Calligraphy, not unlike tattooing, is an art form that traces its roots to myriad cultures, each with their own rules and practices. The allure of calligraphy is in the way it takes something mundane, the written word, and transforms it into something beautiful. What was once thought to be a fancy form of writing seen mostly in medieval books and on wedding invitations has blown up in the last couple of years, making its way into graffiti and tattoos. One of the artists who is driving that revolution is Keaps. We spoke with the multi-talented creator about his love of calligraphy, tagging walls and more.
When did you first fall in love with art?
The earliest and most solid memory of me falling for art was when I drew dinosaurs in elementary school. My best friend and a couple other kids also drew them and we had fun sharing them between each other.
What was your entry into calligraphy?
The entry was at various stages, I would say. I first became interested around the age of 12 and I had a calligraphy pen. Nothing much happened from that because I lost interest quickly after a couple of sketches. Later in life I got in trouble, did some time and really drew a lot in there. I was making letter designs for people who wanted to get them tattooed. The two most popular themes were Old English font and thin cursive. I would have to add my touch to make them more original. Later, I really got into making calligraphy the classic way with a brush, and after that I haven’t stopped. I’m totally obsessed.
Can you walk us through the thought process you go through while designing a piece?
I first figure out the layout I want to follow. It can be an animal, letter or shape. I start laying down some parallel strokes, which is something I’ve been doing for a while and it distinguishes my style. Then I start building with different strokes and tones of color, almost like a painting but doing it in distinctive calligraphy strokes. At the end, I drop shadow and give some depth to certain parts. It’s a process that makes me figure things out as I go.
How do you find the balance between legibility and artistic flourishes?
The balance is an eye thing that comes out of artistic intuition, I don’t really know how to explain it. Sometimes there’s a design that looks crazy in strokes but they are measured in a way, they are not just thrown on there for no reason. There’s some repetition—curves and straight lines as puzzle pieces. It’s a matter of what fits and what doesn’t.
As you work between many different mediums including paintings, graffiti and tattoos, is it difficult to adapt your style across mediums?
Most of the calligraphy strokes are the same in a sense, the technique is what changes the most. I think it is universal and the proof is there, the ability to switch in between mediums is what proves talent. I have a certain way of going for each one; they all have different applications, and that also brings style to each medium.
If you had to choose to work in only one medium, which one would it be and why?
OK, that’s hard... Maybe canvas painting is the most intermediate of the three, so I would ride with that. You can work with any size, you have 100 percent artistic freedom, and most styles are applicable.
Street art has always intrigued us because of the way it can be added on to or desecrated by other artists and taggers. Is this something you think about when creating and/or placing a piece?
Well, I’m not much of a muralist. I would consider myself more of a tagger so I don’t really have those types of problems. And when I do a brush calligraphy tag, I go big so any other small tags don’t really matter. And a painting, well, no one touches it at all.
Do you use programs like Procreate to do your designs? Has technology changed the way you design over the years?
Yes, using Procreate is staying up with the times. It’s a great tool, has many features, is really compact and gives you something else to dominate. I mostly design by hand then jump on Procreate to clean it up, but little by little I’m discovering more of its technological potential. I was against it for a while but I had to open up to it because it really helps in many ways.
Are there certain words you’ll never get sick of creating? Or do you try and change it up all the time?
I don’t really get sick of any, except maybe my name if I tag it a lot in one style. That’s why I have different forms for it so that won’t happen. Clients always want different stuff so that guides me into a variety of different words and combinations of words, plus the composition of each letter with other letters makes it even more interesting.
What are some of your plans for the future?
There are two plans I’m looking forward to. One is a graffiti/tagging video that shows calligraphy, or calligraffiti, works on the street. Strictly illegal. The other one is the online shop/gallery where originals and prints of my work can be bought. I don’t really like talking about my plans, I’d rather be doing them then presenting them to the public.