Black Visual Artist Chat – Destiney Powell

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This week’s interview is with Destiney Powell. Destiney recently established a creative company of her own and focus on expanding her artistic vision. Upon discovering her artwork on Instagram, I was mesmerized by her precision of skin-tones, facial expressions, shadows, and hair textures along with her dazzling backgrounds. Read our conversation to learn more about Destiney and her fantastic artistry.

Me: Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?

Destiney: I do use my art as a form of activism within the community in promoting black people in a good light. I use it to bring the community together, and promote all types of beauty of black women.

“I use it to bring the community together, and promote all types of beauty of black women.”

Me: Excellent! Can you dive deeper into your pieces that reflect this, for example I see a piece called Motherland.

Destiney: Motherland was inspired by an African biblical story of Eve and her sacrifice to God because of the actions of man. It’s based off of my research, figuring out that all of humanity came from a black women versus what we were traditionally taught in the South. She’s a reminder of where we come from and to appreciate the black woman.

Me: These images are definitely needed especially in educating the next generation about our full history because you know of course they leave it out in school and give us the white-washed version of it.

Destiney:  Exactly, it’s very important. I’m glad that I’m an artist who does research and is not afraid to show black people. Because of how I was raised, I never want my kids to feel like there’s anything wrong with the color of their skin or that it’s a hindrance to them in any form or fashion.

Me: Definitely! Describe your upbringing, where you’re originally from – when you started painting, family background, and education.

Destiney: I was born and raised in Mississippi. I grew up going to church all of the time and I had 21 cousins (laughing). My grandmother, who was a stay at home mom, took care of us and made dinner for us all after school. She also took us all to church with her and we walked there with her. So, you could imagine 21 grandkids and a grandmother walking down the street (laughing)! It was like a 2 mile walk too. I should do a painting of how we looked walking to church!

Destiney: It was a big family with a strict upbringing. We weren’t allowed to stay the night anywhere and we weren’t allowed to date but we did that anyway. My Mom was fifteen years old when she had me so she kept everything strict although my grandmother did most of the raising because she wanted my Mom to go to college. She went to college 30 minutes away so I would stay with my grandmother and then see my Mom on the weekends. I moved in with my Mom when she was 26 and she bought her first house. She worked three jobs in order to get that house. Shortly after her and my Dad had my younger brother, they split up. My Dad went to school for architecture and math. When he brought home a sketchbook and I wanted to write in it, he wouldn’t let me (laughing). So, he bought me one and he basically taught me to draw. The first thing I drew was a bird and a rainbow. After I filled up a couple of sketchbooks, my Dad thought I was good at it so he would keep buying me art supplies and he would teach me what he learned in school. By the time I was ten, he bought me a set of canvases and paints for my birthday. The first painting I did was of a black Rosie the Riveter that my history teacher still has (laughing).

“I moved in with my Mom when she was 26 and she bought her first house. She worked three jobs in order to get that house.”

Me: Wow! She must of really loved it!

Destiney: Yea she did, my brother who is seven years younger than me, said it was still there when he was in her class. I went to college at Mississippi State University in Starkville. I studied art and business because I wanted to figure out how to blend the two. People were saying I was going to be a poor artist (laughing), so I decided to add business so I could learn how to promote and sell my art. I had my first son in my Junior year and when I couldn’t find someone to watch him he would go to school with me.

Destiney: During the last semester as I was applying for jobs, I knew I didn’t want to do something that wasn’t creative. I refused to do that so I sent out a bunch of resumes and I got a few calls back. I ended up going to work for Lisa Frank which was based in Arizona where my husband was also stationed. They ended up flying me out there to do an interview in the Fall. When I walked up into the building I just fell in love with it. It had rainbows on it and Lisa Frank in big shiny cursive letters. The interview was so easy going and I could relate to the people there. So, I immediately took the job before I went to my other interview (laughing).

