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An Indiana street

Justin Keys

Indy Like a Local

Who is Justin?

A graphic designer and illustrator – and creator of Visit Indy’s 2021 spring/summer Visitor Guide cover, Made For This Moment

Q. How did you get into graphic design and illustration?

It’s a funny story. What intrigued me about art when I was young was, a friend of mine would draw all the time. He would do the bubble letters for girls, and all the girls loved it. And I was like, Dude, all we have to do is draw bubble letters and we’ll get all the girls! I did one for a girl and I was like, That was kind of fun to just create something, and I started drawing Mickey Mouse, Goofy, then Rocko’s Modern Life and different cartoons to get the shapes down. That blossomed me into thinking, Wow, I think I’ve found what I really love doing. 

Q. How have you turned that into a career?

About two years ago, I was working a contract for an equipment company as a marketer. I got let go after the contract and I had a decision to make: go find another contract or another job, or pursue what I wanted to do full time – be a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. I started drawing pictures of celebrities and different things to get noticed and build a clientele. Fast-forward, I’ve worked with NFL players, NBA players. Notable ones are [Indianapolis Colts cornerback] Kenny Moore on his website and his apparel. Anfernee Simons plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. I had an opportunity to work with him. I’ve worked with the biggest artist to come out of Indianapolis in the hip-hop scene, Mark Battles. I’ve worked with numerous musicians in Indianapolis and out of state. I’ve done art shows around the city. It was definitely humble beginnings and started with a small seed and just began to grow. It’s still getting better. I still have opportunities that are coming and things that art has opened to me.

Q. What are some of your favorite spots around the city? 

Pre-COVID, me and my girlfriend would always go out to bars downtown on Mass Ave, sometimes we’d go to Broad Ripple. My favorite food spot is Best Bet. Oh man. When I first discovered it, I probably went every day. I’m from the South so I just love good food. It’s breakfast food, and it’s just amazing. I love Condado Tacos. Where I like to shop, I enjoy the vintage feel of things. Where I go to shop typically is Goodwill or TJ Maxx. You find so many good deals. Fishers’ Goodwills are gold mines. I’ve gotten brand-new Colts jerseys, North Face jackets. I’m all about saving some money. 

Mass Ave

Q. What or who inspires you in your work? 

When I started to look into art and why art is where it is today, who created it, who molded it, one guy I fell in love with style-wise was Andy Warhol. I loved how his designs were so simple but stood out so much. It was more about the color and the differences in color. He referenced things that were super noticeable like the Campbell’s soup can, a banana. He did things that people would see and the recognition of it was automatic. I went that direction. I do a lot of pop art with celebrities that I’m fond of in any genre – it could be a football player down to Billie Eilish. It could be anybody, people that I’m influenced by and people who have an influence on America and who we are as a culture.

My favorite artist of all time, which I wouldn’t say I mirror his style or anything but as far as influence and how different he was, is Jean-Michel Basquiat. If I said art has to be this, he said, ‘That’s not art to me; art is expressive of who you are, your feelings, how you feel in the moment, who inspires you.’ He also took a lot of chances. You couldn’t put him in a box. Those are my main influences for what I do today.

Q. The theme for the Visitor Guide cover is Made For This Moment, which incorporates the city hosting the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, Indy’s resiliency during this time, and the continued conversations on equity. What does the theme mean to you, and how did you get that idea across?

The cover is something where all things work together. It’s during March Madness, so I added a selection of basketball likenesses intertwined with the Monument and cultural districts. Here are the things Indy has to offer that make it a great city, as well as it being able to take on March Madness and bring one of the best sporting events ever to a city. I-465 wraps around. That’s a cool thing. When you think circle, it doesn’t get more equal than that. A circle embodies what it is to be balanced on all sides. 

Q. What do you want people to take away from your cover design?

I would hope it shows that something that’s groundbreaking, going outside the lines. What’s going on with COVID, and last year, we had Black Lives Matter going on, politics, but it seemed like a lot of people didn’t want to go outside of what made them comfortable, and that’s why there was so much hostility. People don’t have to change their opinions, but there are ways to see things differently than you normally see them, and be more open to things. I’m hoping when people see the cover, they look at it and say, ‘This is where I’m from, this great city.’ It’s something that’s different and not traditional in style. I want them to take that in and see how things can have a lot of moving pieces, but it can all work together if you’re on the same plane.

Q. What are you looking forward to this year?

I am big on growth. When things get hard, you still have to find a way to get things done and make things happen. I’m looking forward to seeing where I go, what growth comes, seeing what opportunities come, seeing the challenges that come, and how I overcome them. This opportunity with you guys is one that I was amazed by, just excited and happy and overjoyed.

I’ve been told before that I’ll never get opportunities like this because I don’t have the visual look for it, my style of work isn’t what people are looking for. It’s cool to have something like this. To have my artwork on the cover of a magazine is really cool. It shows a lot of growth, to take on the challenge and get it done.

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