Create & Cultivate 100: Art & Design: Laci Jordan

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There seems to be a common theme with the artists the C&C team has connected with this year. Almost all of them were on the path to what they thought was a “good” career—a nurse, a lawyer, or, in Laci Jordan’s case, an F.B.I. agent. Casual.

For Laci, her leap of faith to become a full-fledged, fully autonomous artist began with a challenge for herself: Specifically, a 30-day illustration challenge where she would create and publish a new illustration every day for a month. By day 21, that bet on herself paid off (more on that below!). Now, years later, Laci is a sought-after illustrator whose work synthesizes pop culture, streetwear, intersectional feminism, and identity politics. Her portfolio is rich in colors—amplified by burnt oranges to corals to cobalt blues—and her affinity for sneakers is immediately apparent. She’s an advocate for inclusivity in the art and design space, and is passionate about seeing more women of color represented in the arts, which shines through in her illustrations of people. The reality is, you just feel cooler just by viewing her art.

Below, Laci share a bit more of her nontraditional journey and elaborates on the importance of being your own biggest hype woman.

You went from working for the FBI to Walt Disney, and now you’re killing it as a freelance artist. What inspired you to make that jump and take matters into your own hands?

Thank you! Honestly, I reached a point where I hit a glass ceiling in my 9-to-5. My role at the time wasn’t fulfilling anymore and I didn’t see much room for growth. I started looking for jobs around the area but I never found a listing or role where I wouldn’t be placed in a box. Nothing excited me.

Simultaneously, I was dealing with guilt of not being able to create illustrations as often as I wanted because of other creative projects. I decided to challenge myself to a 30-day illustration challenge. By day 21, my inbox was very overwhelmed with illustration requests from publications and brands that I admire. That’s when a little light bulb came on—I realized that with a great level of hustle and faith, I could create the type of career I want without working in a corporate structure. I decided to bet on my own magic.

Tell us how you got your start as an artist, and how you eventually found your niche.

During my senior year of college and after graduation, I did a few internships and remote design positions. Even though that experience was great, I think my true career started when I moved to Los Angeles to intern with Walt Disney Imagineering. During my time at Disney, I was exposed to multiple disciplines and and variations of art + design. One discipline that I realized I really gravitated to was illustration, in particular vector illustration. It was something that I dabbled in previously but never took it seriously or really knew how to approach it.

When figuring out what to draw, I immediately go to the things I love, such as black culture, music, fashion, etc. Those categories became my “niche,” but my niche is forever evolving. I believe I can create my way into any arena.

People look to you for inspiration, but where do you go to feel creatively inspired?

I have super weird and crazy ideas of where I see my life going and my capability to inspire people around the world. I want to do everything from illustration to working on visuals for Rihanna and Beyonce. Those dreams keep me inspired.

Sometimes there are moments that while I’m inspired, I just don’t have the energy to create or I’m having a block. When that happens if I can, I travel or I try to focus on something else and come back to the issue with fresh eyes.

I’m also a huge fan of podcasts and interviews. I love to constantly soak in information and learn about people doing cool stuff in different spaces. It keeps me going. For example recently I saw media girlboss ScottieBeam receive a contract at Wilhelmina Models. It was so amazing to see a black girl that looks like me be in that space. It’s a reminder and proof you can do anything.

Who are some female artists that inspired your past? Who do you think is a rising star?

Its so weird to talk about the “past” because while I’ve been creating for years, I’m just coming into myself and figuring out the things I’m truly inspired by. To be honest, my exposure to women artists in college and after (until I became active in social media) wasn’t the best. I knew of a few fine artists but wanted to look to someone more graphic-based. After searching and really diving into the design world, I found designers such as Jessica Walsh—her ability to create in different worlds always amazes me and is something I strive to do.

Now that platforms like Instagram are here, it’s much easier to find artists. There’s a ton of people I’m inspired by and that I see killing it in the design and creative space. When I think of rising stars (other than myself) haha, I think of people like Sage Adams (SZA Creative Director), Kelly Shami, Ravie B, and D'ana of COVL. I also love Andrea Pippins; she’s a vet in the game but her work is amazing and always super inspiring.

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

Three things: Inspiring people, highlighting and representing POC, and continuously surprising myself by beating my own goals and expectations.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

If you build it, they will come.

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

Honestly, getting this far, haha.

For 2018, I have two highlights: Working with Jordan (three times) and a writeup on my life and work in Forbes. While both brand names hold weight, it’s not just about that for me. With Jordan, it’s a brand I’ve admired and invested my money in my whole life. I made a goal to work with them in 2018 and actually did it. Those projects are a constant reminder I can do exactly what I put my mind to. Forbes was huge to me because I thought no one was looking at me on that level, so it taught me my potential reach and true influence. Both projects were confirmation that I could quit my 9-5, which was the highlight of the year.

What keeps you up at night?

One or two things. Either I have a bunch of ideas and I want to stay up and brainstorm, or I’m tossing and turning at the idea of not obtaining certain goals—those thoughts are now going in one window and out the other, but I still have them.

What are the common challenges you've seen among female creatives?

I tend to work in a few different spaces, from streetwear to activism, and there are different challenges in each space. Common challenges are equality in both pay and opportunities. I also hear people say that they can’t find women artists or artists of color when recruiting; leading to another challenge in visibility—I’ve heard this a TON in the corporate space. Good thing it’s platforms like Women Who Draw and Women Illustrators of Color that give a directory of dope artists.

Never, ever, ever stop learning. The internet is free.99

Tweet this.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

If you’re from the south, you’ve probably heard the phrase “there's more than one way to skin a cat” (sorry, cat people). The meaning is there’s always another way to do something. I love problem solving and figuring out that other route, so when any bumps occur, I immediately try to figure out a plan B to get to back to plan A. Usually, the answer is right in front of me and I need to take a step back to realize it.

Artists have it tough when it comes to pricing talent/skills. What’s the best advice you have for artists/designers/photographers out there who are working to turn their creative skills into a career?

Bet and believe in yourself

Put in the work (do self projects, don’t wait on jobs)

Put your work out there (if not, how will people know you?)

Never, ever, ever stop learning. The internet is free.99

Have a voice and don’t be afraid to use it

What are you most excited for in 2019?

The unknown and new opportunities. I’m ready to make crazy dreams come true and embrace the unexpected ones.

Photography by Annie McElwain Photography

Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica