by Frank Bach
TW // This post has mention of suicide and self-harm
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what’s your story?
My name is Jesiah Atkinson. I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts but I’m based in Virginia. I’ve always been really into things related to how things look. Movie posters, ad campaigns, fashion, reading, music, language, interior design, among a million other things, are all sectors of creative exploration that I’ve always been drawn to.
What led you into the world of art and design?
I was 19 years old and didn’t know what I should do with my life. The only solid thing I landed on was that I wanted my career to be creative and have the ability to branch off into other creative endeavors seamlessly. I randomly fell upon an app called Adobe Photoshop mix one night and just started remixing photos I’d saved from Tumblr out of pure boredom. I loved how it made me feel. I loved the feeling of endless possibilities. I had enrolled in a local community college for accounting within that time, because, well I had to do something. During my period of suffering at school, I came to realize and accept that school just wasn’t for me and wouldn’t get me to the career and life I’d been fantasizing about for as long as I could remember. So I dropped out and decided graphic design was just going to have to work out.
All of the evil that runs rampant in this world is tied to greed, hatred and a myriad of other unsavory traits. If those things were replaced with love and respect, we’d all be better off.
Have you always lived in Virginia? How do you like it?
I’ve been here for quite some time but I was born in New England (I say New England instead of “Massachusetts” most of the time because it sounds cooler). I’ve been in VA for over a decade now. I plan on leaving as soon as possible.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Sometimes I wake up around 8 or 9 am. Sometimes I wake up around noon. It all depends on how I feel (and the weather). From that point of awakening I do the normal things like brushing my teeth, showering blah blah. Then I go on to satisfy my caffeine addiction with coffee. Black with two sugars and two shots of espresso. From there I open my laptop and get straight to work. I work until the sun goes down, only stopping to drink water or eat something. This isn’t exactly ideal but it works for where I’m at right now. Everything I choose to give my time to regarding work is actively putting me in a better position and setting the stage for my and my families’ future. The way I see it, what better time to work my ass off and grow my network than now when I’m just a 20 something with no kids?
What projects or work are you most proud of?
In no particular order:
- I designed three shirts for a brand called TWOARABMINDS
- I designed a cover for Kim Petras (she’s lovely)
- I designed merch for Megan THEE Stallion (shoutout to Sam Riddle, he’s awesome)
- I got to help out with laying out Volume 0: Seen by Black Fashion Fair.
Probably one of the most important projects I’ve ever done in my entire life. (shoutout to Antoine Gregory, the boys of the AB+DM studio, Brandon and Nubian for welcoming me so warmly into that extremely impactful project)
How do you make space for creativity in your work?
Well it all starts at the workspace, and mine is fairly simple. It’s a regular beat up old desk. On it are post it notes, an Aimé Leon Dore lighter, some coasters Vogue sent out to all of their subscribers a few years ago, a plant my job sent me for my birthday and crumbled up pieces of paper containing ideas that I no longer like and to do lists that have been completed. I always make sure to have at least 3 books within arms reach and always have a candle burning. On the creative ideation front, it all begins with me assessing how I feel. What direction do I want to go in? Wondering what the final product could be, and how I want people to feel when they see or hear it. What sector of my frame of reference am I going to pull from? Things like that.
Can you talk about some of the common themes, symbols and meanings found in your work?
I think the most common theme in my work is the pull from past eras of design. I can’t help but reference old things. I’m one of those people that likes to dig into the past and see the way things used to be done when it comes to the creative process. I try to emulate that.The quality of a design isn’t, in my opinion, just tied into the obvious. Things like font choice and good composition are no-brainers. For me it’s all about the subtlety. The magic, the feeling, the validity of something lies within the things that aren’t as obvious, because that’s where you, the artist, dwells. That’s what makes your stuff unique and inspiring. That’s the stuff you expound upon and build a name with. Another thing is texture. I love when things look like they’ve lived a life. I like things that look touched. There’s a richness to that.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in many things. Films are huge for me. Music, literature, fashion, fine art, architecture, the idiosyncratic tendencies people and characters in films have that makes them an individual. The weather (cloudy, rainy weather to be specific). The tone of voice people use when they speak. Color. Space. Language, food, culture. Relationships. Everything.
How do you balance being an artist and making a living?
I try to merge being an artist and making a living together by way of freelance work. I’m currently working in advertising at an agency but have a plan to go back to freelance full time again. Freelance is where I’m able to make things that I genuinely like and still make money. I’d like to work for a company or brand where my natural inclinations relating to design and aesthetic align with theirs eventually.
What’s been your most profound spiritual experience?
When I was 17, a good friend of mine committed suicide and it changed my life. My mind broke in ways I didn’t know the mind could break. The only avenue I could take to heal enough to where I wouldn’t deteriorate and want to take steps to leave this life myself, was to get very close to God and pray that I made it out of that dark time alive. And I did. The pain of that tragedy, along with other tragedies I’ve experienced, reach far beyond this world. So the healing is only due to my relationship with God. Without that, I simply wouldn’t be here.
What’s an opinion you used to have that you’ve changed your mind about?
When I was a kid, I would hear a lot of the adults around me complain about life. About the “powers that be” and how they crap on everyone. How horrible it is. I thought they were just being dramatic. I know now that they weren’t being dramatic at all, they were right.
What does the sun represent to you?
For me, it represents growth, regeneration. Healing and warmth.
If you could change one thing about the world we live in, what would that be?
If I had it my way, as cheesy as it may sound, I’d inject the basic principle of love and respect into the spirits of everyone. All of the evil that runs rampant in this world is tied to greed, hatred and a myriad of other unsavory traits. If those things were replaced with love and respect, we’d all be better off.