An Oasis of Patterns with Tokyo-based artist Karan Singh

In Karan Singh’s animated musings, meticulous patterns are formed by a selective arrangement of colors. Transcending the confines of geometry, the results are nothing short of mesmerizing. Born in Australia and currently based in Tokyo, the 29-year-old illustrator has an affinity for exploring nature in his patterns. His distinct confections of color have garnered the attention of brands such as IBM, Samsung and Refinery 29, as well as artists such as OK Go and Pat Lock. As a huge fan of his work, I’m delighted to be saying this — meet Karan:

What drew you to digital art and GIF-making?

I’d always loved drawing as I was growing up but I was terrible at it. I’ve since gotten better and you’d hope so considering my title, but being able to create on the computer was what allowed me to overcome this. I was already naturally interested in computers but when I learnt I could use them as a tool, it was a second chance at pursuing my love for drawing.

Making GIFs on the other hand wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. When I was first learning Cinema4D I would make these simple animations and want to share them online without having to upload a video. At the time I had a Tumblr where I shared all of these experiments, and GIFs were the best way to communicate them.   

How would you describe your aesthetic?

It fluctuates cyclically. When I first began focusing on the pattern aesthetic, the inspiration came from wanting to shed all of the detail and elements I’d crowd my previous work with. Stripping things back helped me focus on form and composition. I also became interested in how I could communicate the depth of an object or space without light or shadow and only contours. At the time it took a lot of restraint to focus on these elements but it was essential in understanding the subtleties of the style. Since then, as the style evolved, things have become incrementally busier, and where I would only use two colours, I now use six. 

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Going Down Swinging by Karan Singh

What do you wonder about? How do you explore these things in your art?

I like to communicate ideas in a simple way, and this happens through changing the behavior or nature of a subject. This often leads to quite surreal visuals however, despite this it’s still important for me to establish a connection with the audience, where they envision themselves interacting with the subject or space.

Nature in particular is something I’ve always been attracted to visualize. My affinity to pattern has led me to see it in most aspects of life, most notably in nature and this has played a large role in my work for the past few years.

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Invited as a collaborator on a project for Complements, a photography project by designers Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree, Singh explored the concept of forbidden fruit.

Can you tell me a bit about your process in creating such mesmerizing GIFs? For example, I find the heads you made for RGBeast to be just absolutely brilliant.

The process always starts with an idea and sketches. I enjoy getting 10-15 compositional thumbnails in my sketch book before jumping onto the computer. It helps flesh out all my ideas in a quick way, and forces me to sketch beyond the first idea even though it may be my favourite. From here I jump into Cinema4d or After Effects depending on the treatment and focus on establishing the composition first. From here, I transition into colour and animation.

RGBeast was one of the first GIFs I made in this style back in 2014 and a lot of the processes and workflows I set up back then are ones I still use. Nevertheless, my restlessness in constantly wanting to one-up the previous work is what has evolved the style.

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Singh’s work for RPG Beast, 2014.

One of my favorite pieces of yours is the work you did for for Pat Lok’s You Street. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for this project?

Pat and I have worked together for a few years and he’s always been fun and open minded to collaborate with. For his series of releases, I liked the idea of incorporating him as a character in the art for each release. Each visual depicts him in a surreal world which reflects the tone of the track.

Our collaborative process is pretty laid back, we generally hop on the phone and shoot some ideas back and forth. In this case, Pat liked the idea of the figure in a Moroccan-inspired street scene. A lot of inspiration for this piece came from architecture and then adapting it in a surreal way to communicate Pat’s music.

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Singh’s art for electronic artist Pat Lock’s ‘You Street’ single.

How has living in Tokyo inspired or informed your work? Can you tell me a bit about the creative scene there?

I think it’s inspiring me to strip things back further once again, which I enjoy. Overall the Japanese aesthetic is beautifully minimal. Elements which are used a considered and deliberate, which inspires me beyond just visual art. It’s encouraged me to live more simply and experiment more.

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Part of Singh’s Swipe series, 2015.

Can you tell me a bit about a brand collaboration you’ve worked on that stands out as being an especially interesting experience? I’m a huge fan of your work for American Express and Refinery 29.

Working with both of those brands has been an enjoyable experience. In both scenarios, they were great collaborators and were happy for me to push the aesthetic further.

Most recently I worked with AirBnb and Studio Koto to create a poster for the city of Tokyo as part of a new campaign. This one was special as I was given the opportunity to represent my adopted home in my adopted craft. I love to travel and have been moving from city to city over the past 10 years with my girlfriend. Being allowed to communicate the wonder and charm of this city was a very special to me.

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The official tourism poster for Tokyo Singh created for AirBnB, 2016.

Growing up, who were some of your favorite artists? If they have inspired your work, how so?

123Klan were a huge influence. I loved graffiti in high school, and to see them merge graffiti with digital art was revolutionary for me at the time. I remember spending a lot of time drooling over their website. Since then, I’ve also become mildly obsessed with Dutch artist Parra.

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One of several artists commissioned by Ogilvy New York in 2014 for the IBM US Open sessions, Singh created work to accompany a series of tracks created by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, based on data gathered in the tournament. Check out all of the art Singh created for the project on It’s Nice That.

What helps you feel creative? 

A clean desk is really important to me — I find I’m distracted easily, which is why I try to minimize the things around me on my desk so I can focus. I love listening to music when I’m working but I’ve found that only works once I’ve locked down an idea and am fully into the production side of it. I recently bought some noise-canceling headphones and have found that just by having them on and isolating myself with no sound, I’ve been more productive. Yes, I’m weird.

When I do start playing music, I usually listen to a lot of 90s hip hop.

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Work created for the Adobe Bully Project, where 16 artists from around the world were selected by director Lee Hirsch to create a unified piece of art. Karan’s piece focused on a movement of acceptance and embracing peoples’ differences.

Going forward, what are some of your goals as an artist in 2017?

I think this year I’d like to create some more tangible objects. I always enjoy it when I take my work off the screen.

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A portrait of Karan Singh

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Singh’s work for Nautilus magazine
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Work created for MOLD Design Week, 2015.
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Singh was selected by Working Not Working to be one of the participating artists in their first collaboration for Print All Over Me. View the entire collection here.

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For more of Karan Singh’s mesmerizing patterns, check out his website and Instagram.

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