Valdosta Daily Times

February 24, 2014

Living an artist’s life with style

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Kerry Laster’s love of art started young, during the big comics boom of the early 1990s when comic companies like Image were carving out their niche in the comic business.

In elementary school, he found a copy of “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” the classic Stan Lee and John Buscema guide to drawing Marvel superheroes.

“The animation in that one is pretty bad compared to now, but I thought it was awesome,” said Laster.

“Image was so cool to me – you had Savage Dragon, WildC.A.T.S. — they were so cool to me ... then I discovered Japanese anime from watching the Sci-Fi Channel because, obviously if you couldn’t tell, I am a bit of a nerd.”

Anime’s lack of rules appealed to Laster; whatever you could imagine, you could animate.

As he went through school, Laster started to get more into writing: poetry, short stories, journalism.

“I started watching a lot of documentaries and movies on newspapers and I got really into it.”

That’s what he focused on when he went to Valdosta State University, working for years on VSU’s student newspaper, The Spectator.

Two years into his college career, he had worked his way up to managing editor when it hit him.

“I realized I don’t want to be a journalist. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s going to show up.”

Always a cinema fan, he decided to change his major and focus on mass media with a video emphasis.

“I made all these little, crazy, horrible college films that you made,” laughs Laster, “and they were horrible.”

As he had gotten deeper into his degree work, art and design had fallen by the wayside, but when he and some fellow students decided to form a media company called Phantom Productions, they needed a graphic artist.

When they couldn’t find one, Laster’s girlfriend, Juanita Holmes, a designer in her own right, suggested he learn how to do it himself.

He dived into digital design, figuring out Adobe Creative Suite, a series of design programs. He gave himself the summer to pick it up, bouncing between computers at Odum Library and borrowed laptops from friends.

“I remember the first thing I made on my own, it was terrible, but I completely made it on my own. I was so proud of myself.”

He gave himself little assignments, slowly getting better at it and developing more of a unique style. When a musician friend approached him about mixing an upcoming album, Laster agreed, on the condition that payment would be in the form of a laptop.

No longer tethered to borrowed laptops and computer labs, he tasked himself to create something new every day.

“I got advice from this rockstar designer, James White. He said, you need to be your own art director. Make the projects you want to make. Give yourself assignments like they’re real, deadline-oriented assignments.”

Laster took him at his word, designing advertising campaigns and branding redesigns, putting his work online through Behance, an online portfolio website, under the name he had decided on, Phantom Kay.

He did a little work with BET, designing a logo for the short-lived show “Toya: A Family Affair.”

After that, he talked with Holmes and his parents, who guided him through the business side of things and he started trying to figure out how to get clients while selling prints through his website, www.PhantomKay.com

Eventually, he was contacted by Rare Ink, a California company that produces limited-edition print runs. They had seen a typography portrait Laster did of Kanye West; they wanted to know if he could do something similar with Ice Cube.

He could, so he did, flying out to Los Angeles to meet with Ice Cube and sign the prints of his work.

From there, Laster decided to step away from his freelance work after being offered a job as an art director in Atlanta. Fast forward a year later and he was burned out, not having created a piece for himself all year.

He decided to leave and return to freelancing and Valdosta, where he is now.

It took some time, but he shook off the rust and continued developing his style, working on pieces everything from James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to LeBron James and Martin Luther King Jr.

He’s found his style now, a mash up of pop culture, typography, sports and design.

It’s influenced by everything he’s ever done, from his latest hip-hop portraits to superheroes to the Japanese anime he watched as a kid that taught him if you can imagine it, you can create it.

It’s a style 20 years in the making.

It’s a style all his own.