Hey, You’re Cool! Illustrator McKay Felt
How Open Mike Eagle’s ‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’ artwork came to life
Illustrator McKay Felt has been gracing hip hop with his perception-shifting artwork since his early 2014 collaborations with Flying Lotus. Most recently, Felt created the cover and CD art for Open Mike Eagle’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, an album with ambition and poignancy that practically demanded the visual artist’s hand.
For the BBKSD artwork, Felt was first inspired by an old photograph from Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes. He and Eagle landed on the concept of bringing these buildings to life on the cover, similar to how the album memorializes both the buildings and the tenants.
“I was thinking about the people living together in these huge buildings, with their individual routines, aspirations,” Felt explains. “I wanted to represent that on a microcosmic level by personifying thoughts and daydreams. But it’s also like the intimacy of sharing your art and experiences with others, letting them observe your headspace.”
MASS APPEAL dove into Felt’s headspace to learn about the inspiration and process behind his Brick Body Kids Still Daydream artwork, how his aesthetic grapples with the idea of perception, and his future artistic endeavors.
How did you get your start as an artist?
I’ve been drawing my whole life, but things really kicked off professionally back in 2014 after Flying Lotus saw my art and had me do some work for him.
Did you have any mentors when you began creating, or were you more reliant on inspiration from other creators that you admired?
Growing up, I didn’t know anyone that did what I wanted to do. There were a few instructors throughout university that encouraged me. But inspiration-wise, it was just through artists, books, games, and everything I found that made me want to do this as a life choice.
How did you and Open Mike Eagle connect for the artwork?
Mike messaged me on Twitter and we started emailing about the album’s concept. I was stoked because I love what he’s been doing with—and for—the art form.
What inspired the overall art direction for Brick Body Kids Still Daydream?
He sent me an old photograph of one of the buildings with some kids playing at this little playground. From there I knew that I wanted to do the drawings in graphite and make sure it had the same earthy-toned, washed-out nostalgic feeling the photo had.
How was it working with Open Mike Eagle? Is he very hands-on?
He was great. Normally I like to work in response to the music to make sure it’s cohesive, but he hadn’t finished recording the album yet. He told me he wanted the buildings anthropomorphized, so I just played with it from there. He let me do my thing, which I appreciate.
Did you struggle at all to reconcile your individual styles and ideas?
Nah, it was smooth. I did quite a few drawings and there were some that were in a different direction than he wanted, but that’s a given when working on a project like this. So, I wouldn’t consider it a struggle.
In terms of theme, we can gather the idea behind personifying the buildings themselves, but what were the themes of some of the other pieces, like the one with people hanging out in Mike’s head?
At the time, I was thinking about the people living together in these huge buildings, with their individual routines, aspirations, etc. I wanted to represent that on a microcosmic level by personifying thoughts and daydreams. But it’s also like the intimacy of sharing your art and experiences with others, letting them observe your headspace.
Were there any pieces that didn’t make the cut that you could talk about?
There was one drawing with a suspended heart-pod-thing floating in the middle of a kitchen with tubes and arteries connecting to the ceiling and walls. I wanted you to open the CD or vinyl and have it be like you were opening a body. My guess is that it was a little too gnarly of a direction.
Breakdown your general process from idea to final product. Does it differ at all when you’re working with someone’s vision?
It’s different from project to project, but it typically starts out with several thumbnails based off an initial idea. Then I’ll fine-tune it until I arrive at something I’m excited about. When it’s for someone else, you’re trying to be this channel for their idea and almost read their mind. With some people the process clicks and it all flows really well and other times it’s the hardest thing to arrive at something you’re both happy with. I always try my best to stay true to their vision while making something I’m proud of.
Your style is very detailed and realistic, but you set up these absurd scenes—it really pushes boundaries on what can be conceived of as “real.” How did you arrive at that aesthetic?
It was a natural arrival, I feel. Perception changes as you move through life and gain new insight. Things you thought you knew end up being completely different. So I’ve always been attached to the concept of creating something surreal anchored in hard-reality. Like a visual representation on the relativity of perception and experience, or some shit like that.
Where do you see yourself going from here, both stylistically and in your career?
Freelance has been rad and I hope to progress in that vein for a while longer, but I’d love to work on more personal projects. I have stories I want to tell, so I’m working on a graphic novel on my own time but that’ll take a hot minute to reach its final stage. I’ve also been learning more in depth about animation and I’d love to work on some bigger projects there too. I just want to explore and create honestly.