Excommunicate, proudly presents an interview with yet another incredibly talented artist, Keith Thompson. Keith is perhaps the most imaginative artist I have seen. Not only do his illustrations evoke a world of the fantastic and surreal but; he even goes the extra mile to write a background story to each one.
Keith is a freelance artist who’s been featured in Spectrum art annuals, as well as in Ballistics Publishing collections. He tends to work in publishing, film, and video games.
In 2005 he was featured in the Spectrum Art Exhibit held at the Museum of American Illustration in New York. His piece The Prophet was included in a set of art chosen from all the artwork of the past 11 editions of Spectrum.
JackDirt: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Keith Thompson: I’m English, grew up in Canada, currently in my early twenties, and I’ve worked my whole life as an artist.
JD: When did you first decide that you wanted to specialize in fantasy art and illustration? Do you dislike the term fantasy art?
KT: I never decided to specialize in fantasy art and illustration itself, I create the art that I want to, and it happens to be classified in those fields. If we lived in a situation where this type of art was used on tissue boxes and yogurt containers you could ask me what made me want to work in advertising.
I don’t personally take a dislike to the term “fantasy art”, but I try to avoid putting any weight, positive or negative, on categorization. Trying to avoid terms with a negative connotation is running from the problem of art being marginalised into sections of varying approval and disapproval. I think the avoidance of using classifications held in poor regard actually reinforces the negative label.
JD: What was the most incredible defining moment in your life that inspired you to create any particular illustration? What are your other inspirations?
KT: Luckily my life has been very conducive to creating artwork up until now, so events in my life have allowed me to create my work, as opposed to influencing it per se. My primary sources of inspiration are from all artwork from any culture, though usually it predates impressionism. A lot of Japanese fantasy and sci-fi art has also had a big impact. I derive inspiration from so many disparate sources, it’s hard to really name anything too specific.
As well as this, I tend to draw a lot of inspiration for my narratives from the history of any period, including current events (though I have no interest in dealing with anything that’s overtly “topical”.)
JD: Can you describe a little bit about your creative process? How do you even come up with such creative concepts?
KT: I need to be very isolated when I come up with ideas, and I often do my best work very late at night when it feels like everyone else is sleeping. I’ll pace around obsessively in front of an easel, suddenly laying down ideas as they come to me, then disengaging to pace some more. People tend to notice that a lot of my working time involves walking in circles and long periods of staring where nothing is being put to paper at all.
When I imagine things during the design process they’re usually in visions complete with environment, atmosphere, invented context, and even imagined sounds and smells.
JD: Every single one of your illustrations, has a small story with it. You go beyond just envisioning your subject and you create its entire world. Do you ever find yourself falling into these worlds you create, wondering what if it is all real or do you tend to stay fairly grounded?
KT: The things I see and feel when I come up with these worlds can be very vivid, but there’s never any blurring of perceptions. I think it would be extremely detrimental to the creative process to have a problem like that. Most of our perception of the world as a whole relies on a person’s imagination to envision events and situations outside of our immediate senses, so one’s imagination is actually where most of our sense of reality resides. Fantasy relies on the skewing and reshaping of reality to create alternate worlds, so a limited or spotty sense of reality would actually greatly diminish a person’s ability to create something compelling that plays off of our shared understanding of reality.
JD: The illustration, of the pontiff seems to hold particular significance to you as you have adopted his gallows as part of your visual identity. What is it about this symbol that makes you so drawn to it that you have almost adopted it as your logo?
KT: The gallows are just a symbol I seem to keep returning to as a centralised icon for the worlds I flesh out. It’s primarily an alternative to depicting a cross; it’s a mythological sign of martyrdom that carries a lot of symbolic weight within the depicted world, but is alien to the viewer. Some things tend to float to the top of my imagination and I’ll find myself being drawn repeatedly back to a particular image.
JD: With subject matter as surreal and fantastic as yours, have you ever drawn source or inspiration from the occult beyond the obvious? Are your spiritual beliefs atypical of traditional society? How have they played a role in your work?
KT: I’m absolutely fascinated with the occult and spirituality, but I see it all as metaphorical. I actually subscribe to causal determinism, so I’m hardly what people mean when they say spiritual. From what I know I tend to view things in keeping with Baruch Spinoza’s ideas on spirituality. I do believe that mythological metaphor is extremely informative about the world, and a society without it is severely lacking.
JD: Your DVD on character design looks incredibly informative, is there any secret info you can give us onto what we can look forward to in it?
KT: The dvd is actually the first of a progression, as the design I make in this volume is then carried on in the development process. A following dvd will have a really brilliant 3d modeler completing the character design. So as a set, the viewer can really see the progression of how a character concept gets used by the people working with it.
JD: If you could say any one thing to aspiring artists what would it be?
KT: I’ve actually gravitated back to a rather trite and common piece of advice lately, and that’s to always try to create what you love to create. If you like nothing more than meticulously rendering toasters in pointalism, then go for it.
Reader Question:Is there any way you could explain how you manifest your imaginations in your mind? Is there a certain order of elements that create the whole, or does the entire image pop up at once? Also, how long does this process usually take, and how long do you spend on a image altogether (from idea to completion), on average?
KT: It’s a lot like imagining anything in life. The process is similar to reading about events and places in the news and then envisioning what they might have been like if you were there. Instead I have to build the situation and information from the ground up, and then exercise the same process. The base I work from is built up through a process of conceptual causality; sometimes it can begin with an imagined cause and what effect that would have, or an imagined effect, and what may have caused it. This process, over time, builds up a webwork of interlinked elements, most of which never directly appear in an artwork. Often the artwork itself, as a skeleton of an idea, will form suddenly in my mind, and then I have to follow this conceptual process to properly crystallize a depth to it; a sense that it is part of a bigger picture.
It’s honestly hard to tell how long I spend on an image, as they vary wildly from one to the other, and I’ll always have several artworks on the go at once.
I just want to take this opportunity and thank Keith for taking the time to be interviewed by us. Best of luck to you and your future endeavors. If you enjoyed this interview please visit Keith’s site Keith Thompson Art