It was the coveted purse of a newborn fowl that first drew Keith Whitfield to the art world.
“Only in Oklahoma,” says Whitfield, who owns and operates Aartvark Graphic Design in Owasso with his wife, Dana. “I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I won a drawing contest in first grade – the prize was a live baby chick.”
As a graphic artist, Whitfield designs logos, hand-lettered signs, banners, T-shirts, brochures and flyers. He also illustrates and paints.
Whitfield says throughout his formative years he steadily drew and painted, and at one point in high school became interested in typography and sign painting.
“After high school, I attended and graduated from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology’s commercial art and graphic design program in Okmulgee,” he says. “After OSUIT, I was co-owner of a design company [Aartvark Graphx] for a short time with another graduate of the program, James McCullough, who is the dean at OSUIT’s School of Visual Communications.”
Whitfield’s path to the art world wasn’t straight. After owning his own business and working for a sign company in the ’80s, Whitfield joined the team of Hughes Anderson Heat Exchangers in 1988 and worked there for nearly three decades.
“While there, I helped develop their [computer-assisted design] system, as well as developing several [personal computer] applications,” he says. “All the while, I continued to paint, draw and design on the side. I eventually became a certified welding inspector, overseeing welding testing and writing welding procedures.
“But after 28 years in an unrelated field, I’ve gotten back to the thing I love. In 2017, I got the opportunity to work from home illustrating a technical manual related to the construction of pressure vessels. I’ve been working full time from home since.”
Aartvark Graphic Design is named as a throwback to Whitfield’s first company and, he jokes, because he “wanted to be sure we’re listed first in the phone book. People rarely use a phone book these days, but I wanted an eye-catching brand that I could use in all kinds of situations. The ‘aartvark’ is also a great conversation starter.”
Whitfield is proud of the work both Dana and he have done the past two years in the digital realm, but his first love is classic lettering.
“We are one of the few places that can offer ‘old school’ sign painting services,” he says. “I love types and fonts and can still hand-letter with the best of ’em.”
His local claim to fame is the logo for Owasso’s Redbud District; he’s also created digital assets for several Oklahoma-based companies, including a bakery, several property groups and a manufacturing company. Whitfield says his inspiration for these designs comes from a variety of sources.
“I look at websites of other graphic designers and artists, internet searches, books … sometimes just sitting at my desk with a blank piece of paper and a pencil,” he says.
He also has advice for anyone wanting to get into the business of creating and selling art.
“I would point them to OSUIT,” he says. “The [visual communications] program has produced some amazing artists over the years. Their faculty is comprised of people who have years of experience in the graphic design field, and the facility is second to none … in my opinion.”