Artist Keith Haring used chalk, markers, spray paint, felt pens, vinyl brushes, and other ordinary tools to draw his bold lines and spread his message of love, hope, and equality.

 

To celebrate Keith’s legacy, award-winning Photoshop brushmaker and illustrator Kyle T. Webster collaborated with the Keith Haring Foundation to digitally re-create 37 brushes inspired by the iconic artist’s original toolset. The brushes are free to download in Adobe Fresco and also available in Photoshop.

 

We spoke to Kyle about Haring’s deceptively simple style and the challenge of bringing these everyday items to life in a digital brush collection.

Adobe Create: What influence has Keith Haring had on your art?

 

Kyle T. Webster: As somebody who has always been drawn to graphic art, his work has always resonated. It’s really simple shape-based or line-based bold work. And it spoke to me because I’m always looking at how to distill something down to its essence — visually and graphically. That comes from my experience working as a graphic designer. I think that made me appreciate what he was doing even more. When you first look at some of his drawings — for instance the popular dancing figures — it might look easy or make you think, “I can do that.” And then you realize that’s not the case when you try and do it yourself. There’s something incredibly charming —or  beyond charming, something universally appealing — in the way he renders his figures and how he designs his compositions with those figures. He’s actually able to give you an emotional response to what amounts to just a few lines. And that’s a skill. And it’s not something you can easily reproduce. The more I try and make art myself, the more I realize just how difficult it is to make an iconic image of any kind, much less a series of iconic images.

Create: You found a way to capture Haring’s unique spirit and style in your brush set — the way he cut the brushes’ bristles to make flat-top tools, the randomness of drip paint, the feeling and look of chalk on cardboard. How were you able to accomplish that digitally?

 

Webster: That's something that I’ve been doing for so long that when this project came along, I felt like I was back in a really comfortable place. Making brushes is something that I started doing back in 2003 or 2004. And I got really obsessed with emulating natural media in the Photoshop Brush Settings panel and the Photoshop brush engine. So for the Haring-inspired brushes, I just felt like I was going back to this really happy place where I knew what I was doing. I felt really confident that whatever the tools were, I'd figure out a way to get them to look as good as they could. What was interesting to me, though, was the challenge of trying to create tools that are actually very easy to come by in our physical world. Back when I started making brushes, I was really more interested in designing “sophisticated” tools that artists used, and emulating media that wasn’t as accessible, like palette knives. It was a new kind of challenge to think about making tools that people can go pick up at any hobby store, and then trying to figure out what is it about those tools that’s so great. I had to pay a lot more attention to what happens with a piece of chalk when you draw with it and what happens to a marker when it runs out of ink. The other thing I was thinking about was how the tools play together, how they could be used together to add a lot of texture and interest and make different kinds of marks for a singular illustration.

Create with brushes inspired by Keith Haring.

Draw a line for positive change with chalk, markers, spray paint and more.

Create: Keith never erased or corrected his drawings. In digitizing these analog tools, you've given people the freedom and control to rethink and reimagine their work. Do you think that changes his artistic vision in some way?

 

Webster: I think it’s up to the artist. Using layers is one of the ways that digital artists give themselves safety nets. They say, “I’m going to try something new, so I'll make a new layer. If I don’t like it, I can hide it or I can delete it.” If people want to give themselves that feeling of spontaneity, of just jumping out of the plane and going for it, they could just work on a single layer. But I also feel there’s always going to be that difference between traditional media and digital media. In the physical world, you might be a little hesitant to make a mark because it's going to be there and it’s not going anywhere. The advantage of working digitally is that for an artist, it’s exciting to have your process be 100 percent reversible. It’s not like it’s taking something away. It's actually adding something when you’re to be able to go forward in time and then go backward in time in the process of creating a piece of art. There’s this feeling like I’ve committed to this thing, so now I have to move forward. It opens up a whole range of options in terms of flexibility and creative thinking. Knowing that you have this ability to move back in time, you might be more daring and you might take more risks because you have that safety net.

Create: Do you have a favorite brush in this collection?

 

Webster: The Vinyl brush is my favorite. I’ve actually wound up using it now for a lot of other stuff, for personal illustrations — and in fact, I used it for an editorial illustration piece maybe three weeks ago for a magazine. It’s great not just for painting, but also for lightly adding texture over things. I’m really happy with how it came out. Sumi Ink is another favorite that I’m especially excited about because it’s the best line I’ve ever made. I love the whole group of Sumi brushes.

 

Create: Keith Haring believed that art is for everybody and that it should reach people from all walks of life. By making these tools free to the public, do you feel like we’re connecting to his original vision in a certain way?

 

Webster: Yes, I do think that that’s in keeping with what he was really all about, and also what Adobe’s “Creativity for all” idea is about. It’s a really fantastic thing to do to support the community. People can just grab the brushes, play with them, and make some cool art. I think that’s totally what Keith would want if he were involved in this campaign. If he were alive and participating, I think he’d want us to give these away and make them available to everybody — no strings attached.

Enter our contest and draw for change.

Draw attention to an issue that’s close to your heart and your art could be showcased in front of a worldwide audience at Adobe MAX. Grand Prize winners will also receive $5,000 and a one-year Creative Cloud membership.

© Keith Haring Foundation