With their distinctive side-eyed pouts and vamped-up retro style, Keely Majewski’s 3D sculptures exist for a world of their own. The artist, also known as Poi on the internet, has accrued quite the following on social media for her daily posts of 3D modelled figures. Invoking confidence and power, her characters are often presented in articulated stances, and in dramatic perspectives. The material sensibility of her work is more often than not plastic, invoking a cogent dream world which is sometimes scary, but always exciting.
Majewski’s work is inspired by the vast array of art and cultural products she exposes herself to; her work translates these observations through her distinct style. Her collaborations are extensive and often include musicians. One of her favourite recent projects was a tee for Rosalía’s newest album, Motomami. Keely Majewski talked to us about her work, practising creativity as self-care and the need for representation in art.
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You have mentioned beginning with 3D sculpting during the early stages of the pandemic. How did you find this creative outlet, and how has your relationship to this medium evolved with time?
I’ve always been aware of 3D art, mainly because I grew up playing a lot of video games, but I never really thought to apply it to my art when I was younger! My journey with 3D has definitely evolved over time, and I have reintroduced digital illustration to the mix, creating this sort of fifty-fifty process of smooth 3D forms and sketchy line work. Right now, I feel so content with the balance, because it allows me to really push the relationship between the two processes as far as I want.
Your following on social media has absolutely exploded over the past 2 years, what has this experience felt like? Has it changed your relationship to your regimen of posting every day?
It has been absolutely wild! I don’t really think I could explain it without it just sounding like a major understatement! I’ve just been so grateful for the support and for the amazing people I’ve been able to work with. It really just feels surreal. As for my daily art, it’s definitely been a new challenge, taking on client work and still making time for personal art every day, but somehow, I’ve managed to do it!
Your hand-drawn sketches are stylistically so different from your 3D sculpture work. Do you always begin with a paper draft? And how do you translate these brainstorming sketches to a finished product?
Oh, yes! My sketches are a mess and a half (laughs). I don’t always feel the need to sketch a paper draft. But when a piece is a little more complicated in terms of the pose/perspective, starting with a paper draft really gives me a great foundation to reference, so I don’t waste time during the actual process.
In addition to the direct outfit studies you have posted, your characters all feature such distinctive clothing. How do you come up with this aspect of your work? Are there designers or style movements you look towards for inspiration?
When I’m not working on art, I really make an effort to absorb the world around me; films, magazines, fashion, anything and everything! I truly believe inspiration can come from anything. Usually, when I’m not looking for it and just enjoying the moment, it shows up and I roll with it. To get a bit more specific, I have always loved the emotion and softness of Surrealism and the Baroque period. I feel like my love of classical art might not be apparent in my work, but it definitely has always been a huge influence. Mix all of that with an early 2000s twist and then you have me.
Much of your work features articulated joints and exaggerated features that appear doll-like. Are there particular doll references you are most drawn to?
Leaving the separation of joints in my work started as a way to grasp anatomy in a 3D workspace since it was very different from illustrating a 2D character. Over time it just stuck!
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Scrolling through your Instagram makes me feel as if I have entered a plastic alternate reality. Your work is so distinctive, and your characters are all individualised. How do you begin creating a new character? Are there any in your body of work that keeps coming back to you?
Thank you and that’s so awesome to hear! Creating a new character for a piece is really the part I look forward to most! It’s like playing a dress-up game from the 90s! Usually, when starting a new character, I pick one feature to lead the way, whether that’s the outfit, hairstyle or makeup, or sometimes even the colour scheme. I don’t really have any recurring characters. I try to go into each piece with a fresh perspective from the ground up and see what happens.
What is your relationship to the characters you design? Do they feel like friends, muses or something else entirely?
I love this question! They definitely feel like friends and muses! They feel like an extension of my emotions and help me express myself on such a deep level.
I saw some of your 2015 work, and your style has changed immensely. In addition to the different software you have been working with, are there other developments in your work that you see as particularly important? To what do you attribute these changes?
