How would you say your interest in design and illustration started?
I spent my early years, from the age of six months to four years, in a sewing studio in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown. It was run by a French woman named Solange Cody and was occupied by a team of four women who spent their days constructing, hemming, and altering clothes. These ladies, except for one African-American woman, were all immigrants—including my mother who’s from Brazil. While my mother was sewing and fitting clothes I would be drawing and coloring for hours. I believe that space planted seeds for my own creativity, my love for textiles, patterns and color, and my desire to become an entrepreneur. But that all would come together much later.
My interest in design was sparked by television and a movie. I was intrigued by Halle Berry's character in "Boomerang" where she was an art director. In the film she was also an artist and an art teacher. When I saw [Berry's character] Angela I was amazed even though she wasn't a real person. Before that character, I had never seen a person working in a career where they could be creative in that way, and on top of that she was a women of color doing so.
Around the same time I saw a Saturday morning segment, during the cartoons, about a woman who was an art director at a magazine. Again, I was amazed because she was talking about drawing, and designing, and sharing how all that informed her work as an art director.
Those were my first introductions to design. With that in the back of my mind, I later enrolled in the graphic design program at Temple University's Tyler School of Art.
I’ve admired illustrator and graphic designer Andrea Pippins for quite some time. Since 2006, her blog Fly has showcased her own work alongside a vibrant collection of curated pieces from other artists—all narrated by an elegant creative voice.
Andrea's recent series Women Who Project, which highlighted women of color in a way we aspire to do at margins, was my cue to finally reach out.
An author, educator, and all around uplifter, Andrea talks with margins in this Q+A about how the pieces have fit together. From the moments that “planted the seeds” for her artistic expression, to the struggles of staying creative on a busy freelance schedule, Andrea shares the importance of representation, productivity, and thoughtful self exploration.
What have been some of your biggest struggles during your career so far?
Early in my career it was very difficult to find guidance from people in the design industry who looked like me. It’s still a challenge at times. I’m so grateful for social media and blogging, it’s allowed me to find my tribe and make connections with people I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to find where I live or in my immediate community.
Now as a freelancer my struggle is managing the success. I know it’s a wonderful problem to have, trust me I’m not complaining—but with success comes a lot of responsibility, discipline, and prioritizing. Most times I just want to draw, create something new, or be completely consumed in a project. In running a business and managing everything that comes with doing so I have to be very aware of how I spend my time so that I am able to still be creative. So that has been a learning process.
Where did you get the idea to start Fly?
I started Fly after seeing some really cool art and design blogs but wanting to see blogs with more images and stories that reflected what I wanted to see, like women of color in design, lots of patterns, and bold colors. I was really into trend forecasting at the time and collecting inspiration so in the beginning Fly was this evolving moodboard and became this place where I could share my findings. It was my Pinterest before Pinterest existed.
Over time it became a platform where I could share insight about pursuing a career in design, celebrate culture, and feature stories of other women of color in the fields of art and design. Because of that I got to meet so many amazing people.
I don’t post on the blog that often anymore, but I still use the space to share things that inspire me. Fly has also become an extension of my portfolio. A lot of clients find my work through the site.
“Early in my career it was very difficult to find guidance from people in the design industry who looked like me. It’s still a challenge at times.”
How would you define your aesthetic style and sense of color? What has helped you develop that style?
I think my style changes and evolves but right now I would define it as a cocktail of 90s throwbacks with an Afro-futuristic twist. My palette can be very colorful, bright, and bold like art and fashion from the 90s. My themes center around spirituality, cultural references, and explorations of the African diaspora like the themes found in Afro-futurism.
Regarding process, how do you start a new project, and how does it progress?
My process usually depends on the project, and every project has it’s unique set of demands. But usually a project starts with a meeting with the client. We discuss the project needs, and I ask questions about their expectations for the visual outcome. Then I do some research (again depending on the project; some clients might give me all the references I need, or time constraints may not afford too much time for research). I collect imagery on a private Pinterest page that I can reference throughout the project. Then I sketch. I do as many thumbnail sketches as I can to exhaust an idea. When I find some concepts that I like, I will begin developing the sketch into a cleaner version and then take it onto the computer to digitize.
Right now I am working on the 6th Annual BlackStar Film Festival promotional graphics and from the beginning we had a very clear direction for the concept. Typically I present 2-3 visual directions, but with this year’s clear concept I presented one idea. It was all about doodles celebrating icons, trailblazers, and stories in black film. Oh and bold lettering. The client sent me a list of words, names, films, etc. to incorporate and I created a huge page covered in doodles that we could use on the poster, for social media profile pages, and other festival materials.
Who are some designers/artists that you feel have impacted your own practice? What about outside the fields of design and art?
What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s really important to figure out what works for me and cultivate that way of working. But I will say there are artists/designers and folks from other disciplines that I truly admire because of their belief system and what they put out into the world. Usually they are people who are very focused in their mission and have a practice that allows them to stay true to who they are and who they want to become. They are unapologetic and I appreciate their creative spirits. And they are always learning. These are people like: blogger/artist Justina Blakeney; artists Shantell Martin, Nina Chanel Abney; singer/songwriter/chef Kelis, writer/producer Issa Rae, Grace Jones; director/ producer Ava DuVernay, director Melina Matsoukas, comedian Aziz Ansari, and my favorite, writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (I LOVE her).
Edited by Alicia DeWitt
What's in your margins?
Here is a photo of the initial sketch for the 6th Annual BlackStar Film Festival promotional graphics.