Vernon Ketchup: Yakima Valley Artist Creating His Own World, One Illustration at a Time | Explore Yakima
Limitations come in all forms. Some are self-inflicted, work-related, or because of the stresses of raising a family.
Others may be invisible borders created by treaties between Native American tribes and the US government.
A local artist does his best to break these constraints through Native American-influenced characters in a surreal environment and space.
Vernon Ketchen is a Yakama/Wanapum artist and creates under the name Vernon Ketchup.
Ketchup, 31, lives in Yakima and Wapato and is a self-taught artist. He’s been creating art for most of his life, but started taking it seriously four years ago, kicking into high gear when the COVID-19 pandemic kept him at home for a while. extended period.
Ketchup is a full-time field technician for Yakama Nation Networks, fiancé, and father of an 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Finding the time to create characters in surreal sci-fi environments isn’t easy, but he manages to juggle work, family, and art.
He does his best to make art that shares his Indigenous experience and perspective outside the borders of the Yakama Nation reservation.
Wyanchi, part of the crew of Space Ghost, is one of Ketchup’s characters. Ketchup says the crew’s name reflects how it feels to be Native American.
“Being a Native American is like being a ghost because people know you’re there but you’re not there. You’re not present,” Ketchup said.
Ketchup’s Indigenous experience is underrepresented in the creative world, he says. Tribal designs can be found in popular stores like Zumiez, but the characters are lacking in popular culture.
“I think native people are underrepresented in animation, comics, and superheroes,” Ketchup said. “That’s what my art is for. I do Native American stuff because I’m Native, I try to make stuff for everyone. How do I get strangers from booking and bring them in?
“I just have to have human relationships, things that everyone can relate to. But also having real indigenous roots and then being able to show it to them.
Ketchup is always trying to figure out how his art and his characters will stick with people.
“Every illustration that I draw, I always think to myself, ‘How would this person engage with these other characters that I’ve created? How would this all work in the same world?'” Ketchup said.
The illustrations created by Ketchup are comedic characters that sometimes teach a serious message.
“I take Native American teachings and present them in a comedic way. It’s goofing off with a serious message,” Ketchup said.
Ketchup’s ideas and art are influenced by the “Adventure Time” cartoon.
“They do serious stuff, but they have a lot of fart jokes, which makes the whole message a bit entertaining and easier to digest,” he said.
The digital art prints created by Ketchup begin with pencil on paper. From there, the sketches are uploaded to his iPad for editing and improvement. Ketchup taught himself perspective, color theory, and the use of different software and hardware.
Animations and short films follow for Ketchup. Every character he creates already has a backstory and storyline. While portraying these characters, he shares how each is a part of his personality or represents a beloved family member or friend.
As Ketchup works on illustrations and dabbles in animation, he decides how he can use short films to tell stories about the Yakama Wars and other difficult subjects like the displacement of the Wanapum people for the construction of the site of Hanford.
“How can I talk about the Yakama Wars using characters? And I’m still trying to master animation. Basically, I want to bring short films to life, bring my characters to life and have them tell their stories,” he said.
As Ketchup develops its stories and characters, it seeks to expand its website inventory. He sells prints and stickers, and plans to add T-shirts.
“Take a piece of my creativity and put it in your home, office, classroom, anywhere. Art makes things better,” according to Ketchup’s website.
The art of ketchup is making the rounds beyond the Yakama Reserve. His first show was in October 2021 at Collaboration Coffee, 18 S. First St. He recently sent some of his impressions to Australia. He was commissioned by Ocean Spray. And he came up with a design that will be put on coffee mugs for Fiddles Coffee House in Wapato.
“I feel like there’s a big shift going on, where Native Americans won’t be ghosts anymore and we’ll be very present,” Ketchup said.
He encourages young Native Americans to find something they like and go for it.
” Do not hesitate. Just do it,” he said. “You know, even if it’s not good at first, just keep going.”