Graphic Designer & Illustrator Thapelo Keetile – Poster Competition Winner for 2021’s Fak’ugesi Festival – #BuildCozYouHaveTo
Story Posted: 23 August 2021
Graphic designer & illustrator Thapelo Keetile caught the art bug early and held on tight.
University of Johannesburg graduate Thapelo Keetile won our poster competition with an inspiring vision of Jozi as a smart city, powered by creative use of technology.
It all started in grade one, where Thapelo saw incredibly advanced artwork made by a peer and was inspired: “I couldn’t believe that somebody could draw at that level to start with, and secondly, seeing you could actually transfer what you can see with your eyes on paper was completely amazing. So it started.” From there, the fascination grew every time he saw something new. “I started drawing people’s faces. It started as simple as trying to take my paper and trying to trace what I saw on TV, trace what was happening on the television. After that we started seeing cartoons on TV. That thing also amazed me, that I saw images move on TV that were drawn. So I wanted to find out how that’s done. I developed a heavy interest in animation, specifically flat 2d animation which amazed me because you do it with your hand. I wasn’t completely exposed to computers by that time, so drawn animation, watching cartoons like Pokemon, Dragonball Z, at that time what we could see on our TV, was what pushed me into doing that.”
High school age tends to be a make or break test for childhood’s creative pursuits, and Thapelo’s stuck. Those after school cartoon reproductions became paintings for classmates, eventually involving real life portraits. With his parents’ support, he continued to develop as an artist. “They made a big effort to involve me in the arts by taking me to art classes and getting me involved in activities in school that would involve me drawing weekly or monthly art for articles.”
His tenacity paid off. Thapelo has built a creative career in graphic design & illustration for advertising agencies & corporations, alongside a thriving collection of collaborative multimedia passion projects from album covers to placement print tees. The creative professional dream come true is worthwhile, but it’s not without its challenges: “So a lot of challenges that I have had are sort of like PR or like putting myself out there… marketing my work and, you know, having platforms for a lot of people to see it. So a lot of times, at the moment, I’ve put my work on what people are used to things like Behance or I have my work on Instagram. Maybe it also needs a little bit of thinking on my part but I haven’t gotten to a point where I can expose my work at a larger scale, and all that. Another challenge on my part is, with a lot of technologies that are coming out or a lot of problems that are coming up, I haven’t gotten the knowledge to actually figure out how I can, you know, merge my work, introducing these new tools. So just learning, learning a lot more about those, and also learning a lot about how I can get more exposure and, you know, putting myself out there.”
Closing that gap is why he’s looking forward to more than seeing his winning design come to life all over the festival — it’s the shared learning opportunity it represents across the world of digital creativity that he’s really excited for. “I’d like to just see what people are thinking about, or coming up with, because I think I’m gonna see a lot; I think there’s a lot of ideas that people are coming up with, and not be confined to what I know. Because what I know is mostly, you know, the skill of making illustrations and drawing and just evolving in that area. I’d like to see what I can absorb, and also what input I can make here.”
Thapelo’s response to the 2021 theme is an epic, detailed digital tapestry that depicts Johannesburg as a futuristic, problem-solving smart metropolis. “I started imagining how South Africa, especially Johannesburg, it’s changing a lot. And ever since COVID started a lot of things have changed. So, before we never used to think that we would depend on how we do things digitally; we never used to think we’d get to that stage, especially this fast, you know. We are here now, so that pushed the idea. So I started imagining, you know, a city which is sort of like, taken from the concept of like a metropolis. That idea just started something in me thinking about Johannesburg being a smart city, where everything is run digitally. Where we would actually have the systems of artificial intelligence, you know, and us coming up with our own ways of how we can solve our problems digitally in the city. So the city being a smart city was initially the idea for that. And also that, you know, a lot of things are changing. So there’s a lot of involvement in inclusivity and equality. And you know everybody is getting involved in it and we do have the skills to do that. So I think this is the time that we actually get to moving on that. As a country, as a city.”
So that’s the past — what’s next for this Johannesburg based creative? Breaking through to mediums is the goal. “My dream is to start off with the skills that I have, the talent that I have, and reflect it through different mediums. I have a lot of ambitions to have most of my art be reflected as sculptures, toys, or, you know, interpreting what I have to say through clothing, and even comic books, if possible, and animations. Throughout the years, I’ve sort of been focused on developing an appropriate style that would suit the sort of narrative I would like to build, to take a certain narrative that I’m building with my style, and take it to different mediums for people to enjoy”
In particular, he wants to make the jump from 2D to 3D. “An example that I’m very ambitious about doing is park sculptures, especially for kids to enjoy while they’re with their family. That’s something that I would like to get involved in, maybe in collaboration with the city to see how we can create environmentally friendly spaces, especially for kids.”