Allegories In Digital: Keith Thompson

Even when he’s drawing space vehicles, the myriad of minutiae executed with sharp precision hints at Keith Thompson’s classical influences. I’ve spent hours browsing Keith’s incredible portfolio and getting lost in the stories written for most of the art on display. The worlds behind each piece feel thoroughly conceived – it’s clear the author mulled over each detail of the fable along with the art. Gorgeous detailing decorates mutants, deities and demons, some of it recognizable, like this machine-beluga or the violin necks in the legs of the lovely musician below.

When a talented skald of the Swedish courts, renowned across Scandinavia for his unparalleled musical prowess, revealed himself as a disguised woman, she was swiftly executed, and the embarrassing events were stricken from polite conversation. Her sudden return to court functions shook even the staunchest war veterans, but not enough to stay a second wary, though swift, summary execution. Upon further returns, each revealing the scald to be strangely repaired in a manner befitting tailor more than physician, the court began to almost embrace the eerie presence. This cycle of returns and executions leading to a more and more transfigured court poet became something of an exalted tradition.

Thompson’s work is largely concept art along with two sections of illustration work with some beautifully fleshed out pieces you must see to believe. I’m not posting those here simply because of how great they look full-size.  Click. Click, also. Here the old school is especially visible, with the pieces reminiscent of Arthur Rackham and Edmund DuLac –  two of my childhood’s favorite illustrators. Thompson uses traditional techniques he converts to digital in the process, which is described and taught in an instructional DVD.

Keith’s galleries of Vehicles, Creatures and Undead showcase fantastic creatures, some of which take the term “Bio-mechanical” in a new direction. Perfect example: the Luxury Nautiloid below. From Keith’s attached text, some key features:

Upper observation deck used by vacationers with eyes strong enough to look up at the light shining down from the water’s surface. Huge windows offer a commanding view of the seascape from the comfort of interior dining areas and lounges.The ship can move fore or aft and when necessary these tentacles retract and the surrounding plates close up. These extended, flared muscular hydrostats are often used to pull surface craft down into the water for the amusement of the more spiteful tourists.

Beyond the jump, more art and stories from Keith Thompson. Thanks, Alice!

Undying Flagellant

Unable to fully reach true devotion, and resultantly undeserving of entry to the Kingdom, the Brotherhood of the Holy Scourge divined a method of self abuse that would cleanse them of sin, but send them into a state of half death. Wandering the land and collecting alms, the undying monks seek worthiness through their self debasement. They deceive themselves with notions of piety, but secretly derive pleasure through their pain. This sin of pleasure negates their purpose, and their path has cost them their mortality, binding them to the earth, and robbing them of any chance to die and ascend.

Polyp Cavalry Steed

Those who fought in wars against the Polyp Countries tell tales of seeing their comrades desperately routed by small groups of horrifying cavalrymen, their mounts galloping jerkily on rickety stumps. The steeds were once human, now twisted by the precisely engineered growth agents that flow throughout their vascular systems. Cavaliers who disgrace themselves in battle are forcibly injected with Polyp agents and transformed into a new steed, often to be ridden by their now promoted squire.

Wicker Man

During the great celebrations of Beltane, the pagan masses form huge parade lines as they cavort, naked, in step with the Wicker Man whose rider leads them across the spring landscape. Inside the Wicker Man’s structure the sacrifices burn in offering to Jack-in-the-Green, and a huge intoxicating cloud billows back into the madly frothing parade.


High priest and prime demagogue of a people displaced and driven into inhospitable salt plains. Disease and famine poised to kill the tribes to a man when their high priest declared that he would go alone into the salt flats, commune with the heavens, and return with the answer to their salvation. Days later, when his desiccated form reappeared on the horizon he announced the discovery of a divine solution to their plight. He appealed to the medicine men to conduct a drastic form of trepanation on him. A large hole was cut into the top of his skull as his third eye with which he would commune with the heavens. After a day and night of mantras a holy pillar of light descended from the sky into the priest’s pate and burst forth from his face, removing much of it in the process. This beam of light acted as a guide to lead his people to a land of plenty. Once safe and settled, the priest announced that he was leaving, much to the lamentation of the saved tribes. It was blasphemy for him to dwell amongst them any further, he explained, for he had died on the first night he ventured forth into the flats to find his answer.

