ARTIST FOCUS: JON KAY
This week’s Artist Focus throws the spotlight on the talented Jon Kay! Jon is the Art/Design Director for Fangamer and if you’ve bought a t-shirt, hoodie, collectible cup, pin or keychain from there it’s a good chance you’re enjoying his work.
He doesn’t always have time to enjoy playing games but he does have a unique firm grasp on making the virtual very real. He has an eye for design and his artworks aren’t reproductions but subtle and crafty additions to the very DNA of gaming art lore.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I grew up on the North Florida coast and spent most of my time playing LEGOs, video games, drawing and building forts in the woods. Later on I went to the University of Florida to originally study medicine, but felt drawn to graphic design (my parents weren’t too happy!). From there I moved to Atlanta, worked for a design firm downtown then later moved on to Fangamer and I’ve been working there for four years. I am now in Seattle and loving it!
How long have you been designing/illustrating? What got you interested in art?
What interested me in art was the desire to continue to live and expand in worlds of gaming and the adventures I wanted to have (Thanks Goonies!). Since I was five, I loved the outdoors and games helped spur my imagination to really make times more enjoyable. Metal Gear (NES) and the original Zelda made me look at the natural landscape in a whole new light. How to manipulate it into an adventurous twist. When I couldn’t explore outside, I wanted to take it to paper and created maps of the areas I knew and impossible forts I would want to explore. Things took off from there! It wasn’t a form of escapism, it was a desire to live what I could interact with to it’s fullest potential. I feel I’ve kept that fundamental philosophy to this day.
Who/what influences your art? Is there a particular person’s style that has influenced you?
I was fond of M.C. Escher and later Frank Miller. Escher was able to take landscapes with a curiosity I felt I shared and make it something new and intriguing. What I liked more is how he used math and geometry to make it happen. It is always gorgeous. Frank Miller was able to evoke such emotion from his illustrations using sharp contrasting lighting that was straight forward and effective. Both styles, methodical and organic lighting, helped me discover my own style.
How would you describe your style?
People say my art style is bold, methodical, balanced and solid. I really can’t pin my style as anything specific since it just flows naturally to me. A designer should never have a style, but it comes through in one way or another. I’ve been trying to incorporate more influences I feel are important to me so I feel things are ever changing. It’s always good to continually change and try new things!
What is your day job?
Fangamer is my full time job! (If you don’t count taking care of a corgi!) Most of my time comes with working with other artists, collaborating, merchandise production, consulting with partners, new opportunities. Everything I touch has to deal with the visual look and presentation of the company. I look at my job as the visual manager in every way you see Fangamer. There is a ton I want to do that I can’t due to time, but I’ll get to it eventually! :D
Tell us about your current projects. What are you working on? Any upcoming art shows?
Working on expanding the classic franchises we love to celebrate! We are pulling more artists into the mix like Daniel Bressette, Ashley Davis, and Mare Odomo. For me I am always eager to explore more challenging projects that take longer, but have a great reward in the end. I usually hold them closely before revealing anyhing, but let me just say I’m exploring creative type and other forms of information design. ;)
Has video game art, concept art, or fan art influenced you at all?
Concept art in games are always great to look at, but I try not to look at those too closely. I try to create my own ideas and concepts first, merge them with overall art styles, then refer it to the original to make sure I am making something that adds (not copies) to the universe and builds on that game’s world.
Are you an avid gamer? If so, what are you currently playing?
Because of Fangamer, I don’t have much time to play games. Ironic, eh!? I feel I have changed my relationship with video games and gamers to the “producing” side of the equation. I like generating work that gamers enjoy and is used to help them re-discover what and why they liked a game. The games I play are ones that I want to make sure add to me as not only a gamer but creatively. As for games I’m currently playing: Shadow of the Colossus, anything Pixel Junk, Journey. Just got done playing The Wind Waker again and slowly playing through FFVI (first time!).
What is the most memorable video game experience you’ve ever had? Why?
EarthBound really changed me. Not just one part, but the whole thing. I really connected with the game. the art style was perfect enough where your imagination could form the world around you. I feel the game has a relationship with the player where it doesn’t treat you like a kid, but it understands you and talks to you when you need it. That kind of experience coupled with the other artistic choices and the context of being modern day (helping me be able to relate to it more) really helped me see the true beauty of what a video game can offer.
If you could be any video game character who would it be? Why?
Was always fond of the casual denizens of Onett from EarthBound. I just love that little town! I’d probably be that kid hanging out in the tree fort behind the library.
What do you do for fun?
My hobby turned into my job so this is a tough one to answer! If I had time, I’d go hiking/exploring more, work on carpentry, and open up a deli. :P
If there’s one thing that you want people to know about you, what would that be?
A positive experience and promoting good influential design about games.
I want people to discover what they love in new ways and put a smile on their face. For them to experience something that can change them for the better, even if it’s through a simple shirt design. I want to improve the way people see good design and how it can improve game culture. I feel people and their game experiences deserve to have better design and a more thoughtful approach. These are experiences that help shape us and I want to continue to elevate that.