A Tribute to Keith Parkinson
Artist Keith Parkinson created many wonderful works of art before he passed away recently. Join us in a tribute to both the artist and the man as those who have known him, been inspired by him, and worked with him share their thoughts and memories of this extraordinary person.
Talk about believability! His landscapes brought you into the world, his creatures were absolutely terrifying and powerful, and his heroes emoted with staggering quality. He created figures who allowed you to peer right into their soul and know exactly what they were thinking.
Keith was truly a master of the medium and launched the aspirations of many an artist and even more adventurers. Including me.
Keith left us all so many wonderful ways in which to remember him; his eternal artwork still speaks to us so eloquently. Yet when I think of Keith, the word that describes him best is “passionate.” The man I knew lived life with passion -- a zeal and determination that shone in his eyes and was carried out in so many aspects of his life. His art was an expression of that fervor; he was always growing, always pushing his craft to greater heights. But perhaps most of all I remember his ready laugh and his mischievous smile. He was a great man -- and my friend.
Long before I started at TSR, I took note of Keith's art. The art book The Worlds of TSR was in my reference library before I started the path that led me here, and Keith's paintings were among the standouts. Together with Michael Whelan, Frank Frazetta, Brom, and Jeff Easley (in no particular order), Keith rounded out the top five fantasy artists who influenced my career, and in many ways also my art, outright. One day in my first month at TSR, I was studying one of my favorite reference books, the art of Frank C. McCarthy, a western artist whose compositions and landscapes always pleased me. Paul Jaquays, another TSR staff artist at the time, saw my interest and said, "That's interesting; Keith Parkinson always had that book open, too." I knew he was right instantly, of course. I could see the influence clearly once it was made apparent -- in King's Gold, for example, or Orcs in the Snow. I always felt that Keith and I had similar artistic sensibilities. His art collection Knightsbridge: The Art of Keith Parkinson is one of the most-visited in my reference collection.
When he left TSR and started doing book covers for the New York publishers, he only blossomed further. In his short years, his impact -- on gaming and the D&D worlds, to the many excellent covers in "mainstream" publishing, to his visionary work in video games, most notably EverQuest -- is gigantic.
His sense of story and composition were keen, his dragons were among my very favorites, such as the dramatic lava dweller in Fire Sea, the spectral white in Hand of Chaos, or the blue in Ice Dragon. He painted some of the best armor, as well; see The Sapphire Rose, The Shining Ones, or The Lost Prince. He had a love for trees, which was apparent in the care he took in painting them. You can see it in paintings such as Chernevog or Arcane Summons. His landscapes were everything from minimalist perfection, as in North Watch, to Bierstadt-like grandeur, as in Greeting the Dawn. You can still find new nuggets, mostly hidden, in concept art done for various game worlds such as Vanguard. All in all, he was a complete artist.
I met Keith on only two occasions, but I found him to be open, interested, and very intelligent. We wrote a few times, but I always expected I would have other opportunities to get to know him better. I am saddened that now I will only know him through the remembrance of his friends, and through his wonderful art.
Perhaps that is how all artists would want to be remembered.
Thank you, Keith, for the gift of your inspiration.
Some of my best memories of working on Dragonlance in those early days at TSR are working with the artists. It was an awe-inspiring experience to stand at the elbow of Keith Parkinson and watch him create his breath-taking works. He had a vision of the DL world that was vast and awful and beautiful--with a sly touch of humor. I think in particular of the painting of the Flying Citadel. You can feel the magic that ripped the mighty castle from the ground, feel the danger that it presents as if you were fleeing from it yourself. And yet, amid the terrible majesty of that wonderful painting, you can see--if you look closely--Dr. Who and the Tardis. That little touch was Keith’s sly chuckle, his reminder that we should never take ourselves or our work too seriously; a reminder that this life is about joy and laughter and fun. And that is how I will remember Keith and celebrate his life and mourn his passing.
Keith Parkinson. . . .
I don’t want to write this. The pain is too raw. I realize that we must celebrate life and a life lived well. I understand that in the end we are measured by those who remember us, by those we touch, by those we loved and who came to love us, and in that regard, a lifespan really can’t be measured in years. In that regard, Keith Parkinson lived a full and wonderful life.
But it hurts to say goodbye to him.
I met Keith many years ago, back around 1990. He was one of several talented artists working for TSR who could send my imagination flying off to magical, enchanted lands, where dragons were real, treasure was for the quick and the brave, and heroes really made a difference. For all of these years, Keith remained among my very favorite artists. His work went beyond . . . well, almost anything I had ever seen within the fantasy genre and without. He could get more meaning out of a simple expression on a character’s face than many writers could concoct in several chapters of dialogue and exposition. He wasn’t just a painter; he was a true artist, who found layers of depth in everything he did, who breathed life into canvas and emotions into paint.
Anyone who ever knew Keith, who ever talked to Keith, will tell you that that was no accident. He was possessed of an artist’s introspection. He saw people, as he viewed art, in layers, and he reveled in those layers and sought to explore them in his conversations. His kindness and generosity cannot be overstated. As he was a good friend to so many of us, so he was a gentle hand in talking to enthusiastic young artists.
When I wrote Mortalis, a book desperately important to me, I fought long and hard with the publisher to sign Keith for the cover, because I knew that he, and maybe he alone, could do that one right. I was honored that Keith agreed, and the original painting hangs on the wall of my library. I look at it often and will visit with it even more now.
Maybe when I do, maybe when I stare at the amazing legacy this talented and generous man has left behind, I won’t have to consider that his brush is still and that he will give us no more. Maybe when I look at Mortalis, I will see Keith, smiling at his booth at Gen Con, handing me a book to sign for his wonderful kids, plotting with me to get me into the BETA of Vanguard, talking excitedly about where fantasy was going, about the possibilities of video games, about the community of friends and fans who make this genre so very special.
Maybe when I look at that painting, I won’t have to say goodbye.
Farewell, Keith Parkinson. Our world is diminished.