Learning how to utilise 3D in combination with my illustrations has really helped bring to life the work I always pictured in my mind when I was younger. Back in 2015, I wanted my work to look similar to what I make today, but it just didn’t click yet. I just want to keep evolving and pushing myself, it keeps things fresh and exciting every time I sit down to make something!
What was it like working with Rosalía? How is it different to design a physical product than a digital image? Do you have any interest in other physical work (figures, sculptures, etc.)?
It was absolutely fantastic! I loved Rosalía’s music so much before I was offered to work on a product for her. So, you could say I was pretty excited about it (laughs). Moving forward, I definitely want to explore bringing my art into a more physical space! Figures and large-scale sculptures would be a dream come true!
You work with a lot of musical artists, does their music inform your design work? Are these collaborations different from your other personal commissions?
I love music, absolutely any genre! I used to run an online publication many years ago with my partner Zab, our main focus was interviewing musical artists almost every day for around 6 years. I’ve always been drawn to the music world, especially when it comes to hip-hop and rap. When I started to embrace visual art again after retiring the publication, my draw to music never went away.
When I work with musical artists, it’s such a collaborative process. I always listen to their music when working on the visual aspect. It really helps me visualise their sound and then translate that into the art.
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How do you balance commission-based work with your self-directed work? Do you see the two processes as different?
No matter what, I always make time to work on something personal each day, even if it’s a little sketch on a notepad. Having that time to myself to work on personal art is basically my time for self-care. I pretty much schedule my life and client work around that personal creative time in the evening each day. Overall, the process for commission-based work and my personal work tend to be on the same page most of the time, which I’m extremely grateful for.
Congratulations on publicly coming out! I have found a great deal of queer representation in digital arts communities. Has being in these spaces helped your process of identity discovery?
Thank you so much! The queer space in the digital art and the music world have given me a support system that has helped me to feel comfortable in my own skin. We have so much farther to go with representation in society as a whole but seeing how close the community around me is giving me a solid foundation to continue that openness.
All the programs you mention using are free. How do you think this democratised access to supplies has informed how emerging artists begin to make work? Do you have any advice for young digital creatives who feel hampered by technological limitations?
I think free software can be absolutely amazing, but it can also be equally overwhelming! I’ve had so many people say they’re going to start learning how to use Blender because they like my work, which is literally the coolest thing ever. Also, when I first started using Blender, I felt like I could take my time and find what works for me, without feeling pressured to make something perfect because I paid hundreds of dollars for a program.
For any young digital creatives out there, it’s overwhelming dealing with the pressures and expectations, especially when you start expressing yourself through digital art and technology. Take things at your own pace and try your best to tune out the noise. It can be so damaging to compare yourself to others when you’re growing as an artist. Of course, that’s way easier said than done, but keeping that in the back of your mind is so important. Embrace what you want to see in the world as a creative and start, even if you’re just sketching in a notebook, every piece of art you make will help you improve even if it doesn’t seem like it at that moment.
Similarly, you mention that YouTube tutorials were extremely helpful as you learned technical skills. When did you start to feel like you were making art, rather than replicating these guides?
Maybe it’s my stubborn nature, but I always rushed the process a little bit and just tried to apply tips from tutorials to the work I actually wanted to make. This created a very unconventional understanding of the programs I use (which works against me at times). But I also think that helped me develop my own way of doing things down the road. Very early on, I created a lot of stuff from tutorials that didn’t get posted publicly, just to learn the flow and process of the programs, even if I wasn’t a fan of the end result. It’s definitely a quick way to pick up on something, and I always recommend people start with that if they’re interested in 3D art.
What is next for Poi and Keely? You have expressed interest in gaming, particularly Elden Ring, do you have any interest in designing for video game environments? You have done some animation work in the past, are you interested in animated filmmaking?
Elden Ring and Final Fantasy XIV are my main video game obsessions at the moment! I’d love to cross over my art into a video game world in the future, I'm super open to that! But I will say my focus is currently on a larger-scale personal animation project I’m planning. Shh, it’s a secret for now.
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