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By Courtney Napier on February 12, 2024
For this month’s Artist Spotlight, we’re sitting down with Sareka Unique Smith of Sareka Unique to talk about her surface design work and why she created the Black Girls Illustrate community, which serves as a place to celebrate and amplify the work of Black women artists and illustrators.
Sareka saw a gap on social media, and therefore created the community she wished was there. Now, there are over 36,000 posts using the hashtag #blackgirlsillustrate, showing just how much this community was needed! She also recommends six Black women artists inspiring her right now.
Sareka Unique is an Artist, Illustrator, Designer and Creator of bright, fun colorful things. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and studied visual communication technology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. After studying graphic design, Sareka fell in love with illustration and surface pattern design and then finally gave into the calling to paint. Since then, she has been using her love of color to transform products and create artwork that evokes a sense of vibrancy and joy. Sareka started Black Girls Illustrate at the end of 2018.
Black Girls Illustrate is a platform created to amplify the voices of black women Artists and Illustrators. It started as a passion project that grew from being the only black girl in all of my surface pattern design spaces. I didn’t learn about surface pattern design until I was an adult. And I know a lot of black women may be in the same boat that I was, unaware of pattern design and licensing artwork for products. From online classes to community groups, finding other women who looked like me that shared the same passion for illustration and surface pattern design as I did was a dime in a dozen.
After searching #blackgirlsillustrate on Instagram I was surprised at the time to find nothing there. So I created the hashtag and Instagram page, and went on a deep dive to find black women illustrators to feature. The Instagram page grew faster than I imagined it would. But as time went on, I realized that I wasn’t the only one searching for Black Women Illustrators. Girls from all over the world were getting excited to find other black women on the page that shared the same passion.
When searching for Illustrators I would come across so many amazing artists who had sooo much talent and could do such amazing things but they only had a few hundred followers and in my mind I was like everyone needs to see this talent and creativity. These girls should have hundreds of thousands of followers and be “sold out” and “fully booked”.
Everyone in the Black Girls Illustrate community has been super supportive to me and to the other girls in the community. Sometimes I get discouraged because I have so many things I want to put into building the community but it’s just me, even though a lot of my followers think I have my own team. I am also a newly full-time Artist working on navigating entrepreneurship on my own—it’s a lot to juggle. Then when I get sweet encouraging messages that sometimes bring me to tears from girls in the community, I am quickly reminded of why I started this in the first place and it is all so worth it. I just love the community and I’m like a momma bear sometimes too, my Cancer side starts to show when I see others out there trying to take advantage of my girls.
Soon I’ll be featured in In Her Studio magazine’s Spring 2022 Issue! This is super exciting for me because I have been gushing over studios in the magazine for years now. June marks my one-year anniversary of being a full-time artist. I am just working on putting out some new pattern collections and new abstract art collections while gearing up for summer festival season.
I am also working on growing the Black Girls Illustrate Directory over on www.blackgirlsillustrate.com and creating swag to help pay the bills and adding more support and resources for the community. I would also like to create a Black Girls Illustrate coffee table book sometime in the future.
To share the breadth of the Black women illustrator community, Sareka also recommended we check out the work of the creatives below. Read on to discover what inspires their work and see some of their designs!
Adera is a 27-year old, self- taught artist and stay-at-home mom. A majority of her artwork is abstract patterns saturated in color (which she loves!). Having the ability to wear her own artwork is a dream come true and she plans to create art for every outfit.
What inspires Adera’s work:
Abstract art/shapes, line work and vibrant color palettes.
Octavia Ink is a printmaker, illustrator and graphic designer. She believes in art as a form of expression and uses her art to represent those who are underrepresented while bringing social justice issues to the forefront.
What inspires Octavia’s work:
Black women and my experience in this world as a Black woman. My culture and history.
Simonair Yoho is a designer and illustrator who loves everything floral, colourful and inspirational. She enjoys the act of creating and the joy that her work brings to others.
What inspires Simonair’s work:
Being from the Caribbean, I have always been influenced by vibrant colours and the organic shapes of flowers. That love of colour and shape can be seen throughout my work.
Betsy is a writer and stitcher who joined the Brand Marketing team in July 2021. In her spare time, she talks to people about their choice to make things by hand and related lessons learned for her project Dear Textiles. She also aims to befriend all the dogs she meets and is forever looking for the perfect dress pattern with pockets.