On December 17, 2015, I quit my corporate job as an apparel designer to finally go full-time into business on my own, as an illustrator. There was a lot of nervousness – a LOT. Why wouldn’t there be? There’s a huge difference between having a steady corporate job with IT support, biweekly paychecks and health insurance to going off to do your own thing, and having – well, none of that. (Ask my husband, he was nervous too.)
So for me, 2016 was a year of a lot of learning. Managing projects. Managing tech issues. Managing invoicing, cash flow and budgeting, and managing myself. But with that learning came a lot of opportunity, and the chance to work with companies I adore and have long admired. It was also the year of inspiration, and finding new tools to create work and communicate my passions.
So below are my top 8 highlights of 2016. Reflecting on the year behind me makes it quite exciting to think about the year ahead.
1 | Hallmark.
The year started with a commission for Hallmark’s Mahogany card line. Omg, major. Working with one of the most prominent greeting card companies was a huge deal for me, and maybe a little bit intimidating. I learned a bit in the process, and was thrilled to see the final product - complete with a shimmery organza ribbon and a coordinating envelope. Having this be my first major project of the new year felt like a good omen for the months ahead.
2 | Bloomingdale’s.
I’ve done a number of live-sketching events with Bloomingdale’s here in the Philly area, and every event is a great time. In February, I live-painted for the store’s Valentine’s Day event on their cosmetics floor, painting custom mirror compacts for shoppers. And in August, I sketched for the store’s Fashionable Fundraiser event. It’s always a blast chatting with the customers and turning them into fashion illustrations – my favorite part is when they see their sketch and say, “Omigosh, that’s so cool!” :)
3 | Beyoncé.
It’s no secret how I feel about Queen Bey - I love her so much it hurts. So you could imagine that this year was a pretty spectacular one for anybody who’s a fan. First there was Formation, then the Super Bowl, THEN Lemonade, AND THEN the Formation Tour! (Which, by the way, I saw twice.) This whole year was like one big BeyHive Christmas! But it’s not simply the fact that Beyoncé made new music – it’s how she so lovingly made black girls the center of all of it. The sounds, the language, the visuals of 2016 Beyoncé were all one big love letter to women of color. This was another thing that helped inspire and define my work this year – now when I sit down at my table to create my personal work, I know that everything I draw is going to be a love letter to black girls. And that fills me with such a sense of purpose.
4 | SheaMoisture.
This year I partnered with one of my favorite haircare brands, SheaMoisture, to create artwork for a number of projects with them. My absolute favorite project this year was the coloring wall I created for SheaMoisture’s booth at BeautyCon. For the project, I illustrated several of SheaMoisture’s key natural ingredients - coconut, hibiscus, mint, dragonfruit and more - along with women wearing a variety of hair textures. The illustration was blown up and printed on a massive 8-foot-by-20-foot wall so people could walk up and color, scribble and draw on it with markers. That same design is now on SheaMoisture’s makeup bag, which you can get as a free-gift-with-purchase when you order cosmetics on their site.
5 | ICON9.
This year was my first attending The Illustration Conference, known as ICON, and my first time visiting Austin, TX, where the conference was held. And I. Had. A blast. Never had I been in such a gathering of great creative and visual artists and thinkers. Between the workshops, the education symposium, the presentations and the trips to local art and design spaces, I learned so much and became so inspired. ICON9 was also where I came into a deep understanding of why I create what I create, and who I create it for. The next conference isn’t until 2018 (it’s held every two years), but I’m already excited to go.
6 | Made Institute.
2016 was the year I honed my teaching skills as the illustration instructor at Made Institute. I met and became fast friends with Rachel Ford, the owner of Made (and fellow Drexel alumna!), and we hit the ground running with my first course in fashion illustration. I started with teaching absolute beginners – many of whom had never drawn before – and found myself blown away by how much they learned by the end of the six weeks! Being at Made has only deepened my passion for teaching, shown me how much I actually know (goodbye, imposter syndrome!) and I find myself inspired by my students as well.
7 | The Blacksonian.
The Blacksonian is the nickname for the newest Smithsonian museum on the National Mall – the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. My love affair with this place started back in 2014, way before it was even open, when I saw This Building Will Sing For All of Us - a short documentary about the architectural design process behind the museum. Since then, one of my close friends has gone on to work as a fashion researcher there (coolest job ever), and I’ve been able to visit twice. The building is packed with artifacts, art, history and stories, all shared with such love and respect for the culture and history of Black Americans. (Wesley Morris pretty much says what I’m feeling in his piece for the New York Times.) Like Lemonade, the museum has become an incredibly potent source of inspiration for me – so much so that I kind want to just move in and live there. (I don’t think the Smithsonian allows that though – yet.)
8 | New Technology.
This was the year I finally got myself an iPad – and good thing I waited, as I was able to snag the iPad Pro. Paired with the Apple Pencil, my iPad has at once become my mobile office, my research tool and my sketchbook. At the end of 2016 I was able to download the ultimate holiday gift for a digital creative – a massive update to the sketchbook app, Procreate. For artists, Procreate now lets you live-stream your sketching, and export your creations in LAYERS. (This a big deal. HUGE. Lol.) It’s so powerful now that I can complete commissions from start to finish in the app, which I have done a number of times this year.
I know that at large, 2016 has been a difficult year for many us, politically and culturally. But in the face of that, I deeply believe that continuing to work, create art and take care of one another will be a formidable way of bringing love, light and joy in this universe. (Yes, this sounds woo-woo, but we need love, and we need joy. Terribly. So I really, really believe that.) So onward to 2017 - let’s create something beautiful!