“Keep making art that you don’t want to let go!”
Ben and Chloee Harvey are a young, successful couple living on the Central Coast of California. Years of training and experience as an Automotive Technician have given Ben the skill set and vision to create unique automotive furniture. With Chloee’s background in customer service and office management Ben’s Automotive Decor is a well oiled business machine. Here’s Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Ben.
How do you come up with new ideas for your art?
If I have a new idea, I write it down or draw a very rough sketch. Sometimes I wake up in the night with an idea! I have learnt to only try and create when my mindset is right. I have lot’s of very large racking, with car parts laid out according to shape, size and style. Some days I look at all the parts to try and come up with a new idea, and it all just looks like a load of scrap metal, good for nothing. Other days I have so many ideas that I wish I had more time to create them. I often obtain parts that I love because they are such an interesting design but I can’t figure out what they should become. I keep a couple of parts like this in my workshop, just to have them around and subconsciously look at them every day – it’s amazing that all of a sudden it will seem obvious what they will be repurposed as!
Are there vehicle models that you prefer to work with?
I like working with high-end and rare vehicles. It feels that it’s an honor to work with these kinds of cars and parts. When the piece has a big Lamborghini or Ferrari Logo on it, it just adds to the wow factor.
How do you price your artworks?
I try to price my work at a rate that allows me to keep creating, whilst also making it obtainable for the majority of people to own a B.A.D piece. If rare expensive parts are used, and much time is taken in the design and creation then of course the price is higher than a more common, simple design.
How and where do you sell your art, and is there a particular strategy that works for you?
I sell a lot of my work on my website: www.bensautodecor.com
Most of the rarer pieces are sold before they are created. This allows a certain level of customization from the customer in the build. When I get a hold of some cool parts, I mention it on my mailing list and social media, people are often keen to put their name on it. I also display at physical galleries and stores. I enjoy exhibiting my creations at car shows, its great fun to be in the car world atmosphere and see peoples reaction first hand to the B.A.D artwork!
What type of clients buy your automotive furniture?
I have a couple of common types of clients – ones that are buying a gift for a friend or loved one, and ones shopping for themselves. It’s really enjoyable to help someone select a gift. For example, a common scenario – I will be at a show, or receive a phone call and talk to a wife looking for a gift for her husband. She doesn’t know much about cars or engines, but knows her husband loves his 1966 Ford Mustang. I can help her choose a gift, perhaps a piston clock made from engine parts from a 1966 Mustang. I get so much good feedback after these gifts are given, the receiver is always delighted. The other common customer is one who has a collection of vehicles, and a nice garage or showroom that they are housed in. They will call me to discuss options of decorating the area in car theme parts, and often purchase multiple items to finish off the ultimate man-cave. I ship worldwide, but most of my customers are in the USA.
Do you have to actively look for clients or do they find you?
I do look for clients to the extent that I have my website, go to shows and utilize social media to keep my following updated with what I’m creating. I do not market heavily however, I find that the gradual growth of people who are genuinely interested in what I am making is perfect.
With how many clients do you work on a regular basis?
I am regularly displaying at around eight galleries and stores. Many of my customers are repeat, once they have enjoyed having one item they often come back for more, but not many on a regular basis.
How do you deliver your art to clients?
With large pieces that are sold locally, I enjoy hand delivering the pieces when I can and seeing them in there new home. Otherwise everything can be shipped. For the large, heavier pieces such as the engine coffee tables – I build a custom wood crate to ship them in so as to ensure they get to the customer in pristine condition. The glass for tables is made locally for the customer and sent directly to them, so I never have to deal with shipping glass.
What business lessons did you have to learn as an artist?
Having business sense, and being an artist are two very different skills! I feel that my artwork is continuing to grow and change, and I am still learning business skills as I go. From the beginning, I have always felt it was vital that my customer is happy with the end result of their purchase. Inevitably, sometimes things go wrong in business – packages get damaged or lost etc. I always do everything I can to take care of my customers. I have also adapted in my business outlook, to not focus on creating bargain priced items. I have found that it’s better not to try and be the cheapest artist, but rather focus on making quality product.
What difficulties have you encountered in your art career and are there any sacrifices that you had to make to succeed as an artist?
The biggest difficulty I have encountered so far in my art career is getting it started. That may sound like a strange answer to the question, but while supporting a growing family it is daunting to take the plunge from a safe, secure, and stable job, to the uncertainty of being a self-employed artist. I have sacrificed a career that I really enjoyed working as a mechanic. I left a very enjoyable position, working on a great variety of high-end cars with a good team in order to pursue my art career, and while I do not have any regrets, I do look back with fond memories on those times.
How has COVID impacted your business and what changes, if any, did you have to make?
COVID has impacted my business to a certain extent – many car shows and art events, where I planned to display at, were cancelled. Obtaining some of my raw materials for production at times was and still is a challenge. However, I have noticed a change in what’s important to many people when shopping. I feel that in general, people are now putting more value on supporting local or small businesses that are making handmade products. Mechanical skills and abilities are appreciated more than in years past, so I believe this change in outlook has benefited my automotive art career. I certainly haven’t been negatively impacted to the extent so many other small businesses have.
Do you have any advice for new or young artists who are just starting their journey?
I would say that being an artist is not the easiest or simplest path to choose – but it is extremely rewarding. With good planning, a career as an artist will give you wonderful freedom. To wake up every day and do something you love is amazing. Don’t let it become mundane or boring, keep on changing and growing and trying new things. I like to be jealous of every customer, in that every piece I send out I want to keep for myself. Keep making art that you are jealous of, that you don’t really want to let go!
What are the most common mistakes artists make?
That’s a tough question, the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is so true. If I see something in art that I would do differently, that doesn’t necessarily make it a mistake, just a different approach. I would say however, that an artist’s brain isn’t always fantastic at running a business. So it’s important to be self-aware enough to know when its smart to reach out for help and guidance from people that have different talents than your own.
Where do you see the automotive furniture world in the next decade?
Well, I don’t think Tesla batteries are going to make very cool coffee tables! I think the automotive furniture world is going to grow largely in the next decade. I think the appreciation for quality handmade furniture and art is growing. There is certainly no shortage of broken cars and engines out there. I have many new product ideas, I really feel like I’m just getting started and the potential of cool things to be created is vast.
What are your top three favorite artworks and artists of all time and why?
My appreciation for art is not just in the typical sense – of course I enjoy paintings, photography, etc., but its amazing to see art all around us.
Growing up in England, I enjoyed being surrounded by very old stone buildings and roads. I look at the amount of work and care that was put into carving each stone perfectly – sometimes generations of families were working on the same building to create those intricate historic detail.
I enjoy music, and that to me is an incredible form of art. Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar solo on the song ‘Little Wing’ is one of my favorite musical artworks. The ability to change moods and stir emotions with music is incredible. It never ceases to amaze me, that if I am struggling with a piece I am working on, or for inspiration or motivation – playing the right music can completely change my day.
Ferrari F40. No surprise that a car ended up on my list of favorite artwork! The Ferrari F40 is a beautiful machine. Not only incredibly capable as a fast car, but a great collectible vehicle. I have always loved the rigid styling of it, and it just get better with age.
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