From the Alberta ranchlands just east of Rocky Mountain House comes western country singer and songwriter Ben Crane. His love for the west country and the outdoors comes through not only in his music, but in his artwork as well. The western cartoonist and Leanin' Tree artist says "What I do beats the hang out of a real job!"
Ben is a family man (wife Sharmon and 2 daughters Stephanie and Jessica), whose music stylings are rooted in traditional country, with hints of bluegrass, jazz, blues and swing, and range from old cowboy ballads to recently-written songs of the western lifestyle to straight-ahead gospel songs that pack a punch; all delivered with warm personality and conviction.
Music has been keeping him busy for over 25 years. With six albums of his own and countless others under his belt in various capacities as producer, engineer, arranger, session player or vocalist, Ben is making a significant mark in the western music field. Several of his projects have been nominated for awards in the US where western music's current resurgence is at an all-time high, and these same albums are receiving airplay as far away as Europe & Japan.
Ben regularly performs at a variety of functions; ag societies, rural community associations, 4H fundraisers, gatherings and festivals, private and corporate functions, churches, and just about anything in between. His shows are concert format, agriculture-oriented and full of clean rural humour. Screen-projected artwork creates the most unique aspect of his show, while his daughter's accompanying fiddle and vocals illustrates his family values.
In his spare time Ben can be found visiting the west country.
"Super combination of visual and performing art. Sincere and very well received."
-Hudson Bay Allied Arts Council
"Ben Crane never fails to deliver with off the wall humour, clever concepts and some memorable serious songs that reach deeply into the heart of everyone who loves the west."
-Hugh McLennan, Spirit Of The West syndicated radio show.
"A great performance; down home humour, excellent rapport with the audience. When are they coming back?"
-Tisdale Arts Council
"You don’t often work with great talent the first time and feel as if you’ve known them all along. Ben brings wit, warmth and a professionalism that is rare. If you want a guaranteed performance with great music, great chat and a great guy…book Ben."
-Bryan Hill, Executive Producer, Madly Off In All Directions, CBC Radio
Ben is a member of SOCAN, Alberta Music Industry Association, Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta, Alberta Association of Ag Societies, and the Academy of Western Artists.
Raised on the flatlands of Alberta's Three Hills country, Ben's involvement in the western way of life runs deep. Work on local ranches and farms during his formative years, as well as a family that saw the benefits of humor, gave Ben a certain twist to his mental process; a twist that has become a permanent bent. His work is his view of life, and is inspired by events that have either happened to himself or friends, or simply a result of late nights and a strong cup of coffee.
Ben is an accomplished artist, recognized both sides of the border, and one of only a few Canadians drawing for the famous greeting card company Leanin' Tree. A founding member of the Cowboy Cartoonists International, he has won many awards, and has been a standard at western festivals and art shows all across western North America, including Oklahoma City's National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Calgary Stampede, C. M. Russell Museum and annually in Las Vegas during the NFR. His art has also graced many books and magazines, as well as private collections in many parts of the continent and overseas.
With a wife and two girls, he is a family man with family values; somewhat traditional, somewhat unpredictable. But with a goal of keeping his humor clean, he is to some extent a renegade, breaking new ground to prove you can laugh at everyday life and keep a clear conscience too.
Coming from a long line of demented folks, humor comes naturally to him. For as long as he can remember, his grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like had laughed at hardship and other everyday occurrences. It's little wonder, then, that he sees humor in the mundane. Although he ate and slept in town, going to most of his classes, he spent as much time as he could away from the bustle of small-town life, choosing instead to work and ride the family horse herd, rope with some buddies, or work for local ranchers. These activities initiated his insatiable thirst for the rural life, and family camping and hunting trips to the foothill bushland only added fuel to the fire.