Destiney: While I was working at Lisa Frank, I learned how to market myself, my art, and how to talk about what I was doing. I just took notes on all of the stuff I had to do to promote her and then I paid attention to the people in various departments like distribution, marketing, and website development. After studying that for over a year, I was recruited by someone at a distribution fair where I was setting up a booth for Lisa Frank. The recruiter was from OshKosh B’Gosh and Carter. He was looking to hire someone to do displays in their store and he ended up hiring me to be a visual marketing designer. Basically from doing all of that, I took plenty of notes so I could apply what I learned to start my own business.

“While I was working at Lisa Frank, I learned how to market myself, my art, and how to talk about what I was doing.”

Me: That’s great foresight you had just planning out everything before you actually dived in to start your own business venture.

Destiney: I always knew I wanted my own business but I thought I would buy into a franchise first. Then, I figured I’d just start my own. I thought the stuff that I was learning from my corporate jobs would help me in that aspect. When I was working for those jobs I no longer considered myself an artist because I wasn’t creating for myself. I was mostly giving my ideas to other people. In 2013 I wrote a business plan then in 2015 I wrote another one (laughing).

Me: That’s awesome, you took that leap of faith and you made it happen! You were observant of how they ran those businesses and you applied what they did to your own.

Destiney: Thank you! At first I was like, ‘why am I taking all of these notes’ (laughing) but it was all interesting to me and I knew I could use the info later.

Me: Also, what has been some of the challenges in making the transition from the corporate environment to being an entrepreneur?

Destiney: One of the challenges I have faced was, not having enough time in one day to do everything I would like to do. Ideally, I’d like to create something everyday but most likely that’s not going to happen. You’re going to have meetings especially if you have multiple clients like I have, that you have to keep up with and deadlines to meet on different projects. Then you have to drop art off somewhere, there’s always something going on. I thought I was superwoman but I’m not (laughing)! I can’t do everything on my own so that was something that I had to realize it’s okay to say no to some things. Those were my biggest struggles so far.

“You’re going to have meetings especially if you have multiple clients like I have, that you have to keep up with and deadlines to meet on different projects.”

Me: Yea, I can imagine the difficulty in balancing running your own business and trying to be a great parent as well. 

Destiney: Exactly! It’s hectic, I always wanted to be that mother that cooks dinner and was always there when my children needed me. My Mom wasn’t able to come to my basketball games and help me study because she was always working all the time being a single mother. However, being a mother that’s there also means that sometimes you’re not mentally there especially when you’re running a business.

Me: I hear you. Describe the business that you run, Poetically Illustrated?

Destiney: Poetically Illustrated started from a blog which was basically where I would talk about my outfits I would illustrate in college and me being a young mother. It eventually evolved into my art business where I produce and sell pillows, t-shirts, canvas prints, denim jackets, shoes, comforters, refrigerator magnets, cup holders, coffee cups, planners, and notebooks.

“Poetically Illustrated started from a blog which was basically where I would talk about my outfits I would illustrate in college and me being a young mother.” 

Me: Wow, you just hitting us at all angles (laughing)! That’s great though, the more versatile you are as a creative the better opportunities you’ll be able to have. Are you still based in Arizona as well?

Destiney: No, now I’m based in Nashville. I moved to Nashville from Arizona two months after having my second son. My husband had been deployed the last three months of my pregnancy and I was alone with 2 children and a full-time job with no family support so we decided to move back to the south to be closer to our family.

Me: Nice! What’s the art scene like in Nashville in your opinion?

Destiney: The art scene in Nashville is very different because it’s more geared towards country living and country music. But, there is an emergence of black art and other cultures as well. We’re being seen and responded to. There are events for black artists to show their work which was started by an IT guy who is not an artist. He was just invited to so many events from people he was working with including corporate events, galleries, and fashion shows. He was doing all of these things to be social but he wasn’t seeing too many people that looked like him at these different events. So, he created an event of his own called Vanguard Nashville where he scouts local black talent including – spoken word, hair stylists, fashion designers, and artists. He hosts an art show where artists can sell their products for free without paying commission fees. The event holds from 300 to 400 attendees every month.

