“At a certain point, as an artist, your ability starts to match your imagination and I think a sense of freedom comes with that,” remarks illustrator Keith Rankin. “I’m not at that point but the idea of total freedom is exciting and keeps me moving ahead.” Having fallen in love with drawing at a young age (“[it] was my first interest in life”), Keith’s illustrations are strange worlds, full of colour and surreality.
Keith is based in Columbus, Ohio where he works as an illustrator, co-runs the record label Orange Milk and makes electronic music under the pseudonym Giant Claw. With myriad creative outlets, he’s constantly fishing for influences and reference images. “I used to lurk Tumblr and Instagram and now I just save every picture I see online that is inspiring,” he tells us.
When working on a piece, it’s these images he’ll draw on, assimilating them with good reference images. “If I’m doing a human figure I’ll do an image search or look at stock photos which are like their own hidden world. In some ways my process starts like a collage, putting together rough ideas that I then recreate and shuffle around in Photoshop.” The result is imagery which mixes realism with “otherworldly fantasy or horror”, amalgamating objects and backdrops that juxtapose each other.
Throughout his portfolio of imagery, Keith strives to break convention, challenging our understanding of the world. “I think any culture has a shorthand that represents stable reality for a lot of people,” he says. Using the example of the verse and chorus structure of a pop song, he further explains how “when you sidestep or subvert that in some way while still remaining inside the form it can be really effective. Sometimes when I’m working on an art piece I hope that I’m breaking out from the sense of stable reality, or my established form in some small way.”
As almost all of his work is commissioned, the work he creates for his label is “the closest to personal work” that Keith gets. It’s on these pieces that he labours over the details, for example, when creating the cover of Co La’s Sensory Dub Example, he went through several iterations, “either amplifying the sense of being in a physical space or the flat abstract elements before finding a pleasing balance”. It’s in pieces like this that Keith’s proclivity for “finding the sweet spot in mixing overall minimalism with smaller complex elements” is most clear.
Although only making small changes here and there (“the piece felt incomplete until I added the tiny white line below the yellow dash near the bottom”) that might go unnoticed to others, Keith’s attention to detail makes his portfolio feel like a considered, united body of work where individual pieces feel connected, all part of Keith’s imagined universe.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.