Soon illustrations and experiences of this lifestyle were cropping up on any paper found lying around, and it wasn't until the ninth grade that he even thought about a career in art. He just did what come natural, not realizing that folks might pay to own these scribbles. In that grade 9 year, a local artist from a commercial studio asked Ben's dad for permission to apprentice him, and that sealed his career choice. Thankful for that boost, he rigorously applied himself to the art business all the way through high school and full-time following graduation. But after a 10 year stint as a commercial illustrator and graphic designer, and tired of deadlines and illustrations he had no heart for, he moved on, searching for his own sea legs.
Moving out to the James River area near Sundre in 1988 gave him more fuel to the fire, and within the next few years events would take place that literally spun his cartooning career around and headed it towards goals he had dreamed about but never thought of reaching. He started showing at a few Cowboy Poetry Gatherings from BC to Saskatchewan, then got into a few bigger shows, all this time hoping to educate the general public that cartooning is a viable artform; not just a quick doodle sketch torn from a paper and stuck to your fridge. People had been investing in his work and buying his philosophy, but he needed more exposure somehow.
In 1992, he entered a show with a group of like-minded cartoonists in Cody, Wyoming. "We all shared the same philosophy about our style of art, and I soon realized I was in unbelievable company. With a host of other Leanin' Tree artists, some whose careers I had followed since a kid, we all formed a now notorious group of artists called the Cowboy Cartoonists International. That's where my career as a Leanin' Tree artist started, as well as launching a host of other ventures, allowing my work international exposure, and to span a broad price range, bringing it affordably to all walks of life."
From there, his work has been shown at such places as the Calgary Stampede, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the NFR and CFR at Las Vegas and Edmonton, 3-month exhibits at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls and the George Phippen Museum in Prescott. He won numerous medals from these CCI shows, and had finally established his work and himself as contemporaries with such accomplished artists as Leanin' Tree's top-selling Boots Reynolds and Mike Scovel.
"The main characteristic of my work is its family appeal. I have always aimed to stay clean in my humor; to prove that there are things in everyday life over which to have a good belly laugh, and to be able to feel clean about having it. The other characteristics are the mix of cartoon and realistic elements, and the personality given to animals that we all know is there."
Sculpting is starting to take some of his time, always searching for something new to try. He's taken advantage of many opportunities to speak, and teach seminars and classes for school kids interested in art, affording him the ability to finally pay back to the next generation what his mentors have passed on to him. "In my opinion, that's the name of the game."
No longer showing, Ben's work is primarily commissioned pieces, both private and public. Leanin' Tree still keeps him very busy on a regular basis, and a growing list of books and gift products are sporting his twisted mind's meanderings. He recently evolved his style from traditional watercolour to digital, which, he finds, affords the best end result for published work. The colours remain intensely bright and no quality is lost to multi-generation issues like scans and separations.
"Years ago when the Creator was handing out gifts He blessed Ben with a contagious laugh and a twisted wit that made you wonder if the boy could use a good psychiatrist. This guy may be crazy but genius can afford to be."
-Phil Callaway, humourist and best selling author (Who Put My Life On Fast Forward?, I Used To Have Answers-Now I Have Kids) and one of Ben's former Art Directors.
"He's good; one of the best. Not only can he paint, he knows what he's painting, and tells a good story with a brush or a song. And it didn't hurt that he married well either."
-Boots Reynolds, top-selling Leanin' Tree artist and grand patriarch of contemporary western cartoonists.
"We were searching for a great humorous artist, so we asked Ben to join JQ Licensing due to the simple fact that his work is by far the best stylized humorous western/outdoor art around. His images are timeless and lend themselves to a good laugh every time, a good fit to our outdoor art profile! And as a bonus Ben has created custom work for us at a high standard of quality. Ya can't beat working with a guy who likes to sing, tell poetry and also create art !!"
-Jon Q Wright,JQ Licensing.
Ben is a member of Cowboy Cartoonists International and the Academy of Western Artists, and published by Leanin' Tree, JQ Outdoors, Western Horseman Magazine, Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine, Spur-Of-The-Moment.