"Life is too beautiful and fleeting to ignore what it has to offer. I attempt to try and balance the intensity of my somber moods with the lightheartedness of satire. It works pretty good."
The portfolio of Canadian artist Kenny Poppins is full of wild and lively characters – a stream of mischief and darkness funneled through Poppins’ wicked eye. His designs have a sense of nostalgia and age. These characters have lived and now are sharing their adventures with the audience.
Poppins’ style is a blend of street art and character design – they are pieces that could exist in a cartoon or a city wall and in his Redbubble shop he’s moved them from canvas and print into t-shirts, and beyond, doing smart re-designs across his product line.
Your work is immediately striking – there’s a tactile quality to your designs, I just want to touch them. Your piece “Lonely Boy” blends your comic style texture with the earthy and natural look of a stained napkin.
Are you thinking of texture at the same time you’re working on a design? Are you saving scraps of paper you find or creating those from scratch?
I do use textures as a way of setting the mood for my most of my art. I find that textures hold a significant amount of interest to me because there are memories attached to them.
There can be a story behind them that can evoke an emotional or thoughtful response. That’s how I feel about textures. I want people who see my art to be connected to it for there own reasons. I use textures that are resonant to me, whether they be digital or photographed or scanned in I do not discriminate the source.
Rot and decay are both present in a lot of your designs, especially in the textured backgrounds. It gives your work a handmade feel. Are you working strictly with pen and paper or do programs like Photoshop and Illustrator come into play at some point?
I work with pencil, pen, and paper to draw my characters in the beginning, then when I’m happy with the outcome I proceed to use graphics programs such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and Manga Studio to get me to where I want to be.
My sketches are at times very loose and chaotic and other times they are the opposite. It really depends on my mood at the time. I love to sit and draw traditionally when I can but I usually keep all the originals to my self.
It’s not difficult to imagine your work spray-painted on the side of a building. Was pen and ink your original medium? Have you worked in oils, spray paint, or any other mediums?
In my adolescent years I was quite interested in graffiti and other forms of outdoor art because it is large, colorful, and tactile. The styles are so out there and experimental and impactful. It’s not a surprise that I absorbed some of that magic.
I’ve worked in spray paint, watercolor, acrylic, fancy brush pens, pastels, and all that stuff but at the end of the day my favorite medium is my trusty old HB pencil. Unexciting to most, but amazing to me!
"Spontaneity is definitely a crucial element of my artistic process because my characters are sort of manifestations of my emotions and thoughts and I believe that there is a parallel there. "
Your characters feel spontaneous. How much are you sketching out a piece before you sit down to create the final?
It really depends on my mood as to how much time and effort goes into a sketch. I’m moody. When I am in the concept stage of a character design I have a base idea of what I want to draw BUT I am completely open to any idea that may enter my mind.
Spontaneity is definitely a crucial element of my artistic process because my characters are sort of manifestations of my emotions and thoughts and I believe that there is a parallel there. Does that make sense?
You use text in such a great way. That’s something that seems easy but is actually incredibly difficult. You use it sparingly but with great affect. The ‘brrrr!’ in “Cold Furry” is so simple but effective. Are you hand drawing your text?
At the time that I made “Cold Furry,” I used fonts primarily. I have some very talented friends who are traditional sign painters who do custom lettering and they have encouraged me to do my own lettering in the future because it lends to the uniqueness of a piece of art. I’m currently practicing on paper and on my tablet and slowly making progress. It’s really fun!
As an artist, do you feel that a character needs a story? Do you prefer they exist free of a structured story?
My art aims to be interpretive. That’s not to say I don’t have a story behind them, I just keep that a secret. Some things are better left unsaid in my opinion because when you know too much it can really deflate the imaginative aspect of art. Allow your mind to take you to a wonderful place.
And then, sometimes some of my art is quite simply put, “literal.” Like for example, the other day I just wanted to draw an apple with maggots in it for the fun of it.
"My art aims to be interpretive. That's not to say I don't have a story behind them, I just keep that a secret. Some things are better left unsaid in my opinion, because when you know too much, it can really deflate the imaginative aspect of art. Allow your mind to take you to a wonderful place."
A while back you had a solo show in your hometown of Victoria BC, Canada. A lot of those pieces are in your Redbubble store. Do you see what’s currently in your store as a cohesive series? Are the pieces you’re working on similar to what appeared in your gallery show? Do you see your style evolving?
The set of art I made for that solo art show was meant to be cohesive. It was titled “The Late Great Nobody” and the idea going into it was to make a set of characters that were reflective of a time period of my life. I was going through a personal struggle at the time with who I was an individual in this world and where I fit in.
The concept of my solo show dealt with these feelings and thoughts and the characters took shape naturally. There is a bitter-sweet nature to my characters and that is because this is how I experience the moments of my life. If there were a word that summed it up it would be “ambiguity.”
Last year for me was a year of evolving for me and during that process I chose not to showcase any of my art but this year is going to be different! I am feeling much more comfortable with my current style. There are a bunch of new characters that I plan to showcase in my hometown and online through Redbubble and Behance. I’m very excited.
Quite a few of your designs have been re-worked into t-shirts, where you edit out the backgrounds. Are you starting a design with a product in mind?
I reworked my art for use on t-shirts because I did not want the rectangular backgrounds on my shirts as I think that is does not look very appealing. At the time of making that art I didn’t know about the awesomeness that is Redbubble. Now that I do, I intend to make some new shirt designs with that in mind.
One of my absolute favorites of yours is “Nostalgia.” There’s an odd hilarity to it. How aware are you of that balance between keeping your work serious versus humor?
Very. I am very aware. My life has taught me to understand that when things get way too serious, you need to laugh it off, because if you don’t, than you really aren’t living right. Life is too beautiful and fleeting to ignore what it has to offer. I attempt to try and balance the intensity of my somber moods with the lightheartedness of satire. It works pretty good.