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Artist Spotlight… Brandon Kenney

We spoke with Brandon Keeney!  His ultra detailed art caught our eye and we’re looking forward to seeing him at Wondercon this weekend!
Q.  Out of college you were a 2D animator and then realized everything shifted to CG, what was it like coming to that realization?
I made the realization about halfway through my college courses in Media Arts and Animation, and it was a little sad. I fell in love with the look and feel of traditional animation when I was a kid, but I didn’t really understand the process until I took started taking classes. I immediately fell in love with the process and focused all my school work around it. To have that introduction and spark of passion followed by the constant reminders that it was a dying art form was tough. During my senior year I tried to shift focus towards Flash animation because it combined computers and elements of hand drawn, but the technology at the time wasn’t far enough along to bridge the gap for me. I think if we had been using Cintiqs and drawing directly on the computer screen it would have helped, but the only tablets we had sat on the desk while we looked at the monitors and created a disconnect from the screen and your hand. It also consisted of a lot of shape manipulation and less with drawing.This made the process feel very unnatural to me.
Q.  After that realization is that what led you to selling your art?
Shortly after graduation I was introduced to sketch cards on E-Bay. My mom actually discovered them and sent me the information, thinking it was something I’d enjoy doing. I saw artists creating tiny illustrations and paintings and selling them to consumers. Through sketch cards I met many talented artists who were making it work as self employed freelancers. I think that was the primary motivation: to be able to take and pursue the jobs I want and not to have to work for someone else.
Q.  Are you anti-CG or have you started to embrace it?
I don’t ever remember disliking CG, or the look of it. The process just never inspired me like traditional art did. Even now, when I work digitally I incorporate traditional techniques and even scan in textures and my penciled linework. Moving 3D shapes around in software just didn’t evoke that same passion in me. The amount of time I had to spend troubleshooting, or learning the software and rendering the scenes drove me crazy. I do love the stuff that is being done with CG though. I think around the time of Tangled, when Glen Keane was trying to incorporate a lot of hand drawn stuff into the production of the film, that CG movies reached an upper echelon of beauty and movement that I hadn’t really seen before that.
Q.  Which came first for you the geeky stuff or the art?  And when did you combine the two?
They both came at a very early age. I was drawing in elementary school. I would draw non-stop, all kinds of things, but my favorite things to draw were X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I grew up around art and it always felt natural to grab a pencil and draw the stuff I was interested in, and what I was interested in was comics and cartoons.
Q.  You’re a fan of Star Wars and baseball… can we see them combined in your art in the future?
Ha! That certainly is an interesting idea, albeit has never crossed my mind before. I can’t say it’s impossible, but I’m not sure I’ll be drawing Star Wars baseball illustrations anytime soon.
Q. What’s one tip you’d like to give young artists out there?
Don’t give up. Keep drawing, keep learning, keep struggling, and keep failing. People always tell me I have such “talent” but I constantly remind myself that it is skill, and it is from decades of practicing and making mistakes. Sometimes making the same mistakes over and over and over. It’s not like I could just draw well the second I picked up a pencil, it took a lot of time, and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with art. The successful artists are the ones who never give up.
Q.  The incredible detail in your art really stands out to me, some of it you can see every intricate pencil stroke… how long does the average piece take you? Are you also super obsessive about every detail?
The amount of time I spend on a piece varies considerably. If it’s a portrait with no background I typically spend between 5-10 hours on it, but that changes based on size and medium. Anything more complicated than a single face take considerably longer to finish. Oil paintings take FOREVER to finish because of the drying time between layers. Often times it will take me weeks or months to finish an oil painting because I need to wait several days for it to dry between layers. I prefer to work in acrylic because it dries much faster and I can get in and get to the details sooner. I’m not obsessive, but I know what I like and when something doesn’t look right I will re-work it over and over until I think it does.
Q.  In 2014 you were forced to work out of your comfort zone to make larger pieces… are you still uncomfortable with that? and are you pushing yourself to be more uncomfortable?
As I said before, I started doing illustration consistently with sketch cards which measure 2.5″ x 3.5″ and I would squeeze as much detail as possible into them. Once I pushed myself to work larger I found it hard to break away from that micro detail and focus on the larger picture. Not only that, but it was difficult for me to fill large areas of space and make it look interesting. Now for the past 3 years or so I have been working primarily between 8×10 and 11×14 and I find it much harder to go back to sketch cards. I am much looser and happier with large pieces and working larger is far more forgiving. What I mean by that is that if I draw an eye a fraction of an inch off in a large size, it still looks like a the character, however if I make that same error on sketch card it is amplified because the details are so small. I’m constantly trying to push myself and lately I’ve been working 11×17 and trying to create designs that work not only on paper but on t-shirts and enamel pins. As an artist you aren’t doing your job if you aren’t constantly trying to grow.
Q.  What do you love and hate about cons?
Conventions are great. My girlfriend Karen Hallion is the one who introduced me to them. We met each other at my first convention. At the time I hadn’t planned on doing anymore, but she convinced me to travel and start displaying my artwork. I am grateful for that because I have seen so many places, and met so many awesome people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. My favorite aspect of them is just seeing and talking to people. I spend 5 months of the year holed up painting, so when convention season rolls around I am desperate to socialize! I’m so grateful to be able to do what I do, and to be surrounded by others who are passionate about their fandoms and art is just an incredible experience.

My least favorite aspect of conventions is traveling with all my gear. I get very anxious about the logistics, so getting taxis and checking bags with all my prints and heavy suitcases stresses me out. It always works out though so maybe one day I’ll get over it.
Q.  Where can our readers find you next?

Here’s a list of confirmed shows I will be attending this year:
  • WonderCon – March 23-25
  • C2E2 – April 6-8
  • MegaCon Orlando – May 24-27
  • Denver Comic Con – June 15-18
  • San Diego Comic Con (Tentative) – July 18-22
  • Boston Comic Con – Aug 10-12

Come out and say hi!

Dave Hisaka

Hello, I am the Creative Content Director. I don't like talking about myself.