A Short Interview with Chris Keegan

How did your career kick off? 
I graduated from Camberwell art college studying mainly illustration, typography and photography. I didn’t ready have anything major happen to my career for a good year or two. Small jobs and favours from people slowly started dribbling in. I then started to get a little illustration work for magazines such as Timeout and The FT Magazine. Things picked up over a few years so no big break or anything.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?
You get a lot of creative freedom working freelance with nobody looking over your shoulder. No travelling to work or having to force myself out of bed and onto a cramped tube train in the morning. Only a few meetings where I get to visit different creative agencies and design companies which is always interesting. 

What advice would you give to a student trying to pursue a career in illustration? It took me a long time to get where you needed to be. Illustration has gone global and people don’t want to pay much for image making at the moment. You have people from all over the world competing for jobs. Contrasting with magazines and Newspapers going out of business and or slashing artwork budgets. I would suggest really trying to have as many strings to your bow as possible, Illustration being one of them. If you are not getting enough commissioned work, keep yourself busy by learning new creative crafts, or even try collaborating with another creative person that complements what you do. 

What do you mean to learn new crafts?
A few years ago I diversified into creating my own limited edition screen prints. Having a number of self-initiated projects on the go that you are constantly working on in your spare time is a really good way of filling in any time whether it be during the week or the odd evening. This can help develop your career on the side and even lead to commissions. There are so many creative opportunities now with all kinds of different maker groups to learning about digital design and 3D animation possibilities like VR and 3D printing. These emerging fields are really interesting to learn about and could lead to job openings. Other than just waiting around for someone to approach you.

Do you think screen printing has the same claim as painting?
Well, yes for me it’s a form of painting. The majority of artists opt for painting overprinting for perhaps a number of reasons like access to local print studios and the challenge of creating a one-off work of art appeals to a lot of creative people. I would feel sad having to let a one-off unique painting go after I spend hours or even weeks painting them, so creating limited editions in print is a great solution for me.

What do you think about screenprint dying out?
Not at all if anything I hear about more printing studios and workshops popping up in London now more than ever. 

What do you think about the advantages of printing against digital methods?
For me, it’s always about getting the best from both worlds. Mixing the old with the new. If anything the explosion of technology and gadgets in the last ten years has also rejuvenated an interest in old technologies like the many various printing methods. So they both have their advantages I would say.

Do you have any professional advice for when you get stuck or have creative block?
I don’t really get creative block in any major way. What I would say is that for me each work I create has a clue in it that leads to the next one. The way that I try to look at it is that every work of art that you create is unfinished. I never try to create a truly ‘finished’ piece of art, that’s a dead end to me. Developing a healthy creative process means to me that one thing will lead to another. I look back at my previous works and fined ideas and clues to help me think up my next piece. 
Learning new creative software or a new craft helps me to keep in the state of mind that is compatible with maintaining a creative and fresh mindset. It’s probably not true for everyone but fundamentally learning and creativity are intrinsically linked for me. Creating something new and learning something new work really well together. Bit by bit as my skills develop, so does my creativity. This helps inoculate me from any block or lack of inspiration.

How much time do you spend thinking up an idea for a piece of work?
How long is difficult to say. Sometimes it’s more about working through the bad ideas first before I get to the rare interesting one. It’s important not to judge an idea too quickly but develop it. The more I spend developing something the better. Working through the ‘bad’ ones is important too, putting them down on paper in a sketchbook or quickly visualising them to get the idea out of your head to create space for better ideas to emerge.
When I get a good idea, the artwork really flows out. If it’s an underdeveloped concept or a bad one I find it very difficult to be productive and I find myself going around in circles. This gives me a clue to maybe start again, and again until something starts to take off.