Keven Carter has had many jobs but is now a full-time Automotive Artist. Why an ice-cream made him cry and why he's basically a Ford guy.
How did you get involved in the art scene in Detroit?
I’m a Detroit native, born and raised here. I grew up always drawing. It was a way that my parents kept me busy and out of trouble! In my adult life, I’ve had many jobs; too many to list really, but some include graphic editor for film and video, graphic designer, working in a hot rod shop, silkscreen printer, college instructor, worked in a machine shop, off-set printer… The list goes on! Now I’m a fulltime artist which I absolutely love.
I come from a relatively artistic family. My mother has always been a crafty person who tried everything from painting to basket making and quilting to making clothing. My father never pursued art, but enjoys drawing and is also a poet, like his father before him. My sister is also an artist who paints and crafts as well.
I recall my earliest memory of a car being the family car we had when I was growing up. It was a 1970 Chevy Impala. I remember the whole family was going for ice cream in late summer. I was strapped into a car seat. Somewhere in the process of being strapped into a car seat a hornet landed on my back and started to sting me. I, of course, started to cry. My parents couldn’t figure out why a kid who was going for ice cream would cry until they discovered the dead hornet and the sting marks in the small of my back. This was also the car that my sister nearly lost her leg when the door slammed shut. Heavy doors! Despite that, I still love cars.
I studied at the Center for Creative Studies here in Detroit. Technically, I studied animation and graphics. I also studied art history, painting, printmaking, woodworking and more. I also focused on typography. Somehow I always knew that I wanted to be involved with art in one capacity or another. I’m never truly happy unless I’m making progress on something artistic. Vehicles have their own set of characteristics that can’t be matched by any other topic. They aid mankind more than just moving us ahead; they can bring us nostalgia, passion, emotion.
As a general rule, I enjoy drawing vehicles. I like the way light and shadow and play off the shapes – high contrast between light and shadow and then some type of color as a middle tone to make it pop. I like using a minimal color pallet as possible because it helps both myself and the viewer focus on the topic.
Tell me more about how you create your art.
Primarily I work with shapes to create a composition. After getting something going I start to define the topics in the composition. I start with outlines and the major dark areas while leaving the areas that will be my highlights and mid-tones. I basically build everything black and white to begin with and the color comes in last.
The majority of my work is commission based, so that typically means listening to the client and trying to articulate ideas into pictures. I try to figure out in the discussion how the artwork will be used and the reproduction techniques that will be used. These few things help really craft how the process begins. As for my own work, it always starts with an idea that I can’t get off my mind. Often times it starts with sketches and doodles and then develops from there. I also research my projects quite heavily. I truly believe that if you have a solid base to stand on, the rest comes easy.
How did your style develop?
I’ve read comics from an early age and took to the art along with the stories. I suppose some of the style dripped into my own, with definitive light versus dark areas. One technique I employ is to do more erasing than building of colors. I may start with broader dark areas and then pull back to reveal more light.
Because a lot of my work is commercial in nature and needs to be reproduced over and over while also being editable the computer has been my mainstay for what the majority of people who know my work. I do also work on one off pieces when time permits. I still do draw by hand but often that gets scanned and transferred into the computer then redrawn again. All of the drawing on the computer is done on a Wacom Cintiq which is a screen you can draw directly on.
What is your creative process like?
I almost never work in silence. Silence is maddening to me so there is always music. Sometimes I’ll play some YouTube videos and documentaries depending on where I am in the process and what is going on around me. Typically, I only listen to music in the early stages of the work. Once all the creative aspects are set I’ll play videos on YouTube. For music I try to pick something for the topic so it feels like a soundtrack for the type of project I’m working on.
I like to get an early start on my day so I wake up typically around 5:30 a.m. and often begin my work after a cup of coffee. I take a break to make lunch for my son’s lunch and get him ready for school. By 8:00 a.m. I’m back at it again. By 3:00 p.m. it’s typically time to take a break and take my dogs out for a walk, which is in one part for me and another part for them. A little sunlight and some physical exercise is a great way to refresh yourself and your mind. By 5:30 p.m. I’m coming to a close on a typical day and start to get things ready for dinner and an evening with the family. If I’m in a crunch for time I may start work again around 8:00 p.m. and work until I can’t keep my eyes open. That said, since my son came along, I try to stick to a day time only schedule.
Photo by Keven Carter
Tell me about your love of cars.
I’m a Ford guy but I respect design of many other vehicles as well. I really like vehicle designs from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. I appreciate the form over function look of the auto designs. I used to own a 1949 Ford Tudor Sedan for a number of years and currently own a 1929 Ford Model A - a roadster project that’s been ignored since my son came along.
I’m inspired by vehicles. Seeing personalization put into vehicles to make them their own. Going to auto shows is a big inspiration. I try to get out as much as I can to go to shows and suck in as much of the car culture as I can. Getting to know and start discussions with others can lead to many ideas and inspiration. Outside of shows, history plays probably a large part of inspiration. Either through books, the internet, museums I can feed my inspiration.
What do you consider your best or favourite pieces of art?
My work with Harley-Davidson has been some of my biggest pride to date. As for a favourite, that’s a difficult question to answer. Often times my favorite work isn’t always the most popular with my audience. I’m not very good at measuring my best. I will say that I always try to do better work than my last work. I strive to always improve myself.
Vintage Torq Fest 2013 by Keven Carter
Any advice for people who want to become automotive artists? Or collect automotive art?
For aspiring artists, be diligent and work at your craft as much as you can. Everyday if you can. Practice isn’t overrated.
For collectors, I’d recommend not hesitating on your favorite artists as their works will likely go up in value. You’ll kick yourself and remember back when you could have bought their work cheaper.
For more information on Keven Carter check his website at Car-n-art.