With original ideas, obvious talent, and sublime technique, French illustrator Bénédicte Waryn ventures wide-eyed into the wildest corners of a motorcyclist's imagination. In her Therianthropes series, her characters are mythological creatures halfway between animals and men — like modern centaurs — and with her Helmets series she uses sharp, bold pen strokes to romantically capture various motorcyclists in profile. We recently caught up with the artist to hear more of her story and understand how she found a muse in motorcycling culture.
IRON & AIR: Has art always been part of your life? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
BÉNÉDICTE WARYN: As far as I can remember, I believe I have always drawn, but I think it was also a certain aptitude for creation and observation that convinced my parents to enroll me at the age of 13 in an art school in Belgium. In any case, even if my family is not particularly immersed in the artistic world — apart from perhaps my grandfather, a pastry chef, who produced masterpieces, though I only knew him through family stories — if I didn’t start drawing, I think I would have entered a creative field anyway.
I&A: When did you realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
BW: I don't think there was a precise moment in which it happened; that's all I know and love to do. It was essential, like breathing. I didn’t think I could make it a profession; I didn’t imagine that I could be paid to breathe. But as the years have gone by with the experience, I now feel legitimate in my work.
I&A: You studied in a prestigious school in Belgium. How did the school train you, and from then to now, how has your artistic vision changed?
BW: I have incredible memories of that school; I finally felt I belonged. It was an ideal place to spend adolescence and early adulthood. It brought me a lot, whether it is to learn art, techniques, culture, or life, freedom, tolerance, creativity, friends, loves, knowledge, et cetera. It was also difficult; I learned perseverance and how to have a fighting spirit. It gave me a good foundation for the future: to be able to detach myself from my work, to know how to be indulgent but also demanding with myself, to enjoy working and doing things with my heart.
I&A: What kind of artistic techniques do you use?
BW: I like to work on techniques that require accuracy. My favorite tool is the Criterium [a mechanical pencil], but I also like to work with markers, colored pencils, paper, and paint. In fact, it depends on my mood and what I want to tell. Lately I have been working a lot on digital tablets for faster and more graphic work, but I quickly return to the manual — like a return to Mom and Dad.
I&A: In your Therianthropes project, you depicted men with animal faces. When did you add bikers to this unusual character gallery?
BW: I realized once finished that the Therianthropes drawings corresponded to a state of mind I was in at that moment. I tried to translate emotions by giving myself technical challenges. The hare — the first drawing on the theme of the motorcycle — evoked a certain anxiety that I felt at that moment, like the desire to move forward and quickly. Gradually, people started asking me to make their animal version on their own machine.
I&A: How did you then segue into your Helmets series?
BW: It was the desire to work on another technique and also to return to human faces that pushed me to work on the Helmets series, a series of portraits with black lines — diversity united by the same passion, all in profile, as in the starting blocks, waiting to be able to restart in the face of this period of slowness we are experiencing.
I&A: Were you surprised by the support and love you received from the motorcycling community?
BW: Yes, pleasantly surprised. It’s true that motorcyclists are very demanding and demonstrative about the world of two wheels. I didn’t expect many requests and compliments, and it’s a pleasure to work on this topic because this enthusiasm is communicative.
I&A: You must own a motorcycle, no?
BW: For five years I had a 1976 Suzuki GT125 that I called "Submachine Gun,” but a few days ago I sold it to pay for a bigger bike. I don't know which one yet, but definitely a neo-retro: Royal Enfield, Moto Guzzi V7, Kawasaki W800 … we’ll see.
I&A: Does riding help you find inspiration for your art, relax, or be more creative?
BW: I’ve always needed to go out, move, wander, breathe, to be in my bubble and allow myself to create. The bike — and I won't be very original here — it is a real feeling of freedom in which all the senses are stimulated. Cross landscapes that fill our eyes, smell the different smells according to the regions we cross, make a physical effort, be aware of the journey, be tired but happy. I also like the fact that the bikes allow you to bond. Whether you are out for a lap or broken down, there will always be another rider coming to greet you.
I&A: Do you have any new ideas for motorcycle-inspired artwork?
BW: I always have a few little ideas in my head for future collections, but they usually mature in silence as I work on the current collection. I can't work on it until the current collection is finished.
I&A: What do you think about the future?
BW: Great question ... I have a hard time answering. I can only say that I am making sure in the present that I have good memories for the future.