American artist Keith Larsen creates art out of the most boring objects - from toasters and sinks to walnuts and tomatoes - in his ongoing project Faces In Places. Keith uses ‘pareidolia’, the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern, to his creative advantage and illustrates characters and gives them poetic backstories to bring them to life.
Our reader Amit Charles shared Keith's work with us a few weeks ago, and we immediately got in touch with Keith for an interview about his project. His playful style and poetry is a wonderful lesson in new ways of seeing, and a personal inspiration for my own cloud doodles .
In conversation with Keith Larsen about his journey with Faces in Places:
You started The Faces Within Places in 2017. But when did you start seeing faces everywhere? Did you know about the term face pareidolia at the time?
Ever since I was young, I’ve seen faces, it’s a common phenomenon we all do as humans. I guess it’s just how tuned in we get with it. I always used it as a form of entertainment.
How did you get into illustration?
I was always drawing things while in school. For some reason doodling while my teachers lectured helped me concentrate better. I would scribble random lines on the page and try to make something from it, or I would draw my teacher's heads on some creature's body.
How did you arrive at your style of doodling over objects and finding characters in them?
Specifically drawing found faces into characters came from trying to show a college roommate what face I saw in an image. I had a bunch of photos of faces I found and he couldn’t see what I saw, so I had the idea to turn it into the character I see. Once I showed him and gave it a silly voice, his reaction sparked the idea in me.
While the characters may be playful, does your art help you work through your thoughts and emotions?
Definitely. When creating these characters and writing their stories, I use empathy to imagine how their day to day looks, how they are used and what they would say if they could speak. Also just the act of drawing and art itself puts me in a flow state which calms my mind.
What's the creative process like when you come across a face in something?
The usual process goes along the lines of this:
When first seeing a face, I hear the voice it would have based on what it looks like.
Then, the natural empath in me imagines what kind of life it lives.
From there, I illustrate what it looks like to me and pair it with the story I came up with, which I usually write in poems that rhyme.
Or sometimes I’ll just see a hook that reminds me of a fly and let it be that.
Here is the poem I wrote for the tomato king (pictured above):
It is I, Torvald, the tyrant tomato king!
As long as I wear the crown, my mouth keeps watering.
There is no Better Boy than me, you can't Campari to Cherry or Roma
I'm the most delicious, and have the best aroma.
Therefore, my smile stays wide, my rules they abide,
Until I'm a liquid, with fries on the side.
You've just launched the pre-order for The Faces Within Places book! Is this a collection of your best face finds + unreleased works?
I’ve included some of my favorites and unreleased ones, but I mostly included a lot of other people’s face finds. I get a lot of emails and messages of faces people find, and I wanted to include them in the book to get my fans involved. I love it when people send me photos.
Has the pandemic affected your work in any way? If yes, how?
Like most people, it very much did. For some reason, where it felt like everyone was being more creative during a part of it, my creativity was crushed. My mind and body were telling me to take a step back and feel what’s going on. It’s a terrible situation, but it was a great time for self-reflection and re-evaluation.
You've made SO many face doodles over time. What are some of your favorite works from the series?
A lot of my new favorites are in the book, but if I had to choose from my previous ones -- Toby, the toaster dog, Styrofoam monster, and Ellie D (LED) the Frog Light (pictured above).
Apart from the book and this project, are there any other creative projects in the pipeline?
I have a story book I am writing and illustrating that I am looking forward to finishing. Also, music is an obsession of mine and I plan on releasing experimental music albums for some imaginative sound journeys :)
What's inspiring you right now?
Coming to the realization that the world is designed by us, for us, and we can contribute to the experience.
Follow Keith's wonderful project on Instagram @thefaceswithinplaces and pre-order his book here.