Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

INTERVIEW - Keith Thompson, Mechnical Art Genius

Keith Thompson
Mechnical Art Genius

Interview Friday is back with freelance artist, Keith Thompson. Keith's work has been featured around the net and in major video games, such as the dieselpunk FPS/RTS Iron Grip from IsoTX.

Rahmos Fighter, by Keith Thompson

Dieselpunk culture shares a lot of its DIY attitude from its punk roots. As a mercenary artist surviving in the freelance world, can you tell us a bit about how you got started and what kind of issues you've had to overcome to survive?

In the middle of high school I started doing odd freelance jobs on the side, and worked in production at a small animation studio. I headed off to Sheridan college in Toronto to study illustration, and continued freelancing on the side. In the third year I put up the first iteration of my website (though I'd had a few proto websites since highschool.) After graduation I moved back to Ottawa and lived as frugally as possible and attempted to see if the career would work by just focusing on the art. The net is so good for art exposure that I managed to make that strategy work, and after a few lean years of keeping focused, things picked up pace extremely well.

Church, by Keith ThompsonCan a talented guy jump into the freelance world with both feet, or should he hold onto a 9-to-5 safety net? Can you make a living and still have a little fun?

Every artist seems to take a different route that's usually really keyed into their temperament. For me I really needed to avoid having a fire lit under me, so a patient long term plan with a backup of savings started in high school was instrumental. Art and business mix poorly in many ways so I tend to try to separate the two roles with a priority as an artist, but an obvious requirement that when a professional commitment is made it's always followed through perfectly. My approach wouldn't work if it was treated as a normal job, it takes a complete dedication.

You have a very detailed style, that reminds me of Arthur Rackham at his peak. In a time when artists are covering their weak points with fancy CGI effects, you seem to be building /more/ detail into your pieces. It's almost as if you're engineering the whole of the mechanics first, then just picking a good vantage point to draw them from. What can you tell us about your process? What type of music do you play in the background while you're working to get you into the mood?

I do a lot of pacing around and spacing out long before I start the artwork. Usually I have the whole artwork or design planned out in my mind's eye before I even start a thumbnail. Then I sort of go on autopilot and draw the whole thing out. If I feel a lightness in my stomach I know it's progressing properly, and if I don't it's a sign I'm not laying it down properly and I need to take a step back and compare it to the image I already have formed in my head. Music is a big help since I usually do everything in a bit of a trance. Usually I listen to classical and other music that evokes a sense of atmosphere or setting (so a lot of ambient and soundtrack stuff.) I've gone back to a lot of Lisa Gerrard and Denez Prigent lately, as well as Clint Mansell's amazing score for The Fountain.

Your work on the Iron Grip series is really intense. Can you tell us how that started and what Iron Grip ultimately turned into?

The folks at Isotx got in touch with me for some vehicle designs quite a while ago, and I've been contributing somewhat regularly since then. They're really good at creating a huge expansive mythos and world for their games that extends well past what's necessarily required (I find this excessive depth always shines in the finished product.) They're great to work with since they seem concerned with giving me the leeway to really instill the designs with a persistent touch and uniqueness.

Scrivener, by Keith ThompsonIf someone was willing to build one of your pieces and bring it to life for you as a gift, which would you pick? I think a Scrivener would be pretty handy helping me with admin stuff, plus it would look dapper bustling around the studio fixing things. Do you normally take commissions, and if so, what's the best type of client to deal with?
I take commissions happily whenever I can fit one in. The best client is one who wants to have artwork that's actually by me, not simply to employ my skills at something else they have in mind. My artwork really revolves around the central ideas behind it and the aesthetic contrivances, so it seems really bizarre sometimes when clients come to me without wanting me to handle those elements in an artwork.

Do you have any favorite authors/games/movies/websites that you like to unwind with, or gain inspiration from?

A massive amount. Anything I spend time doing I usually require it to be a source of some inspiration. I much prefer enjoying art to making it (I make my own art with the intent of looking at it, not because I get much out of the working process.) Most recently I've been getting a kick out of the atmosphere in the first two Thief games, and I'm watching through an awesome old children's anime L'Oiseau Bleu which is based on the French opera. I've also finally gotten around to reading The Incal, which is brilliant so far.

What's it like being Keith Thompson? Should we keep our eyes open for anything big on the horizon?

I'll figure out what it's like when I'm finished with it.

All my projects have been way too big lately, so they're off in the distance. Next book should be Leviathan, next game should be Borderlands, and the next movie should be Don't Be Afraid of the Dark... I think. There's some more stuff coming out sooner, but I'm not sure how much I can say about them yet.

That's a lot of projects to keep in the air. I have no worries that we'll be seeing you in lights soon.

Thanks for keeping the Dieselpunks transmission humming!

To see more of Keith's artwork, check out his website at www.keiththompsonart.com

Keith Thompson Art

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Keith has some amazing artworks. I haven't checked out his website lately, and really I should have for there's plenty of great new stuff. Good interview, too! Thanks!

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