Meet J Zachary Keenan. Zach is an illustrator, designer, and art educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He is most known for his brand design, advertising, and hand typography. His work ranges from packaging to screen printing to animations and sound. He has worked with clients such as Readymade Magazine, the Walker Art Center, MPR, Target, Piece Studio, and many others. In addition to freelance projects, Zach is also teaching Design classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. We have had the pleasure of working with Zach on several exhibitions including HOT PARTY, the Expletive Show, You Can Do It, and the current Guts Exhibition.
His work is vibrant, playful, and filled with visual puns! We are thrilled to talk with Zach today about his studio practice, thoughts on illustration and design, and upcoming works! You can read the interview below, as well as see his work here: jzkeenan.com.
Hi Zach! Could you tell us about your studio? What materials do you most enjoy?
My current studio is small. And it fills up fast. I like having raw materials around that inspire me. Usually, my organization method is “stacks of things,” which gets out of hand sometimes. I have bins of markers and pens that I probably should have discarded because they no longer lay down a clean, crisp line. But the marks they make still hold value for me. I love how a tool affects the process of making. A sharp knife will cut but a dull knife can give an unexpected result. I try to find beauty in the unexpected.
What is your creative process like? How does your process differ depending on the medium you're using? How is it the same?
With illustration and design, my final products tend to be digital. So I try to keep the initial process analog for as long as possible. I alway start with a sketchbook and a pile of content that relates to the task at hand. I like to think that whatever the medium (ink, pixels, wood, plastic, sound, etc.) or the type of project(imagemaking,brand design, art direction), my aesthetic sensibility and critical thought provides a common thread throughout everything I do. I’m not sure if that’s true—I hope it is!
What inspires you? What imagery you are drawn towards using in your artwork, and what about it excites you?
Visually, I really enjoy folk art and old rural signage—from all different cultures. The creator maybe isn’t so classically trained, but she/he is driven and passionate about what they’re making. Visual communication, self expression and a person’s life experiences all come together to make that final beautiful thing. On a larger scale, I’m motivated by nature and the outdoors. I think nature is one of the few things that we all have in common.
What are your favorite creative resources?
Everything, seriously. The cities (MPLS/STP) are a great resource. There’s enough cultural institutions, libraries, food and good people around to help my head get unstuck. Can you talk about your idea and process for creating your piece for Guts? What inspired you? How did the idea form? What did you encounter in the process?
I knew immediately that I wanted to make something tactile. And I wanted to talk about “guts” in surreal and magical terms. I think I started with a pallet of images, colors and textures that I like, and then figured out how that could represent the theme. I also wanted to present a contrast between natural textures ( the wood from the tree) and bright, saturated colors. Whenever I have the chance to work in 3D space, I look for ways to work 2D elements into the piece. I really love pattern, especially on a surface where the physical attributes have an effect the graphic. The whole process was a complete experiment. I had a clear image in my head of what I wanted to make, but I had never worked with a lot of the materials that were used to make the final piece.
Are you working on any exciting projects? What are some of your "dream projects" that'd you'd really like to work on?
I just started developing some creative concepts for a food truck. What a wonderful canvas to work with! I’d really love to do more super large scale work, in environment or retail, where pattern and material ideas could be let loose in a big space. I don’t know what that would be, specifically. But somebody should get a hold of me if they do.
You can see Zach's piece for the Guts Exhibition on the Light Grey website here! You can also follow Zach's work on his website and follow new projects on tumblr.