Me: That’s incredible! What are some takeaways you’ve gotten from running Poetically Illustrated?

Destiney: I’ve learned that making connections and fostering those connections is important. Seeking opportunities is also very important, if you want something there’s always a way to go get it. It takes a lot more promotion then it does creating to make the business work because if no one knows what you’re doing or why you’re creating then they’re not going to support you. I’ve learned to talk about myself and my work and always stay in contact with people even if they’re not interested in my work at that time.

“It takes a lot more promotion then it does creating to make the business work because if no one knows what you’re doing or why you’re creating then they’re not going to support you.”

Me: That’s excellent insight right there! Describe how you approach your creative process; what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range of creativity?

Destiney: My creative process starts with having my fruit water. I have to get a shower before I start creating which is either super early in the morning or late at night when it’s quiet. I got to have music which helps me free my mind and focus on a flow. I pray before I put any paint or color on the canvas. Then, I let my mind be free and I focus on the image I’m trying to create. My most blissful creative working space would be to work with other artists so that I can have feedback and be inspired by them. Just having a huge creative community where I can connect with other artists is my ideal environment.

“My most blissful creative working space would be to work with other artists so that I can have feedback and be inspired by them.”

Me: I think that is a critical element too especially as black creatives to connect with each other.

Destiney: Definitely. It’s so important that we help each other. Once you get to a level of success, some people don’t want to tell you what they did to get there. I’m like ‘why not, there’s enough money in this world for everybody to get some.’ If someone asked me to help them with their business, I’m more than willing to sit down with them and show them all the things I use within my own business. I would tell people I went to businesses everyday at least 10 businesses for a while until I built up a relationship with these companies. That’s how I was able to get contracts to sell my work continuously. I’m very big on helping others.

Destiney: I was telling my husband I should go back to get my master’s degree because so many creatives are out there and they don’t know how to make money from what they’re creating because nobody is teaching them how. They’re teaching them how to make the work which is already within them but they also need to know how to sell the work so they can eat. I read so many books on running a business, leaving your job, pursuing your passions, and none of the authors ever said this was easy.

“They’re teaching them how to make the work which is already within them, but they also need to know how to sell the work so they can eat.”

Me: What were some of the books you’ve read that had an impact on you?

Destiney: I’ve read #GIRLBOSS. #GIRLBOSS was a big one because she talked about how she started on eBay and Etsy selling her stuff. She basically provided a manual of exactly what she did to get her business started. There’s another book called A Hot Glue Gun Mess by this YouTuber who’s also an amazing interior designer but she doesn’t have any formal interior designer training. I still look at her book all the time.

Me: Cool. If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece who would it be and why?

Destiney: It would be with Melissa Mitchell (IG: @abeillecreations). She is just driven to work and to live in her purpose. I feel like she wouldn’t let me slack off and there would be no excuse to why we wouldn’t create something amazing and inspirational. I have no doubt that whatever I create with her would be something that is geared towards my purpose in life. She also prays over her work, she listens to inspirational music, and her colors are out of this world. I talked to her a lot when I was going through this comparison phase where I was worried about what other artists where doing and how much success they were gaining. She explained that I have to be faithful and trust that everything’s going to work out and I shouldn’t compare myself to anybody else because everybody’s journey is unique.

“She explained that I have to be faithful and trust that everything’s going to work out and I shouldn’t compare myself to anybody else because everybody’s journey is unique.”

Me: That’s some wisdom right there! Is she based in Nashville too?

Destiney: No, she’s based in Atlanta but she’s from Miami. She’s come to Nashville a couple of times for shows that we’ve both been in and then one of her connects actually brought me out to Atlanta to show my art at one of her events. So, we’ve done a couple of events together but we just haven’t found the time to collaborate. She just got back from Africa a week ago so I’m not going to bother her (laughing).

Me: (Laughing) Oh wow, that’s so cool! How do you go about pricing your work?