26 Responses to “Allegories In Digital: Keith Thompson”

  1. Ashbet Says:

    Oh, these are . . . unutterably exquisite. I love his work!

  2. Zoetica Says:

    Yes! He really took me by surprise – I’d never seen his work before, somehow. He really deserves more attention.

  3. Alice Says:


  4. noire Says:

    something very china miéville about all of them.

  5. Zagzagael Says:



    *wants skeleton monk for a tattoo*

    *amazed beyond anything more than words inside asteriks*

  6. Ashbet Says:

    I’d encountered him on DeviantArt, but I’d never seen his whole site. I love the little mini-biographies of each character and creature.

    I really enjoy the Bosch/Miéville references. He’s amazing ^_^

  7. Zoetica Says:

    Zagzagel – the Liche, a.k.a. Skeleton Guy is my favorite. Very expressive fellow.

  8. Zagzagael Says:

    Zoetica ~ I’m still reeling here. Feels like I’ve … come home … in some fantastical way, especially as I was browsing his site and happened upon his Havelock – I posted that image in my journal last year and begged the aether for more information … and never did find out who the artist was! So, thank you for this entry! I just bought several of his glicees – Liche will be here with me soon!

  9. Zoetica Says:

    Well, what a fabulous coincidence. Happy to be part of it! If this place weren’t already buckling under a surplus of paintings I’d be buying prints too.

  10. Alice Says:

    Zoetica, thanks for the links to Arthur Rackham and Edmund DuLac as well! I keep seeing their illustrations in fairy tale compilations and things and meaning to jot down their names, but the forgetfulness, it always happens!

  11. Cameron Says:

    The Undying Flagellant has been my favorite for a long time.

    Im glad to see Keith get some exposure! and on my favorite site no less!

    But come on! Viraemia didnt even get an honorable after-the-jump mention?

  12. ipsum Says:

    This is incredible. I can’t believe all of this came out of the head of someone named…Keith.

  13. Kristi Says:

    i feel like i have seen his work somewhere before. but there was never a name to his work. thanks so much for this article, i’m just in awe!

  14. Zoetica Says:

    Cameron, Viraemia looks great large and would have looked worse on our site than Keith’s since I would have had to re-size it.

    Ipsum, that which we call a Keith by any other name would draw as well!

  15. Wood Says:

    Amazing stuff.

    He’s played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in his youth, mind.

    Speaking as someone similarly guilty of that.

  16. Marcia Says:

    noire, that this first thing I thought of too. If any of China Mieville’s Bas-Lag novels are ever filmed Keith Thompson should design the populace!

  17. Al Embic Says:

    Un-be-leivable. Matchless imagination.

  18. Tanya Says:

    I like that piper quite a bit. It, comfortingly, recalls for me two of my favorite artists – Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo.

  19. Mer Says:

    Interesting, Tanya… Two of my longtime faves as well. Along with Dorothea Tanning, they’re truly the Underappreciated Female Surrealist Trinity.

    You can see the Bosch and Breughel influence as well. So nice!

    And yeah, I personally have to chime in with the “ZOMG, make a movie with China Mieville” sentiment. Splorge!

  20. Tanya Says:

    @Mer: I got to meet the owners of Frey/Norris gallery a few months back, and I got a very nice little tour of their collection when they had the Carrington exhibit on. In their “Appointment only” room they had several Tanning and Varo paintings as well, and also some Varo pencil studies for her paintings and sketches Carrington did in coffee shops when she was 16. I nearly died. I’ll show you the catalog I got, some time!

  21. lizzelizzel Says:

    I love the nautilus

  22. Shay Says:


  23. Paul Komoda Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Zo!
    A friend turned me on to Keith’s work a few months ago, and I ‘d been endeavoring to show his stuff to as many people as I could. Such wickedly inventive creations! Additionally, he can effortlessly draw rings around most his contemporaries.

  24. Zoetica Says:

    Paul, the pleasure is mine. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of him until Alice’s mention. Brilliant skill and imagination! Definitely needs exposure.

  25. Pinkymonsterism Says:

    I remember the first time i came across Keith thompson’s work, it was in my highschool library 3 years ago. I fell in love, jotted down his name and checked out his site. I bought a “how to draw” book by keith, and it was only 20 dollars.

  26. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Just now seeing this.