Astropad Maker Spotlight, Maker Spotlight

The Many Layers of a Digital Composite Artist

Maker Spotlight: Jeff Kepler of Seventh Voyage

This Portland, Oregon artist really knows how to make an awe-inspiring image. With just digital tools and photographs, Jeff envisions a fantastical scene and pieces it together bit by bit. With no detail overlooked, each work of art is its own masterpiece. Rich with light, shadow, and movement, you can’t help but stare at all of the tiny details within each digital composite.

Portrait of Jeff Kepler

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started doing photo composite work?

I’m a Digital Composite Artist and I create realistic, composited images in Photoshop using stock photos or my own photographs.

At about 12 years old, I began creating designs on the computer. After making a few digital composites, I started doing stuff for fun like adding myself to the DVD cover art for the movie The Goonies.

Fast forward to 2017, to when I was working as a Motion Graphics Designer for an ad tech company in New York City. Our creative team had this thing where we would photoshop each other into funny made-up movie posters. My coworkers always mentioned that mine actually looked like real posters. That was when I decided to create Seventh Voyage and started making poster-inspired composites. 

How would you describe your creative practice?

My passion is trying to create a realistic piece of art that is made from several other images but looks like it’s all one cohesive piece. Everything from color, light and shadows, perspective, and depth — it all needs to be created and blended together, and I love the challenge in trying to do this!

How long does it take to create a piece?

It honestly depends on the complexity of the piece, and how quickly I can find the right assets to use. I’ve had easier pieces take about 2 – 3 hours, and I’ve had more complex ones like my Alice in Wonderland one that has taken up to 30 hours. 

Walk us through your daily routine.

I work from home for my day job. Since I moved to the West Coast, I have become such a morning person. I work from 7 am to about 3:30 pm. After that, I make sure to hit the gym, get home and have some dinner, and then I have the rest of my evening to design, learn, and create.

Jeff’s home office

How does Astropad fit into your practice?

Astropad gives me the ability to mirror Photoshop onto my iPad. I usually have a good amount of images that need to be masked out, and using Astropad allows me to draw my masks with Apple Pencil rather than use the pen tool. It really speeds up the process for me. I also have to paint a lot of light and shadows in my work, and Astropad gives me the ability to paint them right on the canvas. And, using Apple Pencil, it almost feels as if I were doing it traditionally.

How have digital tools improved your workflow?

They speed up your workflow so much these days. I will often duplicate what I’m working on and try taking it in a different direction, whether it’s color changes or a slightly different composition. I’ll sometimes have six different versions, which… I definitely don’t advise doing (ha). But they just allow me to explore options without ruining my original.

How do you merge traditional creativity with digital tools?

I roughly, and poorly, sketch out some of my concepts. It goes back to the idea of storyboarding on paper. My design then evolves from the sketch. It’s a pretty traditional way of working out a concept. And, being able to do it all on the iPad with Astropad keeps me from smearing pencil lead all over my hands!

How do you brainstorm fresh ideas?

I’d love to say I have a concrete process for brainstorming, but I really don’t. A lot of my ideas kind of just… pop into my head and then it becomes a wild goose hunt for the perfect stock images. I will say I get a lot of ideas just by searching through stock photo sites like Unsplash. I’ll see an image of something and it will spark an idea.

What’s your favorite thing about the work you do?

Hands down, [the best part is] the nostalgia it brings to myself and others. A lot of what I create would be considered fan art. But I just love reading comments from people who say how much a piece I did brought them back to their childhood, or to the moment of happiness when they watched something for the first time. It’s just a really good feeling to know you made something that makes people think back and brings them joy.

What inspires you?

How much time do we have, haha? Most of my inspiration comes from movies and National Geographic. When I was about four years old, my uncle showed me two movies by stop motion artist Ray Harryhausen. One was called the 7th Voyage of Sinbad (that’s where my account name comes from), and the other was Jason and the Argonauts. I became obsessed with monsters. Shortly after, I saw Jurassic Park; mix that with a lot of National Geographic and you get a kid obsessed with dinosaurs, sharks, crocodiles, and all kinds of monsters.

I also always loved movie posters as a kid. My walls were covered with them. So I unknowingly got exposed to things like composition, typography, and design pretty early on. [With] the majority of the work I do, I’m always thinking, “How would this look as a poster?”.

And finally, any words of advice you have for other creatives?

I’d just say, really find what inspires you and makes you happy, and surround yourself with it. Immerse yourself in it daily. Don’t create stuff because others will like it or just to get a lot of likes or followers on social media. Create the stuff you love, and if you work hard and keep at it, people will realize it and want to see more from you!

Follow Jeff on Instagram, Youtube, and check out his portfolio. Share your Astropad workflow with us on social using #Astropad for a chance to be featured.