In Conversation with Ben Kovach cover photo


In Conversation with Ben Kovach

by Jeff Davis

Ben Kovach is an artist who focuses on building emergent generative work with a natural feel. He lives in Burlington, VT with his wife and two-year-old daughter. I had a chance to chat with Ben about his background in generative art in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project Edifice.
Jeff Davis: Hi Ben! It’s great to speak with you. How did you first get into making art?
Ben Kovach: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. My dad used to have a stack of books about drawing—I remember flipping through those a bunch when I was very young. As a teenager, art took over my life as I had some amazing teachers who really pushed me to express myself creatively. During that time, I primarily focused on pen drawings and paintings. Interestingly, most of my work around that time was either highly chaotic or followed some sort of rule I self-imposed. For example, I made a series of portraits in pen and ink that were drawn using only horizontal and vertical lines. I also dove into digital art around that time, playing with fractal generating programs and making abstract visuals in Photoshop. I went to college for an art degree but quickly pivoted to computer science and math as I found my early art courses uninspiring and creatively draining.
Manufactured Turbulence, Ben Kovach_border.png
Ben Kovach, Manufactured Turbulence, 2020.
JD: That’s really interesting that you moved from art towards math and computers. I was actually the opposite as an undergraduate, starting with math and eventually pursuing art. So when did you bring art back into the equation to start pursuing generative art?
BK: I’ve had an interest in procedural generation for years. I have built lots of little projects like a Conway’s Game of Life simulation and a Julia Set visualizer before putting a name to what I was doing. What really kicked it off was seeing Tyler Hobbs talk at Strange Loop in September 2017. Some of his work looked hand-drawn to me, and this had my head spinning. I didn’t know algorithmic art could look so natural, and I had to try it. I spent the flight home setting up my Processing environment, then made one generative sketch per day in October. I called this Digital Inktober and started posting on Twitter. People seemed to respond well to these sketches, so I kept going. Nothing amazing came out of it, but that month of work gave me a solid foundation on which to build. I remember some people being impressed with some flow field work I posted on Reddit and thinking “okay, maybe I’m onto something.” Not long after, I started moderating the generative subreddit with Aaron Penne and Tyler and some other folks. Just living in that world. It was a lot of fun.
Ben Kovach, Modular, 2019.
Ben Kovach, Modular, 2019.
JD: Then how did you discover NFTs and crypto art?
BK: The first NFT project I remember hearing about was CryptoKitties. I never really got into it, but I thought the idea was pretty cool. I started taking crypto art more seriously when a bunch of artists I knew began posting on hic et nunc. The way I’ve always sold work is through 1/1 prints, and that was going okay, so I kind of ignored it and stuck to prints for a while. Eventually one of my friends directly reached out and told me I should mint some of my work just to see what happened. That was my Luminary series, which I minted in August. The experience of selling an NFT immediately felt like a more natural fit for my work than 1/1 prints. Soon after, I discovered Art Blocks and artists like DEAFBEEF doing creative things with code on-chain and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Luminary, Ben Kovach.png
Ben Kovach, Luminary, 2021.
JD: How would you say your creative practice has grown over time?
BK: This is a tough one. I guess I’d say that I now spend much more time with my work before calling it complete. Early on, I’d come up with a quick sketch, post it around, and move onto something new. Over time, I started spending much more time with other artwork, books, and research papers. Generally slowing my pace a bit. For Edifice, I bought a bunch of heavy body acrylic paints and spent several evenings just playing with them for the sole purpose of finding colors to sample for palettes. That sort of slower, methodical approach to art making has become more commonplace in my work as I’ve gotten deeper into it.
Good Night, Ben Kovach_border.png
Ben Kovach, Good Night, 2018.
JD: Any recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
BK: My artistic effort has been laser focused on Edifice for the last several months, so I don’t have a ton of recent artwork related accomplishments to share from that time span. Minting Edifice #0 is a monumental achievement for me, and I’m very proud of that. I’m also proud of my writing and StrangeLoop talk from 2018 “A Box of Chaos.” I find knowledge sharing very difficult but equally rewarding.
JD: Alright, well let’s get into Edifice! What was your inspiration for the project?
BK: I have a vague recollection of watching one of those demo videos from SIGGRAPH or something showing a simulation of a ball flying through the air and tearing through some cloth. I wanted to emulate this process, but in a generative work. The result of this initial exploration was my piece Good Night in 2018, which has this industrial feeling that I immediately fell in love with. I’ve used this algorithm in several pieces since then, but I knew there was so much more I could do with it. Art Blocks was the perfect opportunity to stretch the system to its limits using all the tools I’ve built up over the past four years, and I think I’ve done that.
Edifice, Ben Kovach_204000000_border.png
Ben Kovach, Edifice #0, 2021.
JD: What should collectors look for in your Art Blocks project as the series is revealed?
BK: The core algorithm produces these little explosions in a lattice—the way those are laid out has an emergent effect at the micro level, so keep a close eye on the details. Some of my favorite results appear minimalistic at first glance, but harbor small details that I think are really special. I highly recommend viewing the output in as large a size, and as dense a screen, as possible. Additionally, there are some color scheme variants that are not tracked as features. These can have dramatic influence on the work as a whole, especially depending on how much symmetry the piece has. I enjoy watching the pieces animate, particularly when there is no symmetry involved. Pay close attention to this and you may catch a glimpse at the algorithm driving the work. Edifice is a highly variable system, and even though I have generated tens of thousands of works-in-progress pre-release, I am consistently surprised by some of the outputs. If viewers find something in a piece that surprises them, I would love to hear about it.
JD: That’s awesome. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing everything that comes out of the minter. Is there anything else you’d like to share to help people better understand your art?
BK: Most of what I do has some grounding in the analog world. I use physical simulations a lot. I don’t typically gravitate towards pure geometric work, but prefer to try to emulate the natural inconsistencies of the real world. For that reason, I’ve always put a lot of emphasis on detail work in my art. I always encourage people to view my work in as large a resolution as possible, because those details are what define it. I lean heavily on texture and try to make sure that things look good even viewed in large sizes, screen or print. I have written a few articles about my workflow and general thoughts on generative work as well. You can read What Makes Generative Art Hard and A Story of Iteration—Generating Blotch on my website. I plan to write a deep dive essay on the Edifice algorithm after the drop to give everyone a shared understanding of the intricacies of the work.
JD: And what’s the best way for people to follow your work?
I can be found on Twitter, that is probably the best way. Additionally, I have a website where I host my portfolio and occasionally write about generative art. You can subscribe to my mailing list there, which I send updates through infrequently. I occasionally mint 1/1 NFTs on Foundation as well.

More from Spectrum

In Conversation with Emi Kusano on Melancholic Magical Maiden cover photo


In Conversation with Emi Kusano on Melancholic Magical Maiden

In Conversation with Piter Pasma cover photo


In Conversation with Piter Pasma

In Conversation with Leo Villareal cover photo


In Conversation with Leo Villareal

Art Blocks home

© 2022 Art Blocks, Inc. All rights reserved.