Destiney: I try to think about it in terms of how much money I need to make per hour in order to keep my business going, not necessarily how much money I need to bring in income just yet. I know I have to put money aside for promoting, materials, events, and travel. Then, I make a price somewhere between that. I try not to be greedy though because I want my art to be affordable.

Destiney: I get the question all the time, why do I paint so many black people. Well, mostly black people hire me (laughing) so I paint them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve also had some white people and biracial couples ask me to paint something for them as well. Some will say, “well others get scared away because all they see is black people on your page.” Well, I’m sorry they feel that way, I’m not going to stop showing them because they feel threatened. There’s a stereotype that black people don’t buy art but obviously they do because I’m making a living off of it. I’m cool with painting black people, I love it!

“Some will say, ‘well others get scared away because all they see is black people on your page.’ Well, I’m sorry they feel that way, I’m not going to stop showing them because they feel threatened.”

Me: I like that too! I don’t think we can ever have enough representation. You mentioned a great point though because you have people who try to sway you away from your original creative vision.

Destiney: Exactly, they try to make you more commercial and that’s not me.

Me: I feel you on that! In your opinion, what do you think young black visual artists can do to create more opportunities for themselves?

Destiney: As black creatives we just need to put ourselves out there more. I think some of us get stuck on this idea that we have to work a certain job in order to be successful or we have to wait for opportunities to come to us. I think YouTube is an important venue because it shows us that black people can do it too. Also, start locally or go out of town and just start showing it. I also make an email list at every show and then I send out any promotion I’ll have like a Mother’s Day sale or if I got some new orders in for coffee mugs. I’ll send an email promoting those items and then I’ll get sales based off of that list of people I’ve already met. It all goes back to making sure you’re connecting and building a relationship with people. Don’t just forget about them. Even if you’re not selling any new products you can still send your contacts a newsletter about upcoming shows you may be attending. You’ll be surprised at how many people will show up for you.

“I also make an email list at every show and then I send out any promotion I’ll have like a Mother’s Day sale or if I got some new orders in for coffee mugs. I’ll send an email promoting those items and then I’ll get sales based off of that list of people I’ve already met.”

Me: That’s excellent advice! What’s your favorite piece?

Destiney: The hardest piece to let go of is my Serenity piece because of the way I created it. When I saw the original picture of the model on Instagram I thought, ‘this just screamed serene, blissful, calm environment.’ So, I originally painted it for me not anybody else. But, when I got offers to sell it, it was so hard for me to let it go. I also like Black Woman from my Definition Series. I understand that black men have it hard in America, but black women have two strikes against them – they’re women and they’re black. There’s already that stigma that we’re not as good as men.

Destiney: I created that series last summer because of all of the shootings that were happening. Somebody always had something negative to say like we deserved it as black people because we’re poor or criminals or lazy or we can’t take care of ourselves. In reality, these people don’t know what it means to be black living in America in a racist town where you went to segregated schools. My school still has segregated proms even in 2017. How are you going to tell us who we are and that we deserve what we’re going through because of the color of our skin? So, that’s where that whole series came from. That’s my favorite piece because I related to that on a personal level just being in corporate America and being raised in a highly racist town where you were still seen as a slave or a maid and walking past all of the plantations where the old slave houses used to be.

Me: Wow, I felt that to my soul. That’s why I hate when people say we live in a post-racial society when that’s the furthest from the truth. It’s ridiculous.

Destiney: Where? We still have a long way to go!

Me: Exactly! Are there any other artists in your family?

Destiney: Nobody other than me, my Dad, and my Mom. My Mom has always been so creative all my life. I don’t think I got the interior design gene that she has because she can completely transform a room. Any vision I had as a kid, she went all out for it (laughing)! It was my fourteenth birthday, and I wanted my room to look like a garden. I went away to stay at my aunt’s for the summer and when I came back my room was completely transformed. She had vines on the wall and this big fluffy green carpet on the floor with flowers and the whole room was completely beautiful! A year after I started my business, my Mom started her own.

