Put A Bird In It—Featured Maker, Keith Carter

The talented artists participating in this year’s Put a Bird In It auction is seriously blowing my mind. Case in point: Keith Carter. One look at his body of work and it’s hard not to become an instant fan. Let’s learn a little more about Keith and find out how his birdhouse is coming along!

We are so excited to have your work as part of our Put a Bird In It show and auction. Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your background as an artist?

Sure. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and knew I wanted to do something in the creative field. I wasn’t always sure what that would be until I started getting introduced to the classic Illustrators from the “Golden Age” of illustration. Artists like N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell were responsible for showing me how a single image can tell an entire story.

I went to Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA and received my BA degree in Fine Art from there. However, I wasn’t really able to get anything done professionally after I graduated so I decided to head to Portland to go to PNCA to finish up a BFA degree.The summer after my first year there I took part in a summer internship at the Seattle design firm Ames Bros, which then led to them offering me a full-time position.

So, with the encouragement of my instructors, I dropped out of school and worked at Ames Bros for 2 years, mainly working on T-Shirt designs and poster art for Music Festivals. After that job ended I decided to move back to Portland, and have been working on projects throughout the art community ever since.

You’ve had some of your t-shirt graphics appear on popular TV shows like LOST and The Big Bang Theory. Did you know ahead of time they were going to use your designs or was it a surprise?

Those were total surprises, all of them. The company that I made those shirts for had connections down in Hollywood, so I’m assuming that had something to do with how they got on the show, but who knows. Either way, it was some of the strangest moments of my life when I would get calls from friends saying “ummm… you need to turn the TV on and go to LOST… right now!” I don’t know if it really means anything to have a celebrity wear your art, but it’s certainly surreal. I guess that was my 15 minutes of fame.

Tell us about The Pony Club and your work there. Are you involved with running the gallery?

Pony Club is an artist run collective that currently features 6 working artists in the Portland area. We all help run the store section of the space, plus we are in charge of 2 months of the year to put on a show in the Gallery space. We either give ourselves solo shows, or set up group shows. This October I’m curating a Black and White group show about “Nostalgia”.

I was introduced to Pony Club because one if it’s long term members, Jennifer Parks, went to school with me at PNCA. When I found out a few years back that they were looking for a new member, I jumped at the chance to join. It’s been one of the best decisions artistically that I’ve ever made. Being surrounded by such talented people and getting to know others within the art community has been amazing! Check out more about us at: www.ponyclubpdx.com

How is your birdhouse coming along? What are you finding to be your source of inspiration? Is there a theme?

The birdhouse is moving right along at this point. As with most of my work, I find a lot of inspiration through nature. I had a vague picture in my head of a birdhouse camouflaged by leaves, so I just took that idea and ran with it.

How has it been working with a 3D object? Is it intimidating or do you see the house as just another form of canvas?

I wouldn’t say it’s intimidating necessarily, it’s just different. Having so many sides of an object that you have to think about at once has probably been the hardest part, but I like challenging myself as artist. I figure even if I fall flat on my face, it will encourage me to take chances artistically.  

What are some of your favorite materials and mediums to create art?

I learned how to paint with watercolor, which has informed all the other forms of art I have worked with since. Watercolor is really unforgiving, so I had to accept that there’s a certain lack of control with most art mediums, and that’s okay as long as you don’t fight it. I now primarily use Acrylic, but I treat it like watercolor by layering lots of transparent washes. It’s basically what I’ve found to be the most time-effective and I can get it to kind of look like an oil painting without having to deal with all the harsh chemicals.

Put a Bird In It is our way to raise funds to support art and music in Portland’s public schools. Did you have the opportunity to try art and/or music when you were a kid? Why do you think it is important to provide that opportunity to children now and in the future?

I think exposing kids to any creative field and getting them excited about making something is unbelievably important. As a kid I was raised in a very creative environment and was constantly encouraged to try out new things, whether it was drawing, music, writing, etc…  The idea that our culture has been slowly taking away the value of a creative mind is unacceptable to me. Thank you guys so much for helping strengthen the art community here in Portland!