Meet the alum who created a visual presence for the Institute for the Advancement of American Values
By Katy Moeller
Ben Konkol set a lofty goal early in his career as a professional illustrator and animator: get published in The New York Times. He expected that would take about five years to achieve — but that milestone was in Konkol’s rearview mirror within five months.
The 2017 Boise State graduate, who earned a bachelor of fine arts in illustration, has already built an impressive portfolio of work that’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Los Angeles Times and NBC News. He recently worked on an animation project with Sony Music. Konkol has caught the eye of industry peers who have recognized him with several awards including the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators.
Longtime Boise State illustration and drawing Professor Bill Carman is not surprised. Konkol stood out among his talented peers for his exceptional drive to expand and refine his skills, precisely what a person needs to be successful in the highly competitive world of professional illustration, Carman said.
“Ben would always come back with pages and pages and pages of sketches — three or four times as many as any other student in the class,” Carman recalled. “He worked very hard.”
Konkol took his first illustration course because it was a requirement to earn a degree in graphic design, his major at the time. The course piqued his interest in a way that he hadn’t anticipated.
“The discussion seemed palpable, the topics were engaging, and every single illustration class passed by in the blink of an eye,” Konkol recalled. “It was an easy choice to center the conclusion of my degree around the Illustration program.”
Konkol, 31, grew up in Boise. His mom taught him to draw at age 6 or 7 during homeschooling. The main impetus for his drawing was to make blueprints for the machines, robots and computers he dreamed of building. He thought he might become a scientist or an engineer, but math was a deal-breaker for him.
His process for making illustrations starts with a pencil sketch. He makes those sketches progressively larger, then scans them into the computer. On his iPad, he digitally inks them with the illustration app Procreate, and colors them in Photoshop. He aims to blur the line between physical and digital art.
His work, he said, has an affinity with “organic traditional illustration,” with lots of hand-drawn textures and subdued color palettes. He finds inspiration from the work of contemporary illustrators, his “three all-time favorites,” James Jean, Yuko Shimizu and Victo Ngai – all illustrators, like Konkol, who draw in a detailed traditional style, but one with a “contemporary twist.”
Japanese woodblock prints also inspire Konkol.
“Just the fact that they were using pieces of wood to lay down layers of color. It naturally results in this amazing organic texture. And you can really feel that when you’re looking at the piece,” he said.
Konkol has worked full-time as an art director for Boise advertising agency Drake Cooper since his last semester at Boise State. He dedicates another 20 to 30 hours each week to freelance projects. He’s done several public art pieces for the City of Boise, including a 2021 timelapse video projected on the wall of Boise City Hall that showed him at work. Konkol is also finishing the illustrations for a children’s book by local author Blas Telleria entitled “My Father Once Told Me.” The book will be available in 2022.
Konkol carves out time to help aspiring illustrators. He’s been back to Boise State to present to Carman’s classes and recently offered a mentorship on Instagram that attracted 60 applicants.
“Giving back feels like you’re talking to a version of yourself…It’s not like blanket advice applies to everybody, but it’s so fun to go in and imagine that I can help someone who wants to do the things I’ve spent a long time figuring out…Some of those people will go on to do crazy stuff, stuff that even I wouldn’t think of,” he said.