“A year after I started my business, my Mom started her own.”

Me: Wow, that’s so cool! Describe a time when you experienced a creative block, and how did you overcome it?

Destiney: I don’t get creative blocks often until I get to a point where I’ve gotten too much to do then I just stop for a moment and focus on me. When that happens I don’t paint, I’ll busy myself with other activities and my family. We may take a little weekend trip. Last month I had a block and I took a break after being bombarded with contracts, clients, and commission work. So, my family and I rented a cabin in Chattanooga in the mountains and we stayed up there for the weekend. Sometimes me and my son will also go for a walk outside, go to a neighbor’s house, and plant some flowers, or I’ll barbecue to overcome my block. I didn’t really realize that I just stop painting and do something else when I get a block until you asked that question! (laughing)

“When that happens I don’t paint, I’ll busy myself with other activities and with my family.”

Me: (Laughing) Yea, I think that’s with anything though even if you love what you’re doing, you get so passionate about it sometimes that you just get mentally exhausted at some point. Sometimes you got to press that pause button for a bit.

Destiney: Exactly! Especially when it’s your career, you’re going to burnout eventually.

Me: What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?

Destiney: I don’t have one that was the most challenging in particular but I think my commission work is most challenging though especially with portraits. I don’t think people realize how different we see people. Let’s say for example that I’m doing a portrait of someone’s husband. They see him in a completely different light then how I see him. So, I started asking my customers to describe to me how they see that person in the image so I can recreate it based on their description too. I realized this awhile ago, our eyes are completely different and unique to us. When I look at a person’s image I may see 40 colors and they may only see three. I try not to make my paintings seem too difficult or else I won’t want to do them (laughing).

Me: (Laughing) That’s a good mentality to have. I think that was a great point that you mentioned too, that you actually require your customers to provide a full description of that person that you’re portraying. How has your artwork shaped you as a person?

Destiney: It’s shaped me into a harder working person because it’s not easy to make a career as an artist. My art taught me how to view the full spectrum of people and things like landscapes, and shapes and colors. It also allowed me to be free to do what I feel I need to do. It’s all I’ve ever known and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

“My art taught me how to view the full spectrum of people and things like landscapes, shapes, and colors.”

Me: Nice! What is your most proud achievement so far as an artist?

Destiney: Being a full-time artist and exceeding my salary of my corporate job for 2 years has been my proudest accomplishments. Just trusting myself that it will work out not even the shows, the sponsorships, or repostings on social media but just the act of saying, ‘I’m going to be an artist regardless of the circumstances.’

Me: Excellent! Would you like to share any upcoming projects/exhibitions?

Destiney: For my birthday, I’m doing a one year anniversary show just featuring my art, but I’m also collaborating with other artists. There’s this one artist here who blends art and fashion and she paints on clothes. It’s going to be a 90s inspired show featuring sitcoms and music from the era. So far, I’ve done paintings of TLC, Aaliyah, Ginuine, Keith Sweat, Usher, R. Kelly, Kid n Play, and The Fresh Prince. It’s going to be in June and I’m going to start releasing pictures of the paintings soon.

Me: That’s dope, it sounds like it’s going to be on fire! What’s your vision for the future?

Destiney: Basically, the goal was to take a year to two years to actually figure out how to make my career as an artist work so that I can give the information to other artists. I am contemplating doing a YouTube channel featuring vlogs and tutorials showing everything that I do as an artist and how I actually make money from it. Also, I’ve been speaking to city council about making a free creative space for artists and do monthly events so we can actually bring in the money to pay for the space.

“I’m contemplating doing a YouTube channel featuring vlogs and tutorials showing everything that I do as an artist and how I actually make money from it.”

Me: Wow, that’s phenomenal! Destiney, I appreciate you, thank you so much for having this conversation with me! It was great hearing your story!

Destiney: Thank you! It was nice speaking to you too!

To purchase and inquire about Destiney’s artwork please contact her via email: poeticallyillustrated@gmail.com and her IG @poeticallyillustrated.

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