Fine artist Ben Young merges creative inspiration with environmental stewardship.
By Ashley Probst
Eco-conscious fine artist Ben Young often draws inspiration from the natural world around him, blending abstract and realistic elements in his distinctive paintings, all while using recycled supplies.
Young was born in New York City, where he first visited museums and was captivated by the city’s distinctive buildings. Nurtured by a family of artists, he developed a deep appreciation for art and architecture at a young age.
“My father and grandfather were my earliest influences,” the Laguna Beach resident recalls about his childhood. “… They taught me drawing, perspective [and] different painting techniques, and exposed me to master painters at a very young age.”
After spending his formative years in the urban jungle, Young moved to the coast where he experienced “a strong maritime influence during my school years, both in a small beach town in New Jersey and in Nova Scotia, [Canada,] where my father and grandfather had painting studios in their antique stores,” he says.
After finishing school on the East Coast, Young pursued his artistic aspirations at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. There, he honed his skills and discovered his passion for creating art that serves as a reflection of his deep connection to nature.
“Sometimes it comes from a trip to the desert, a dive in the ocean, surfing, or maybe traveling, meeting people and seeing different cultures,” Young says of what inspires him. “… Or just going to a museum and seeing artists that you really respect and taking one little thing away that you hadn’t thought of implementing into your own work.”
Abstract pieces will often manifest organically as he experiments with new ideas and follows his artistic flow. This is what led to his signature style, which offers a striking balance between abstract and realism.
“Sometimes, I’m fascinated by the incredible detail of things, and sometimes the broad strokes of nature create their own form of abstraction. I love combining these things, and also isolating them,” Young explains. “… Color and form, depth and perspective are all right there in front of you. Everything that you could want to paint is in nature.”
Before making the leap to focus on his own paintings full time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Young had a career designing toys with The CDM Co. in Newport Beach, and went on to direct the kids meal programs for Burger King, working with movie studios and films such as “Shrek” and “The Lord of the Rings.” He also worked with major TV networks, developing merchandise for hundreds of TV shows, musicians and other icons from “Star Trek” to “Game of Thrones,” the Grateful Dead and Bruce Lee. He also worked in the action sports industry on the creative side as well as brand development and brand launches. When he walked through a shopgoodwill.com warehouse recently, he even came across a Hang Ten skateboard that he had once designed.
A Second Life
Now working on his own paintings, Young often sources supplies from Goodwill, the nonprofit thrift store chain, as well as recycled acrylic paint from Laguna Beach-based Encore Artistic Solutions, which collects discarded architectural paint on its way to landfills and upcycles it for a community of artists and makers including several in Laguna. The brand’s paint line, called Tomorrow’s Artist, contains about 70% discarded paint, mixed with other elements to achieve the desired colors and viscosity for use by fine art painters.
For a piece of art commissioned earlier this year, he used a large secondhand canvas from Goodwill. “I feel that any time we get a chance to avoid single-use anything and give products a second life, we are taking the stewardship of our planet seriously and contributing to a more sustainable future,” Young says.
The eco-conscious artist chose to partner with Goodwill and Encore because he feels aligned with their shared mission around upcycling pre-loved materials.
Nicole Suydam, president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County, the operator of shopgoodwill.com, is working to bring secondhand supplies to creatives like Young through the charity’s thrift stores and website.
“Goodwill is one of the original adopters of the circular economy model—we have a long legacy of maximizing the value and lifespan of goods and being responsible stewards to our environment,” Suydam says.
The nonprofit’s e-commerce platform launched the #CreateOpportunity campaign earlier this year, aiming to bridge the gap between artists, creators and the eco-conscious community by encouraging sustainable shopping with a greater purpose in mind.
For Young, the decision to repurpose unwanted canvases and support sustainable initiatives was always clear. “I hate to see a perfectly good canvas get thrown away when it could be given new life as a new, beautiful piece of art,” he says. “[And] you’re supporting people in their local communities when you buy from shopgoodwill.com.”
Sometimes, he buys an old painting from Goodwill and adds a layer of gesso on top, making the large canvas as good as new. He then paints his own vision atop the now-blank canvas, often using Encore paint.
“Every jar and every brushstroke we use [of Encore] means one less jar or brushstroke of new material is consumed. … I feel better at the end of the day, knowing that my footprint is lower because I had the choice and I exercised it,” Young says of making these sustainable decisions.
Not only does Young derive a sense of fulfillment from his work, it’s also attracted international attention. He is currently exploring several opportunities to show his work in Europe later this year. Closer to home, he’ll be exhibiting at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art on Aug. 19-20 (with a few pieces remaining on display for the month), Laguna Coffee Co. in October and the Coast Film & Music Festival in November.
As Young immerses himself in the creative process ahead of these showings, he remains focused on his art. In a world that increasingly values conscious choices and artistic expression, Young serves as a testament to the profound impact that art can have on our environment and our souls.