Tajae Keith is the artist behind our Issue 18 lagoon monster. We chatted with her a bit about her work and aspirations.
FIYAH 18 cover art featuring black girl shining a flashlight on a lagoon monster in a cave
1: What inspired you to originally want to be an artist?
Well just like any kid I did a lot of scribbling growing up! Sometime before middle school I got really into the artist “how-to” community on YouTube, obsessing over videos from artists like Mark Crilley, WhytManga, and all sorts of other people. They definitely made me want to start practicing more and eventually pursuing it more seriously than I had been.
2: What advice would you have for people looking to become an artist as a career? What are some of the highs and lows they can expect?

Some advice I’d give to folks looking for an art career is to work hard and take care of yourself! Everyone’s journey is very different, but I’ve found that keeping a positive outlook on life and my art helped me a lot, too many artists just starting out are so negative towards themselves, it’s really sad to see and it’s really damaging to your self-esteem. There are also too many negative habits and mindsets that get pushed onto young creators and it’s not only damaging to oneself, but to the community as a whole. I’d also say to network horizontally not vertically, be nice and be respectful, and believe in yourself (as corny as it sounds, it’s gotten me this far).

And some highs of being an artist as a career choice are definitely the fact that I get to stretch my creative muscles more often than I would at a more typical job. I also enjoy the freedom I get as my own “boss” or sorts. Some of the lows are the fact that I am my own boss, and have to be really realistic about deadlines and work schedules I set for myself, blowing a day off work can really set me behind schedule!

3: What would you say have been the top highlights of your artistic career so far?
The top highlights of my career so far were pretty recent achievements, all happening within the last couple of months or so actually. I’m doing some work for Warner Brothers, a studio that was the mastermind behind a lot of my favorite shows growing up; and I also recently came into agent representation and am working on a couple of graphic novels! I’m currently at my highest point career-wise and I’m really excited for what’s in store for me!
4: Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
This is always my least favorite question because I’m constantly surrounded by such an amazing slew of talent, but here are a few folks that have really been motivating me as of late:

– Josh (@ThatKodo on twitter)
– Saturn (@TaranzasWig on twitter)
– Christian Smith (@yaaboichris on twitter)
– Rose (@roseflarea on twitter)
– Emmy (@emmydoesit on twitter)

They’ve all got some really killer work and they’re constantly pushing the limits as Black creatives! I wish I could shout out more folks, but it was already crazy hard to get my list down to five folks!
5: What inspired the FIYAH cover piece? Was it one particular thing or a convergence of different inspirations?
I got a general tip about an aesthetic to shoot for on the cover from LeKesha, something more 80’s horror/coming of age/stranger things vibes but Black, and I took it from there. While I’m not a big horror fan myself, I absolutely love the retro horror movie posters and was particularly inspired by the cover of goosebumps books.
6: What are some of your favorite animated shows/movies? Past and/or present.
Some of my favorite animated shows/movies are Scooby-Doo (just about all iterations), My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Ponyo.
7: What projects do you have coming down the pipeline? Anything you’re particularly excited about?
I’m working on so many cool things for work and for personal projects at the moment, and while excited about them all I’m really looking forward to working on my graphic novel Growing Pains as well as a personal project I’m working on with Christian Smith, a retelling of the Batman universe through the lens of southern Black America.
8: Tell us where we can find you. Social media, website etc.?
You can find me on twitter @tajmerk and on instagram @tajmrk. My website is over at tajekeith.com.
Thanks, Tajae, for being a part of FIYAH.
L. D. Lewis is an award-winning SF/F writer and editor, and serves as a founding creator, Art Director, and Project Manager for the World Fantasy Award-winning and Hugo Award-nominated FIYAH Literary Magazine. She is the author of A Ruin of Shadows (Dancing Star Press, 2018), and her published short fiction includes appearances in FIYAH, Anathema: Spec from the Margins, PodCastle, and Fireside Magazine. She lives in Georgia with her coffee habit and an impressive Funko Pop! collection. Find her at ldlewiswrites.com and on Twitter at @ellethevillain.

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