Thursday, 1 April 2010

Keith Thompson Interview

When you hear the term 'intelligent design' it is often in the context of religion, being used as a counter argument to Darwin's theory of natural selection. When I hear the
term 'intelligent design', I think of one man's work. Keith Thompson's work.

Keith Thompson is a concept designer, having worked on films such as Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and games like Borderlands and Aliens: Colonial Marines. He is also a freelance illustrator who has completed commissions for books such as Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld & Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel.

He is a creator of some truly extraordinary art and all of his work, be it commissioned or self initiated, shows evidence of intelligent design. So it is with the greatest of pleasures that I present an interview with a man I'd one day like to collaborate with, a man whose work is both inspiring and fascinating, a man named Keith Thompson.
The Collect - Formed in a steel womb fitted to a female necromancer, the Collect is composed of souls captured at death and contained under high pressure with liquid aglaophotis. These souls were condensed into each other until enough life force was coalesced for the birth of a unified entity. The Collect now hangs in the upper stratosphere, a collection of uncountable eyes overseeing the earth and influencing world events.

Lloyd Harvey: Over the course of your career, you have completed art work for games, conceptual designs for films and had work printed on the covers of books and in magazines. Out of all these different media outputs, which one do you prefer the most?

Keith Thompson: So far my illustration work for books has often resulted in the most creative freedom. Really I'd gravitate to whatever best allows interesting ideas and artwork to fully form. Books have the advantage that the final art is the asset, whereas concept work often has to go through many more filters. 

Being commissioned in all these fields begs the question of what is left for you to conquer? What have you yet to try your hand at artistically?

Sequential storytelling. I've been offered a lot of opportunities to do graphic novels, but I've been turning them down up until now. It's a completely different approach from what I do. I have a lot of admiration for it, and I would be very demanding on myself to achieve what I'd want to see as a reader. I wouldn't want to muddle through it half assed. When I feel a proper calling I'll do my best to properly understand the art form in execution and, only when I feel confident from my personal work, I would start undertaking any professional projects. 

Surface King - King & Son's Oceanic Surveying Co. folded late in the year, unable to stave off the debts incurred by constant delays. The delays were caused by a disturbing casualty rate among the deep sea divers; they simply stopped returning to the surface. Read more on this piece here.
Phyto-Assault ship - The first combat dedicated craft to grace space with its presence, the Phyto-Assault ship was developed by the Galactic Fair Trading Association for dismantling illegal enemy space facilities. It's name denotes its initial and consistent use as a tool against colonial agricultural communities who actively violate or fail to comply with the Association's systems of tariffs and trade regulations.
I have spent a long time on your website pouring over the lavishly detailed and imaginative image descriptions. Have you ever wanted to write your own book, film or game? If you had the luxury of time that is and if so, what would you like to explore?

Yes, I hope to relatively soon.

One of the big path decisions I have yet to make is whether I'm going to take a story collection approach, or a grand epic single story approach. Currently I have things written that cover both. I find myself pathologically gravitating to forming a long epic tale. However, I thrive on exploring new ideas and worlds and I suspect I'd be better suited to a collection of shorts which take place in a persistent world (more like the snippets I have on my site.)

Martial Queller - As the multi-nationals gain greater power, they also garner more hostility and their aggressive weakening of federal powers has relegated much of the policing to being handled internally. The Martial Queller is used to put down protests and riots, and its mere presence often acts as a deterrence to those who would fight the powers that be.

When I look at your work, I get the impression that here is a person who loves to draw what they love. With you, this is intricate machinery, ghoulish beings and themes surrounding the occult, but is there anything you love to draw but never release to the viewing public? Like fluffy little kittens for instance? Or pictures that you deem too grotesque perhaps?

My girlfriend (also an artist) and I have a tradition of drawing pretty cutesy cards for each other on holidays and birthdays. Stuff like tapirs wearing top hats and monocles while going berserk in a Victorian zoo.
Do you and your Girlfriend ever collaborate on any projects?

No we don't collaborate. We tried early on, but we're both far too focused on our individual visions. It's possible we may collaborate on something in the future as I think it would artistically work well, but at the moment our approaches to art are too fiery to mix well.

How is she involved in your work and how are you involved in hers?

We both really live for art, and spend all our time engaged in making or appreciating it.  We consistently use each other as a third eye to check up on tricky complications on pieces.

There isn’t any information about you personally on your website. Do you feel that your art and illustration reveals more about you than words could?  

