production may be a good idea for some there is also a relevant order of operations to have a successful career.

An artist cannot do everything on their own so networking and marketing is very important. You can’t be shy about meeting people and telling them what you do. You never know who or what they know that can help you.

Finding people with valuable insights and connections in the art world, who understand your work and have your best interest in mind is important. Furthermore, finding proper venues that represent the art and artist well so that they may be taken seriously is essential.

Artists may also want to consider at what point they have enough work to show in venues where their collections may be bought out. You want to have enough inventory to represent you so sometimes selling off all your work before people know who you are is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.

You really have to play your cards wisely when strategizing the longevity of your career.

I’ve held out on offers I thought were too low and it has worked out for me in the long run, earning much more. In some cases who the buyer is matters significantly as a piece sold to a museum curator at a fifth of the price can boost your reputation and demand among collectors, effectively augmenting the prices of your series much higher. Whereas that same sale at five times as much to someone sequestering the work for themselves alone will not necessarily propel or promote your career.

Without getting into detail I’ve also found many cautions must be taken to protect the rights and integrity of the artist and their work.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

Luckily artwork is one of my favorite things to do and I’d do it if it was not a business. However, there is more to life than one’s career. I enjoy many other creative (so far not lucrative) pursuits not limited to ceramic figurative work, drawing, dancing, inventing, creating fashion concepts, writing comedy skits as well as writing my original stories, music and movies.

I’m working on over 20 multi-genre movie treatments and have written over 800 songs in various genres.

This is the result of what I refer to as hyper-creativity.

I also enjoy sleeping, goofing around improv-style with friends, partying, festivals, watching movies and documentaries, browsing the art of others, reading, jogging, traveling, learning, eating, and studying subjects of interest from shamanism to philosophy.

Name a few influential books you’ve read and/or websites you keep up with that you’d recommend to readers.

I love to keep up with sites like Hi-Fructose Magazine’s, which has shared my work, giving me a lot of exposure which I’m grateful for. Their content is really great and I marvel at a lot of the work they feature.

For fiction I’ve been very inspired by the novels of Tom Robbins, who I find is an affirmation of

a fun and creative life style where dreams can be manifested and there is an emphasis of experiencing the fullness of life. I’ve always had a big imagination and his work is a kind of celebration of imagination and what one can do with it. I think he also has a lot of practical wisdom to offer.

Mythology is a favorite subject of mine and Joseph Campbell has been influential by virtue of his various concepts. The example of the hero’s journey, for instance, was helpful to me because it helped me see the bigger picture of my life and my path as an artist among other things. Much can be learned from myths, they are also fodder for the creative mind I think. I’ve learned from him to go with the flow of what I find interesting and compelling and to sample ideas in an interdisciplinary way.

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Photography credit:  Daniel Blue Photography 

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