Like many professional illustrators and designers, Keith Rosson is familiar with taking a client’s rough idea and turning it into something visually striking. He’s renowned among his client base – particularly bands, record labels, and independent publishers – for creating work that’s unique and eye-catching. Part of this is due to his experience and creativity, and part of it, he thinks, is because he has a particularly unique vision – or lack thereof. Keith is a legally blind artist.
He was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, or ONH, which is the deadening or lack of development of the optic nerve during gestation. ONH is one of the three most common causes of visual impairment in children. In Keith’s case, resulted in a severe lack of peripheral vision. Growing up with a feverish interest in art and comic books as a kid, Keith wasn’t even fully aware of the severity of his impairment until he was 10 years old. By then, he was already a dedicated artist and has never let his lack of peripheral vision stop him from exploring the visual arts.
During his teen years, he spent time at summer camps at the Oregon School for the Blind. There he worked with terrific, patient visual coaches who taught him skills that helped him navigate the world. The most important one for Keith is “scanning,” in which he scans and memorizes the objects in his visual field as a way of mapping out the things in front of him and, in a way, replacing his peripheral vision. While learning these skills, Keith was still drawing and cultivating his style, with a heavy nod to comic book culture.
In his teens and 20s, Keith discovered punk music and its accompanying aspect of fanzines, or self-published magazines that focus on music, art, and creative nonfiction. Keith started publishing his own fanzine, Avow, in the mid- ́90s and put out over 25 issues in the subsequent years.
After attending Seattle, Washington’s Cornish College of the Arts, Keith moved to Portland, Oregon, and began his art career in earnest. He began painting seriously and has appeared in dozens of solo and group shows throughout the United States. While painting, he also began doing album art and shirt designs for bands, and throughout his career has worked for clients that include Green Day, Against Me, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Warner Bros. Music.
Eventually he began to focus on writing fiction, rather than the anecdotes and creative nonfiction that made up the bulk of Avow. His first novel, The Mercy of the Tide, was released by independent publisher Meerkat Press, and was lauded by NPR as “a horror story, but it's so much more: a coming-of-age tale, a family drama, a crime procedural, and an eerie piece of American magical realism.” The Mercy of the Tide was optioned for film by an executive producer of Game of Thrones. Keith followed this with the release of his second novel, Smoke City, which won the silver award for Best Fantasy Novel from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Independent Book Publishers Association and was voted one of Powell’s Books Best Fiction of 2018. A new novel, Road Seven, is forthcoming from Meerkat Press in 2020.
Keith has certainly struggled with the limitations of his eyesight at times – he once broke his glasses in half after running into a telephone pole that, he swore, appeared out of nowhere. Challenges still appear regularly, but he remains profoundly proud that he hasn’t allowed his disability to hinder his drive to constantly improve his art – be it writing or illustration. He’s constantly impressed with his visually impaired peers and their resiliency in the face of a world that isn’t always understanding of what being blind or disabled means.
Keith is thrilled for the opportunity to work with Outlook Business Solutions in both an illustrative and editing capacity and can’t wait to tackle the next challenge that awaits him.