I model everything I try to do on what I enjoy in the arts. I don't particularly seek out biographical information on cultural figures for the sake of it, unless there's something particularly compelling about their situation. As an artist I try to seek quiet and stability so I can work properly. I would hope that people are interested in me producing more work. Spending time going on about myself takes away from the time I could be using to create new pieces.
Apollonian Wright - When experiments testing the viability of tapping into the quantum vacuum for energy were performed on the Apollo 21 Lab Station, reports devolved into strange ramblings about how their conclusions were inconceivable to human minds. Before all communication ceased, garbled messages were sent to earth from the astronauts about their experiments revealing to them the "howling face of the sun."

You and I have talked in the past about commissions you have currently completed and we all know that you are unable to go into detail about them, but how was working with Guillermo Del Toro? I have heard from many sources that he is a director who really knows his horror.

It was great to get a chance to do so. He has a really incredible art collection I had the privilege of looking through. He really knows art and illustration. Passion for the content of what you work on and for the work of others in the same area always stands out.

What work in his collection struck you the most?

Hard to choose, but probably the Moebius's. They were so striking and well crafted. I've always loved black and white line art.

Do you have a personal collection of original paintings and prints?

Old ukiyo-e prints and European engravings, and a large amount of reproduced art. I've always primarily loved very illustrative work, so I'm happy collecting reproductions. I have a large collection of artwork all over my walls, but they can vary from cheap modern-printed art nouveau posters to older framed prints I've picked up. I'm just as happy getting a print as an original as long as it looks good (I'm interested in collecting the imagery more than the artifice).
Reptile Hyksos - Shepherd King of the 15th Dynasty and disciple of Sobek. Lording over the Nile, the Hyksos repels invasions, while their King personally rides at the front of the defensive lines in a war chariot to rally the troops.

Question Set 2 – Questions for every artist
What has been your career highlight to date?

Hopefully, today's achievements. I tend to view my work as a nurtured singular process. Every day that I've created something new that has woven into my collective body of work, I feel is a furtherance of what I want to achieve. Hopefully the greatest point in my career will be my dying day (I suppose if I really manage to establish some lasting ideas other people may continue to create things based on my work once I'm gone, which would be great).

What was your big break into the illustration industry?

Making my website. It's my world’s embassy to the real world. I was lucky that it began getting attention almost immediately after simply sowing some art around in a few forums and on some art sites. 

What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?

People don't dole out a lot of artistic advice, I think because we don't really have the language to discuss art properly anymore. I get the idea we're really on our own out there and figuring things out is a sort of ineffable experience, one that’s difficult to communicate outside of simply demonstrating by doing.

As for professional advice, a very experienced artist told me when I was starting out that freelancing was like trying to get on one of those spinning carousel things in playgrounds. If you can manage the dangerous leap of getting onto a spinning one, the trick then is to hang on until you find your footing.

What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

Without a doubt the internet is the route I'd take. An artist can have a perpetual, living artistic window that anyone in the world can immediately experience and pass on to others to experience within seconds.

As an artist, what are the biggest challenges that you face?
Reconciling personal artistic passions with the constrictions of working professionally. What's sad is it doesn't have to be that way, but far too often there's such needless messing about in content creation that good things get molested to the point of losing a lot of their inner life in the final product.
Artificed Wings - A product of arcane clockwork technology, these wings are superfluously decorative and offer no flight capability. Extremely sharp and dangerous, many onlookers have been seriously mutilated by accident during a showy flourish performed by the wearer.  

Question Set 3 – Keith Thompson's Randoms Ones…
If your life was a movie, how would your death sequence go?

A robot transplanted into a girl's body would probably kill me with a basketball. It's a dignified way out: – WARNING: Graphic Content from the film: Deadly Friend.
What was the last thing that made you laugh so hard you cried?

Just got a new puppy and she's recently learned to open doors (she's a rather big dog), so she's been going around on her own burgling parts of the house. I discovered I was missing a lot of pencils and the door to the studio was left open. I followed her around and discovered she had a secret stash behind the T.V. where she'd piled up stolen pencils, screws, bolts and an old baguette.

In any language, what is your favourite word?


What really grinds your gears?
Burping. Especially its comedic, over use in movies.  

What is your least favourite sound?

Fingernails on fabric, hearing your pulse in your ears and burping.

Thank you Mr. Thompson. I am sure I will interview you again. In the mean time, visit the embassy to Keith Thompson world at 

Also see 


  1. EErrrr about the death ? creepy but after the video i got it.

  2. I love this guy! Keith is my favourite artist. His reply to my email was amazing.
    His art is extraordinary and I adore it! I hope to meet him him one day, he is my idol! <3



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