Gradient overlay

Featured Designer: Ben Welstead

Written by
AIGA Nebraska
January 1, 2016

Featured In-House Designer:

Ben Welstead
Designer | Screen Ink 

Meet Ben Welstead! Ben is not only a designer at Screen Ink in Lincoln, but he’s also their Jack-of-all-trades.

Ben’s path into design in an interesting one. Although he grew up thinking he was not an artist, he learned in college that there is a big difference between being a creator and an artist. Read on to learn more about Ben and how a trip to Haiti opened him up to world of screen printing and design.

“I know I’ve come a long way from my early design work, but still feel like it’s a newfound journey that’s just begun.”

Tell me about yourself, where you work, and a description of what you do in your position:

I am a designer and accounts/print manager at Screen Ink in Lincoln, NE. Screen Ink is a homegrown custom screen printing, embroidery, and vinyl shop. We work with local customers and those abroad, and we probably get the most excited when working with clients that match our hobbies of bikes, brews, and races.

My typical workday includes any or all of the following: Designing, processing orders with new and existing clients, cutting and applying heat-pressed vinyl, embroidery, screen printing, shirt folding, checking in inventory for the day’s work, floor mopping, etc. I really enjoy the variety of the work I do here…except the floor mopping.

How did you get into design?

I grew up thinking I wasn’t an artist. My art teacher gave me the dreaded “S” for “Satisfactory” on every report card I received as a kid. Trust me, you didn’t want the “S.” I had an older brother who was a natural drawer and painter and I just thought art wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t until college that I realized there’s a big difference between “creating” and being a “good artist.”

After college, for a period of 5 years, I went on an annual trip to Haiti with my church as we visited sites of orphanages and schools we were supporting financially. When returning from one of these trips, I remember looking at a screen printed shirt a high school kid was wearing and I thought, “I bet I can design and print t-shirts to make money to help fund our work in Haiti.” I borrowed $1100 from my parents, bought a screen printing starter package, watched a multitude of YouTube videos on screen printing, and learned the craft. That eventually grew into a business that I recently merged with Screen Ink. I know I’ve come a long way from my early design work, but still feel like its a new found journey that’s just begun.

What inspires you?

The colors red, black, and white together. Getting out of town and being still in forests. Halftones on posters. Movie credits i.e. the credits at the end of “Stranger Than Fiction.” Peacock Blue. New fonts. Watching my kids create art without caring if it’s “good” or not. Musicals and live theatre. Goats in trees…its a thing, look it up. Rad beer labels on delicious brews. Old newspaper illustrations. Worn out road maps.

What’s your design process?

I used to try and do a lot of dreaming and planning before I started a design and usually waited until creative inspiration hit me. I don’t feel like I have as much creative capital as I used to have. Maybe it’s because I have four kids now and have a hard time sleeping, but I have found I just need to start. Anywhere. Just start building a design. Usually I work for quite a while on something and then scrap it. Then I go a different direction…and scrap it. It seems like this is the only way I can get to the final concept or idea that starts to make a lot of sense. It’s that moment when my heart rate picks up a little, and it wouldn’t matter if the building was caving in, I just want to keep going until I’m finished. I’m still a little in awe of times when I finish and can really appreciate what’s in front of me and say to myself, “Hey mister, that’s beyond an “S”, you’ve come a long way.” Then a self high-five and it’s on to another project.

What do you do when you feel stuck creatively?

Sometimes I just throw out every idea I had to begin with. I’ve been known to work on an illustration for hours and have no problem “selecting all” and hitting “delete.” Or in less dramatic fashion I’ll just leave it alone. A new idea usually will pop into my head when I’m not working. I go on long bike rides by myself and that gives me a lot of time to clear my head. Its strange though, it seems like I cannot even be thinking about a design, and out of nowhere an idea just hits me.

As an in-house designer, are there parts of your job that you didn’t expect you’d be doing when you went into design?

Since I started by being an owner and operator of my own screen printing business, I’ve always been comfortable taking a job from the moment a client walks in the door to the moment they receive the finished product. What is new to me is working with clients with much bigger projects and more flexible budgets. I’m humbled and honored in these moments and never thought I’d be in the position I am in now, considering it wasn’t long ago that I was opening Adobe Illustrator for the first time, trying to figure out how the “pen” tool works. I still struggle with that thing.

Any advice for new designers?

Enjoy creating and forget about being a good artist. Also, I used to think technology cheapens art. If you hand me a pencil and paper though, my sketch would look like it was done by a first grader with his eyes closed. Give me my Wacom tablet and Adobe Illustrator, and I can draw amazing things. So, don’t be afraid to embrace technology but also challenge yourself to go back to primitive tools and enjoy the simplicity of the process.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Taking bike rides with my whole family is probably my favorite. We make this huge bike caterpillar that twists through town, and usually that’s when I’m happiest. I like to brew beer, make Kombucha tea, fumble through wood crafts, and bake bread in the cold season.

If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, this era or eras past, who would you meet and why?

A while back I received a collection of Lincoln, NE newspapers from the late 1800s. The hand-drawn illustrations are amazing and the whole process of making each issue of the paper had to have been so tedious and particular. I’d love to go back in time and spend a week watching the employees of the paper put together an issue from start to finish. I’d love to see the pens and ink they used and sit in the studios they worked in.


Thanks for sharing your story with us, Ben!

Are you an in-house designer? We need your help! Please take this 3 question survey to help improve AIGA for our in-house community. Go to the survey!

AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.