Creative Design straight outta the Steel City: Meet artist Ben Parkin

By Daniella Ekundayo

Who is Ben Parkin? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m just a normal dude who lives to create. I grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Sheffield. Since I can remember I’ve always had a passion for art. I always did alright in school, but I spent most of the time tagging the tables and sketching. When I got into the real world of work and had little time to draw or paint, it got me down. So about a year ago I, decided to chase my dream and take the risk of supporting myself through my art. I started knocking out canvases, tattoo designs and custom creps.

I recently set up Steelsmith Clothing & Customs and funded it entirely through my artwork. Although, Ben Parkin Art is the original custom welly painting crew. I take real pride in that as this has always been a goal of mine. I recently got involved with the family at Tim Peaks Diner, customizing kids wellies at festivals across the UK. I also designed so Tent City charity tees, to support the local teenage homeless community. So, look out for me and the original custom wellie crew in a field near you & accept no imitations!

Ben alongside Tim Burgess holding one of his custom wellies.

When did you start customizing trainers?

I started customizing roughly two years ago. I’ve always been a sneaker-head, so it made sense to put two of my biggest loves together and start customising. The first few attempts were real bodge jobs, I even tried to use spray paint on the first pair before I properly researched the materials. I guess you’ve gotta start somewhere. Practice makes perfect and the level the quality has reached speaks for itself nowadays.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Personally, I’m into just about every artistic style. Everything from graffiti to oil paintings. I think that’s reflected in my own work as well. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a box like that. I consider myself pretty versatile in terms of mediums and styles. It boils down to what I’m trying to express with the piece at hand.

What are the main themes/concepts behind your designs?

Most of my custom footwear is made to order. I’m lucky that 99% of the time my clients have great imagination and similar taste, this makes my work a whole lot easier. I’m heavily influenced by music and a lot of the time what I’m listening to will help conceive ideas and concepts. The theme I most enjoy is nature. I always try to include little details in an overall piece – the sort of thing you might not notice at first glance. I also love to include geometric elements wherever possible.

What is the artist process like?

To be honest, I rarely plan ahead or follow a set process unless I’m painting shoes. Even then after the prep-work is done and once the concept is there, I just get stuck in and do my best to pluck it out of my mind and make it a reality. I feel it’s the best way to get a good result. Overthinking can sometimes limit the freedom of a piece, better to paint with an open mind and see what happens.

What do you love most about art?

That’s a tough question to answer. I think it’s the subjective nature of art, whether as a viewer or a creator.

No-one can really say “that is art, and that is not”.

It’s about expression and not about definition, that’s what I love most about it.

This might be a bit of a hard one…but can you name three artists that you are most inspired by?

Nope, there’s too many to name. I get inspired by seeing art from anyone really no matter what. My mate Kirk Whitehouse makes things from broken vinyl records. That’s something that really inspired me to try new avenues and push boundaries. Go check him out!

That’s interesting, something I’ve actually never heard before. From your experience, what advice would you give to young artists reading this who are just starting up?

It can be a hard journey. If you enjoy creating, keep doing it. It’s a constant learning curve with no limits. Represent yourself and have fun with it.

These custom Wu-Tang kicks are so clean! You are very talented at what you do. What was the inspiration behind them?

I’ve always been a big hip-hop fan. I could never do what I do without the influence of good music. So when I picked up these yellow dunks, I instantly knew they were begging for a Wu-Tang custom! I had done some Pikachu themed yellow dunks just before and knew I wanted to do a simple Wu custom. I reckon it would have been rude not to!

Very true and it just so happens I’m a Wu-Tang fan too. So, now you’ve defo gotta tell us what your favourite songs are?

This is hard as well. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is one of the best hip hop albums ever made in my humble opinion. I don’t even think I could pick a single favourite from them. The Wu-Tang umbrella spans and represents so much. I respect it and rate it as a whole movement, so picking and choosing favourites is really tough. Though, if you wanna hear some nice hip hop beats in the same vibe, go check my brother Skintman on SoundCloud!

Finally, where do you hope to see yourself in the next five years?

I see myself as far as my artwork can take me. I’d love to be hitting most UK festivals customising and doing live art! I want to be doing the same things but bigger and better, hopefully expand Steelsmith Clothing & Custom Footwear and continue to be able grow. I want to be able to eventually support my family. That’s the real dream!

Bigger and better things for the talented Ben Parkin – Check him out here: @benparkinart

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