Delightful is the word that keeps coming back to me as I think about introducing my interview with illustrator Raven Jones. Whimsical is a bit too sweet, and charming comes close, but after our emails back and forth and immersing myself in her work, delightful just feels right. Raven’s illustrations of hygiene-hyping tigers and Bugs, ensconced in Hermes, feel effortless and effervescent; she brings the same detail and attention to her bespoke portraits as her hand-illustrated mailers. (Can you imagine opening the mailbox and seeing this?!)
I haven’t written anything in almost two years. My young kids and demanding design day job have consumed my creator energy, but following Raven’s work gave me that old sparkle of interest and inspiration again. During these months in quarantine, every day feels a little lackluster and stale, so seeking a shake-up, I reached out to Raven and get her take on career pivots, sustaining momentum and her old school illustration inspiration. Just like her sketches, she’s such a breath of fresh air, so enjoy!
Berry from Trial by Inspiration: Your bespoke work is so delightful, especially the recipe illustrations and mini pet portraits! What are the pros and cons of taking on commissions?
Raven Jones @bird_burger: Why, thank you! Pros of a commission-DOPAMINE, for both me and the recipient.
People are purchasing not just art but a bespoke story and partnership with me (because little do they know, they are just as involved in the process as the media). It may also give me an opportunity at something I haven’t had a chance to pursue yet.
Cons-Sometimes I under-quote myself, or a project is more time-consuming than I anticipated.
TBI: You have the most charming “how it works” section I have ever seen, how do you take the awkwardness out of pricing, negotiating and dealing with those clients who don’t understand the pricing for custom art?
RJ: Transparency! Once the fiduciaries’ pleasantries are out of the way, you can proceed to discuss your process- where it’s best to introduce your WHYs. It helps the client understand your value, which in turn helps the creative community as a whole too! As for clients who absolutely refuse to pay what you are worth even after the discussion- there’s an easy-peasy avenue: Simply compose a tactful nope email. And there is no need to be nasty. If you want to work with them, ask them to keep you in mind for future opportunities at your asking price.
TBI: I read that a big part of your business (before co-vid shut down big gatherings) was live event portrait sketching, is it challenging to capture people so quickly in a party setting? Do you have any tips or tricks for creating a portrait in real-time (with an audience!)? I’ve done a few live fashion sketching events, and by the end, I am exhausted from both the rapid-fire drawing and one-on-one interactions, which run the gamut of party personalities, sweet to strange.
RJ: HA! Indeed, that gamut was certainly present! But it was all good- I love to watch people interact in that setting and hey, I got to meet all sorts of folk! Hmm, concerning tips, I’d say build a considerable tolerance for distractions for sure. And maybe have an assistant or friend at the ready-a helping hand does wonders when you’re eyeing that glass of champagne but have to put the finishing touches on a muse.
TBI: You seem to be extremely adept at pivoting- going from a graphic design desk job to an independent illustrator, live event sketching, bespoke portraits, even digital editing services. You’ve updated your product line during quarantine with these amazing masks, puzzles, and quarantine stickers, can you tell us more about your career journey and how you keep your momentum going?
RJ: Momentum includes ample amounts of caffeine, OCD and ADD tendencies.
I was a graphic designer at a national billboard giant where productivity and quotas were valued above the actual quality of the work. Occasionally, it was a relief to speed through annoying requests for clients (like those who didn’t understand a six-second read was effective), but with others, I was able to take my time, like the gubernatorial billboard I designed for *tadah* the one and only JOE FREAKING EXOTIC! * it’s still on his Twitter feed*
Post-firing last year, I utilized those new skills for my personal growth and development! (I ain’t bitter, they did me a favor. No more desk-jock life for this Bird, and I was able to move from a stagnant Baton Rouge to a lively New Orleans!)
TBI: Do you have a dream project?
RJ: Honestly, any type of practical and sustainable consumer product gets my attention. Additionally, as a Black creative, it is vital to see other Black people succeed in traditionally white sectors.
I once had a girlhood dream to work for The Queen of Color, Lisa Frank. For years, I wouldn’t go anywhere without my Dancing Dolphins diary nor my LF collector’s edition stationery caboodle box. Until she can re-store her empire (complete with an empathetic working environment), my sight is elsewhere. Breaking into the needlepoint design, textiles (specifically nursery bibs and reusable diapers), and home decor (like melamine plates) sounds ideal at the moment!
TBI: Tell us more about finding and honing your style and finding your favorite tools. Does digital editing allow your sketching process to be so free, or is it just a tool to publish and produce your work?
RJ: Eh, try everything! It doesn’t hurt to give a tool a whirl-you may end up discovering a new medium.
I’d say 98% of my work is traditional, and 2% is digital due to some minor post-editing (like straightening lines or paint smears) in Photoshop. Procreate definitely seems like the wave of the future. Unfortunately, I can’t experience it yet until I can afford a new computer (currently on an 08 Macbook).
TBI: In your work, are you more rewarded by your creative process or the end product?
RJ: Hmm, a tough one but more so the end product. Dem endorphins!
TBI: Do you have any tips on how to get unstuck creatively?
RJ: Sip your favorite drink, read a book (or flip through a nice picture book), step outside and soak up some Vitamin D, bug your feline familiar or significant other, watch your favorite cartoons!
TBI: Lastly, I’ve got to know the story behind your Insta handle “bird_burger“?
RJ: Bird comes from the colloquial term for women (and other things) in rap culture (it’s also a play off my name, a pet name only reserved for a few loved ones). Burger comes from my affinity for burgers during the time of my Tumblr handle creation back in college…yes I am THAT old lol.
So that was my fangirl, cure for quarantine-blues, delightful chat with Raven Jones. Raven’s business, which includes prints, stationery, bespoke illustrations, the coolest masks, and in-works collaborations, has been blowing up. You can check it out at www.ravensjones.com and follow along here!
Illustrations and photos provided by Raven Jones 2020