Khalil Riddick knew he wanted to be an artist around six or seven. As a young fan of video games, comic books, and movies, he recalled, “I realized the art was what made it cool. I like the idea that you can travel to distant lands – or planets – doing things you might not otherwise be able to.”
Largely self-taught, Riddick’s early influences included Metroid, Mega Man, Magic: The Gathering, and Æon Flux. The gateways to Riddick’s creative singularity proved to be more brooding: Frank Frazetta, H.R. Giger, and Todd McFarlane.
“I loved the way that darker themed art…” Riddick rephrased, “there was a larger library of imagery I could pull from. A multitude of subjects… possibilities that could be rendered.”
In 2005, Khalil Riddick enrolled at Old Dominion University and took Introduction to Drawing with Elizabeth Leeor.
“I learned a lot about anatomy and figure from her,” Riddick said. After several semesters at ODU, Riddick decided to pursue his dream of being a video game conceptual artist. Visiting a Florida campus in 2008 prompted Riddick to transfer to the university the following year.
“Full Sail is a school specifically designed for media… like a production pipeline, every project directly connected to the one you’d done previously,” Riddick said. The classes at ODU prepared Riddick, comparatively speaking, for the accelerated pace of a two-year Bachelor’s program. One class caused him trouble the first time through: Character Design & Creation, using the 3D modeling program Autodesk Maya. Riddick eventually got the hang of it, saying, “We also built maquettes, physical models of those same characters… they taught us how to create and take art through the production stages.”
After a year, the economic downturn complicated matters. Riddick had no choice but to return to ODU in 2010; his bank had stopped honoring loans for students at Full Sail.
“I was very discouraged,” he recalled. Riddick credited two classmates for helping him bounce back. “I met John Moses and Wesley Miller in a painting class with Leeor in the summertime,” Riddick said. After the trio purchased Wacom tablets, Leeor accommodated their use of them. “We got into digital painting, a huge part of concept art, actually. They resurrected my zeal for doing that kind of work.” Riddick found a productive niche in biological dioramas. “I started creating x-rays of my characters. I like it when things have layers and synergy. Using technology, to me, is analogous to the subjects in my art that are using technology to obtain enlightenment,” Riddick said.
Graduating from ODU in 2011, Riddick continued to use lessons from both schools. “The most important concepts were shading and lighting,” he said, “Maya frames it in a 3D environment; you can rotate those objects and see how they’re interacting with the light.” Riddick commended his ODU drawing teachers, Leeor and Heather Bryant, for teaching him what he calls the ‘analog approach’. “You project how the light would interact,” Riddick said.
In October of 2015, Riddick felt inspired by a bevy of new murals in the Norfolk Arts District (now called NEON: New Energy of Norfolk), but especially We Can Create What We Can Imagine by Esteban del Valle.
“When I saw that mural, I was blown way,” Riddick said, “I’ve always struggled with self-marketing and the PR of being an artist. I saw it as an opportunity and a challenge.” Riddick admitted he’d never done anything so large. Concept sketches soon followed, indicative of Riddick’s influences, combined with his passions.
“I wanted to do something with my daughter in mind. I think we all want to see our kids grow up in a better society… have them be progenitors, or participants, of something great. I’ve also been studying transhumanism. I love the idea of technology being integrated into our bodies. I wanted to marry those two concepts: my daughter as a genius spacechild, manipulating advanced technology, portrayed in a positive way.” Teasing photos of his concept art on Facebook and Instagram generated excitement for the mural.
Riddick raised $500 via crowdfunding on GoFundMe. “I wanted the goal to be reasonable. I wasn’t looking to come in under budget and walk away with hundreds of dollars,” Riddick said.
After a 90-minute conversation with Sherwin Williams staff, Riddick settled on Resilience® Exterior Acrylic Latex, picking up seven colors. Three of them were Black, White, and Iron Ore – a gray to help with shading/lighting transitions. Riddick said, “I wanted to have a hand-drawn feel. When you’re using graphite, shading is regulated by pressure. In painting, you have to mix colors.” Next, he had to solve the scaling issue. “I didn’t want to do a grid, because of time. I used an LED projector,” Riddick said. Riddick had only used projectors to watch movies before. “I took a picture of my concept sketch. The resolution wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good.” Some lessons had to be learned the hard way. For instance, the projector was perched on a cart that vibrated when cars passed on the street, causing slight adjustments. “Pay attention to rainfall patterns and humidity indexes,” Riddick cautioned. “After the first night of adding color, I had all these streaks running down the wall. Took a couple hours to redo. Fortunately, everything else went smoothly.”
Riddick stenciled his name and the title on the mural, GLIMPSE, earlier last month. Rising sales of Riddick’s art prints are attributed to the highly visible PR stunt: “I’ve had people tell me for years that I should do tattoos or different things to make money on my art. But when I started doing that mural, people I’ve never met before were walking up to me and telling me how much they loved it. Saying how they’d want me to do something in their home. It gave me confidence. People really do dig this stuff.”
Anyone who digs this stuff should head to the free show at Work|Release this Friday (Sink Tapes and Moon Hooch). Riddick is a member of the Norfolk Virginia Freelance Shop (NVFLSH) headed by Jacob Galito. Riddick and Galito will be selling 11×17 art prints and lapel pins at the show. Stop by and say hi.
Follow Khalil Riddick on Instagram here.