Interview with Keryn Thompson
Keryn Thompson is an amazing illustrator, animator and filmmaker based in New York City.
“I find physical beauty an awkward, yet essential factor in humanity. While naturally engrained in all of us as something to covet, it is also something that has been unnaturally twisted. The female form represented in the media is an obvious farce, especially when in print. These are images that have been heavily digitally retouched, even after many of the women have gone under the knife. Much of my work pokes fun at the need for breasts, a dainty waist and kissable lips.
Beyond illustration and animation, similar themes have appeared in my film work. As an Associate Producer for the Sundance feature, TOE TO TOE, the film unravels a story between two very opposite teenage girls and their struggles with friendship, race and sexuality. The film itself has been used in many classrooms as an educational tool to discuss teen health.
In 2008 I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Film/Animation/Video. I have been working as an Associate Producer for Pureland Pictures based in Brooklyn, NY and continue lending my services as a freelance illustrator/animator.”
Keryn, it is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up and what kind of a child you were?
I grew up in Toms River, NJ, a town I always thought was some distorted depiction of suburbia. Kids were either coming down with cancer because of tainted water or competing in the Little League World Series. I personally was a weird kid and never really fit in with my sports-minded peers very well. I was definitely a Wednesday Addams type girl, complete with morbid humor, pale skin and daily dark garb.
When did you first become interested in art?
I think what first interested me in art was that it was the first thing I was good at, haha. I was always getting into trouble as a kid and always getting punished, so drawing was a way to keep myself entertained while I was in “time-out.” I guess it became good practice.
You went to the Rhode Island School of Design. Were there any professors there that help foster your love of art and design?
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), while a great college, was not where my love for art and design was really nurtured by professors; that actually happened much earlier. I credit everything to my high school art teacher, Raymond Waters. The professors at RISD were more focused presenting varying techniques and mediums to apply to your work, rather than fostering a love for the craft.
You do not seem to be limited or stuck in a certain style. It varies from piece to piece. From simple line drawings to digital paintings to textured and colored pieces. Do you have a particular style you prefer to work in? Can you describe your style?
Well style and technique are two different things. I can draw realistic, and I can also draw more figuratively abstract. We live in the future and have cameras, so I’ll leave the realism to photographers. I’m very interested in telling stories through my art, and depending on what story I’m trying to tell will dictate the technique that I employ. Sometimes a simple line drawing is all that is needed. Sometimes color and depth are needed. Sometimes I want to see something move and literally come to life, so I’ll animate the work.
Your professional illustration work is superb. I love the illustration “As We Are”. Can you tell us a little about the piece? Did the client come up with the concept?
Thank you for the compliment! AS WE ARE was a concept brought to me by the online publication, Nomad-Chic, for their launch later this year. They wanted a piece that would illustrate certain quotes, this one being from the author, Anais Nin (quote below).
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
They had given me a few to choose from, but the Anais Nin quote really jumped out at me. The wording is already very imaginative.
“Mountain Girl” intrigues me. What was the idea behind it?
MOUNTAIN GIRL was a stab at American Folk Art. I’ve always been very intrigued by the genre, as it is very illustrative and very abstract at the same time.
You have a dislike for beauty. Some of your illustrations feature women with sagging breasts or in the case of “Heavyset”, huge breasts. Was there a statement you were making behind this piece?
I wouldn’t say I have a dislike of beauty; I have a dislike of the bastardization of beauty. Naturally beautiful women should be cherished because it is rare, but a woman who has succumbed to social pressures and modified her body through medical procedures is something that shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. She’s a fraud, a caricature of a woman at best. Pieces like HEAVYSET are my personal stab at this.
Not only are you an illustrator, you are an animator as well. “New Jersey Transit” is an interesting piece with a surprise ending. What technique/software did you use and is it based on a real incident (gasp)?
NEW JERSEY TRANSIT was a short, traditional 2D animated piece. This means I hand drew all of the line art that you see on the screen. I scanned almost 1000 pieces of paper into the computer and then completed the work in the program Adobe After Effects.
I love “Sweat”. Again, tell us about it and what the experience of making it was like.
I made SWEAT to teach myself the program Adobe Flash. I wanted it simple enough that I wouldn’t get frustrated with the software, but at the same time make something I enjoyed during the learning process.
You wrote on your blog:
“Many people address me and tell me they like my work. They would buy my work. They would display my work. That is, if I covered-up the women I draw. I have, for the most part, left breasts out of my recent pieces. However, I like drawing the raw, female form and I personally cannot understand why anyone should be ashamed, embarrassed or disturbed by it. “
So I have to ask you if you have left out breasts from your recent work out of choice or pressure not to include them?
I don’t mind selling out a bit now to be able to show my work, and if I have to leave breasts out of certain pieces then so be it. I’m still at a very early point in my career and I don’t want to shove myself into a corner that I can’t get out of because I refused to erase some tits. With that said, I also want to have the discussion with people about nudity and why it makes them feel uncomfortable. The human body in its raw form shouldn’t be considered perverse, we all have one and we shouldn’t be ashamed.
How did you meet Emily Abt and start working in film?
I started off working for Abt’s production company, Pureland Pictures, shortly out of college and have been on her team ever since. I’ve done a number of projects with her, most notably as Associate Producer and Music Coordinator for her feature-length narrative, TOE TO TOE, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
I received my BFA in Film/Animation/Video from RISD, so learning the film process there and then I hit the ground running once I graduated. The first film production I ever worked on was as an Assistant Animator for THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE, starring Robin Wright and Winona Ryder.
Is working in film something you enjoy and want to continue doing?
I don’t enjoy working in film, I love it, and this is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. The moving image is an incredible medium, and I’m so thankful to be involved with the art. Whether it’s live action or animation, I hope to continue doing it for as long as I’m on this earth.
What artists, photographers, or animators do you admire?
As for traditional artists, Jean Giraud Moebius, Egon Schiele, Humberto Ramos, Martin Emond, Stephen Gammell and Marlene Dumas to name a few. I’ve always been a fan of the photographers Gregory Crewdson and Diane Arbus, who are on opposite ends of the spectrum with their aesthetics. Animators have to be Don Hertzfeldt, Danny Antonucchi, Paul Berry, Joanna Quinn and anything from UPA. I admire so many people though, it’s really hard to share just a couple.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
As Confucius says, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I believe that, because when I’m not drawing for a client I find myself drawing for me. Other than that I guess cursin’ and boozin’, haha.
Where can we find our more about you and your work?
You can find more about my work and me online at www.kerynthompson.com.
I GOT A CAT by Keryn Thompson