If a light hits the side of a red apple, it’s gonna reflect a little bit of red light onto the table also. I was like, how did I not see this earlier?
Keith RankinART . February 22nd, 2022
Who are you Keith?
My name is Keith Rankin, I make music under the name Giant Claw and as part of the group Death’s Dynamic Shroud. I live in Columbus, Ohio, USA right now and stay busy making visual art and music, and also co-running the record label Orange Milk.
What can we find in this crazy head of yours? :)
Hahah… if only we could know what’s really in the mind of one other person. A lot of neurotic thoughts.
How would you describe this fascinating style you’re swimming in?
With visual art, my style is usually identified as digital airbrush, because it uses the default brush tool in photoshop and has a similar textured look to airbrush art. I also think of it as a hybrid between digital collage and painting, since I usually start a piece with a collage and then re-create elements from there.
Did you receive a formal training or are you self-taught?
I started drawing really young, I loved the Lord of the Rings books and tried to draw every character from the mythology, then I got into anime and there was a bizarre period where the two styles overlapped, but I learned mostly from copying existing drawings. As a teen I dropped out of school, but later in life I took a few painting classes at a community college. I was horrible and had trouble focusing, I think I was more invested in music at the time.
How did you go from here :
Was it like a slow gradual process or did you experience this ‘click’ moment after which everything became clearer/simpler?
My photoshop evolution can be seen if you look chronologically through the album covers on the record label I co-run, Orange Milk. When we started I was doing most of the art out of necessity, and it was intense training ground. It probably sounds really basic, but it was a huge moment when I recognized how light hits objects, like the idea of reflected light, if a light hits the side of a red apple, it’s gonna reflect a little bit of red light onto the table also. I was like, how did I not see this earlier? and also how you can increase edge highlights for a more hyperreal look.
Most of my art had been either copying or making symbols, but things started to change when I thought more about the interaction of light on real world objects. Again I assume you learn that early on in school so the way I came to it was bizarrely late. But I also use reference photos all the time, like the guitar in that second image, I’m looking at a photo and making certain choices to enhance or mute color or light to get the effect I want.
Can you tell us about the music you do? (It made me want to break things in my apartment at first but after listening to your last album ‘Mirror Guide‘ in one go while preparing this interview, something popped in my brain and I reached another galaxy maybe (or a new level of consciousness?) and loved what I found)
My music made you want to break things? Haha… a lot of it is very rapid, almost a collage of sounds. I love trying to convey emotion or hidden intention with music, or treating it like the totally unique language that it is, you can choose to lean into certain conventions or try to move away from them. For instance I just made this album ‘Faith in Persona’ under the name Death’s Dynamic Shroud and it’s a total attempt at pop and dance music, trying to utilize a certain shared musical vocabulary to get cool results : soundcloud.com/giantclaw/sets/deaths-dynamic-shroudwmv-faith-in-persona
Amazing. That first song, Tear in Abyss, wo. All of your music works so well with your visuals. How does it influence your artwork? and vice versa probably?
I’ve tried to answer this question before, and I think when I did I just made something up that might not even be accurate. As I think about it now, the creation is all a similar impulse, but I have two different skillsets with visuals and music and they aren’t always at the same level. But it’s kind of like trying to tell the same story in two different languages – and with one you’re talking from your mouth and the other from your ass or something.
Haha I get it.
I’m crazy about this cover you did for Nick Hakim. Can you tell us more about the context and the story behind? [see above]
When I look at this cover now, I think of my friend Robert Beatty, who inspired me and gave me tips when I was getting deeper into photoshop. I just think out of all my pieces this one resembles his style the most, maybe, and when it came out everyone started mistaking this cover for his which we kind of laughed at. Aside from that, I was surprised the artist Nick Hakim went with this cover, I initially sent him a few sketches and this one was the most surreal, or maybe the least obvious choice, but I think that makes it better over time.
What does a typical day for you look like?
Honestly I’m on the computer pretty much all day. I prefer to live a pretty secluded life, before COVID I would go out to the movie theater as a way to change scenery and I’m dying to get back to that.
Could you guide us through your creative process from the first idea to the final result?
The very first stage is just thinking intensely, like I’ll lay down for twenty minutes and try to picture something in my minds eye. Then I’ll get online and do an image search or look on stock websites for references and start to put together a digital collage, and hone in the composition. Next I start painting each element from scratch using the collage as reference, and a lot of experimentation and discovery happens here, especially with color palette.
Last I’ll merge many of the elements and start a final layer of detail over everything, like adding tiny highlights or using the liquify tool to warp shapes or finesse the piece. Especially with commissioned work I’ve gotten in that routine because it speeds up the process. Without the routine I can take a very very long time on a single piece in the discovery and composition stage.
This cover (above) is a collaboration with the artist Ellen Thomas (who is also your partner)- who did what on this piece?
First I’d like to say that Ellen is currently locked out of her instagram account and is probably missing out on some needed commissions right now, so if anyone reading has any knowledge about getting instagram to respond or fix locked accounts please message me or email.
But for that piece, it’s the cover for an early Amiga video game soundtrack, Shadow of the Beast, so I started by watching a playthrough of the game looking for a creature that the main character could be facing and other elements. Then instead of a collage I made a pencil drawing to get the composition in place, scanned it and did a really rough coloring job in photoshop. Ellen then transferred the drawing to canvas and painted it with oil paint, refining things along the way. We’re also talking about every aspect the whole way through and making decisions that way.
You seem to be working in collaboration with her quite often. Like recently, on this beautiful choreography animation.
Could you tell us more about the process behind and how’s it to work with someone that close?
I love that sort of close collaboration, excitement is heightened when you can share it. That video was a complete experiment, we had never really done anything like it before, but the idea was to combine a rotoscoped dance routine with a scrolling background. The video footage was of the dancer Azuki Umeda, who had done choreography to some of my music before, and we traced her routine frame by frame. It definitely gave me the itch to make a longer animated film, like Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus or something in that mold.
Give us some classic inspirations (artists from before or contemporary, books, films, animations, …) that populate your brain?
There are so many so I’ll choose a few of my favorite current artists right now
Dian Liang: instagram.com/dian__liang
Dave Shen: instagram.com/daveshen198
Ginssiyo Apara: instagram.com/sickandtiredblackartist
Alfred Pietroni: instagram.com/alfred.pietroni
Jiayi Li: instagram.com/jiayillu
Ram Han: instagram.com/ram__han
Chris Regner: instagram.com/raaaaagner
What’s next for you?
Like literally or more abstractly? I hope to work on more personal projects this year, I’ve also been organizing an art book for a long time featuring all my favorite artists, like the ones I just listed, and I hope that can see the light of day.
What are you going to do after having answered to that final question?
Now you have me looking through all these artists pages.
Keith Rankin is an artist based in Columbus, Ohio, USA. You can find his work on his instagram or website.