Award-winning Photoshop brush maker Kyle T. Webster on his Adobe Digital Brushes, inspired by iconoclastic artist Keith Haring.

Keith Haring Adobe header
Keith Haring Adobe header

“Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.” Keith Haring’s philosophy was that art was for everyone, not just for the ivory tower art elite. And with his radiant vision-frazzling graffiti-style in tow, the iconoclast and activist – who came up in 1980s New York – created art by example, a democratic style that emblazoned subways with drawings or public spaces with murals.

It’s this exact trailblazing attitude which is the focus of Adobe’s latest project and competition, which seeks to empower the next generation of creatives to craft meaningful work that also can inspire positive change as well as promote causes close to their heart. In partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation, Adobe have launched a new collection of Fresco and Photoshop brushes, inspired by the iconic artist, and created by award-winning illustrator and Photoshop brush designer, Kyle T. Webster.

In this stirring new competition, creatives are encouraged to share their own artwork using the new tools to incite positive change on social media using #adobexkeithharing and #contest. Eight winners will receive a cash lumpsum, a one-year Creative Cloud membership, and have the chance to be featured on the Adobe digital channels.

We caught up with artist Kyle T. Webster – renowned for his Photoshop brushes for professional illustrators, animators, and designers, as well as being the first illustrator to have his officially licensed by Adobe – and talked the importance of Keith Haring, lockdown’s impact on creativity and why an artist’s tools are of the utmost importance…

Keith Haring Adobe everybody brushes
Keith Haring Adobe subway chalk
Keith Haring Adobe everybody brushes
Keith Haring Adobe subway chalk

Hi Kyle, how has lockdown been for you? How has it impacted your art and creativity?
Lockdown has been a difficult adjustment for our children. They miss their friends and their school, and they were unable to participate in the special summer activities they look forward to every year. My wife is German, and she and our kids have been attending music camps for violin these past few years in Germany and Switzerland, which has been an incredible opportunity for them to improve their German and their music skills. As for me, I have found it more difficult to get inspired to make art as the lockdown has dragged on. At first, I was just glad for our safety, security, and resources – we are very fortunate to be able to live at home, buy food, and so on, and I do not take this for granted. However, the reality of the pandemic and its impact on the world has made it hard to think about fun things, like drawing and painting. On the flip side, when I do make art, I feel much better and it provides a wonderful escape.

What does the work of Keith Haring mean to you, especially when you were younger and when you were coming up in the art world?
When I was younger, I was only aware of his images through products (mainly T-shirts). In college, I became more aware of his activism and his paintings. It saddened me that he died young, because I believe there was a lot more he would have done to raise public awareness and make the world a better place. Few artists get the chance to do this in a far reaching way, like Keith.

Haring believed in the democratisation of art and making it available to people from all walks of life – what did it mean to you to become involved in this Adobe project?
I was honoured to be asked to participate and especially happy that the brushes would be made free, so that anyone could enjoy using them. I was also glad to know the Keith Haring Foundation would be partnering with Adobe on the project to ensure it was done right.

What were the biggest challenges in digitising Haring’s brushes?
Normally, I create brushes that emulate more ‘high end’ art materials. For me, it was challenging to capture the look and feel of more everyday art supplies that were part of Keith’s regular toolkit, such as markers, chalk, simple brushes, and spray paint. The spray paint, in particular was very challenging for me, and I’m probably most proud of those three brushes, along with the Sumi brushes, which really do feel as close to the real tools as a digital brush will allow. I love drawing with them.

Keith Haring Adobe brushes reflect
Keith Haring Adobe brushes reflect

Why are projects like this Adobe one so important to keeping the fire of an artist’s work alight?
As any artist who switches between mediums will tell you, the act of picking up a new tool that makes a different kind of mark will automatically change the way you draw. So, when somebody is in a bit of a creative rut, sometimes the solution can be found in simply switching to a new medium and playing around. In this brush set, we give people the chance to instantly switch between chalk, brushes, pens, spray paint and markers, which means they can find creative inspiration and new ideas simply in the marks these tools allow them to make. It really works.

And why are projects like this even more important at a time like this, which is so uncertain and when many will be feeling uninspired?
We are in need of any help we can get right now to stay energised, engaged, awake, and inspired. These tools hopefully provide a little boost for any artist who is feeling stuck or stagnant, due to the highly unusual circumstances in which we all find ourselves. If artists don’t create work in these moments in history, we lose the opportunity to document the human experience in times of great change, and we lose the opportunity to use art to motivate others to act with kindness and intelligence.

You were the first designer to have your Photoshop brush officially licensed in their library – how did this come about? Why did you believe it was so important to the next generation of artists?
It was a very gradual process that developed over the course of about three years, as I built up my brush business into what became an industry standard set of tools used by artists at Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and other major studios. During that time, I got to know more and more people at Adobe, since I was making my products with, and for, their software. It made sense, ultimately, for me to join the company and work on new brush ideas and new drawing and painting apps – a perfect fit, really. Making the brush library I had built available as part of Creative Cloud meant that millions of new artists would suddenly have access to my tools to help them make better art, and I’m so happy about this.

This is a really incredible example of how technology and art (which is often seen exclusively in an ivory tower) have collided for something incredible and accessible for all – do you think the future of art is inextricable from technology – as well as its ability to expand the realm of possibilities?
Technology and art have enjoyed a long, happy marriage for centuries. Minerals being ground into paint, paint being stored in tubes, copper plate etchings, the printing press, graphite encased in wood to make pencils, coloured inks, brush pens, and now digital art— all of these advancements have led us to where we are and in a hundred years, technology will still be making new kinds of art possible. It never ends, and I’m thrilled to be involved, in my small way, in this story.

What advice would you give to an emerging designer or illustrator?
Learn the fundamentals of drawing and design, first and foremost. From there, everything else is possible, but skipping this step usually does not lead anywhere good. Draw from observation, learn composition, study the history of your craft.

What’s next for you and what else are you excited about in 2020?
I do not have any major longterm goals at the moment, due to the pandemic. I am focused on the present, which means continuing to help build Adobe Fresco, getting ready for Adobe MAX (Oct. 20), continuing to provide free art education through my Adobe Live shows, improving my own skills through various online art courses (something I have never stopped doing, and encourage other professionals to do, if they can), and most importantly of all: taking care of my family and friends.


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