14 Black creatives you should know about

Black creatives have left a lasting impact on history and culture, and these are 14 — past and present — we're inspired by.

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From typefaces to graphic novels to album covers — Black creators have always been at the forefront of design.

For Black History Month 2022, we wanted to share the creators whose work we’ve found inspiring, thought-provoking, and simply delightful — and we hope you will too. 

Here’s the rundown: 

Fine art and commercial art 

Cbabi Bayoc 

Cbabi Bayoc is a visual artist and illustrator based in St. Louis, Missouri. After working as a caricature artist at Six Flags, Cbabi decided to pursue his love of art full-time, and became a prominent illustrator for clients such as Rap Pages, Violator Management, Def Jam, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and more. 

Visual artist and illustrator Cbabi Bayoc's artwork, titled "Reine Keis Quintet" depicting three Black musicians. The woman on the left is playing saxophone, the musician in the middle is playing drums, and the woman on the right is playing upright bass. All musicians seem deeply concentrated and have their eyes closed, and the art is in full color and distorts the dimensions of its subjects.

Most notable has been his work for the artist Prince, where Cbabi’s painting “Reine Keis Quintet” eventually became the cover of Prince’s 2001 studio album The Rainbow Children

Using a surrealist and pop-art style, Cbabi’s work draws you in with hyper-exaggerated proportions and a bold use of color. In particular, we love how Cbabi’s work conveys emotional depth and a multifaceted view of Black American Life. Every illustration perfectly captures the feelings of the subjects — elation, joy, sadness, thoughtfulness — and gives the viewer a feeling of knowing the subject intimately and on an emotional level.  

Sophia Yeshi

Brooklyn-based Sophia Yeshi is a Black, South Asian, and queer illustrator and graphic designer. Through her company, Yeshi Designs, Sophia aims to bring bold and eye-catching visibility to Black women, women of color, and LGBTQIA+ individuals of all shapes and sizes.

A 2 by 3 collage feature 6 unique pieces of graphic design by illustrator Sophia Yeshi. The first is of a dining table with four chairs in a pink living room. The second is of a woman from the shoulders up with purple skin and orange hair layered on a static background with syringes floating around her. The thirds is of a woman with fuschia skin holding up a "Vote by mail" card. The fourth is outlines of three African-American subjects wearing bright colored sweaters. The fifth is of an African-American woman with an afro hairstyle, and written on her hair is "I've been told that wearing my afro at work is a BOLD CHOICE." The final illustration is a Happy New Year message featuring two woman jumping in joy in outer space.

Sophia has worked with notable brands such as Google, Refinery29, Wells Fargo, Nike, and Comcast, on projects such as ad campaigns, workplace art, and merchandise. 

In a minimalist-heavy world, Sophia’s work is a great example of using the power of bold, colorful, and happy art to inspire others. 

Laini Abernathy 

Artist, designer, and activist Laini Abernathy left an indelible mark on art, and in particular album art in the 1960s and 1970s. A member of the Black Arts Movement — known also as BAM — Laini was dedicated to the movement’s goal of creating art around themes of Black pride and social justice.

The album cover for Sound, by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet. The central image is a black and white photo of a man in a black turtleneck wearing two necklaces staring off into the distance. Surrounding the image is alternating black and off-white rings.

Laini was a pioneer in the music and art worlds — leading the way for record design when very few women worked in the field. Some of Laini’s most notable works include; the cover for Sound, by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet (shown above), the cover for Sun Song, the 1966 album by artist Sun Ra, and I Remember Newport, by the Leon Sash Trio.

Laini passed away in 2010, but institutions like Cooper Hewitt are continuing on her legacy by collecting and exhibiting her work, and educating the general public on her impact and importance. 

Hassan Rahim 

Working with global brands such as Nike, Sony, and Apple, along with individuals like Jay-Z and Kahlil Joseph, has allowed Hassan Rahim’s art to make quite an impact on music, society, and culture. Based in Brooklyn by way of Los Angeles, Hassan specializes in stark, abstract, and esoteric imagery and his creations span everything from art pieces to music videos. 

An advertisement by Hassan Rahim for Total Luxury Spa. It's a static grey image with a helix shaped-hourglass design made up of the letters in "Total Luxury Spa" in black, red, yellow, and blue.

We love the conceptual nature of Hassan’s art. Mixing together nostalgia, darkness, tech, and abstract imagery — Hassan’s art is a lesson in making polar opposites come together in harmony. 

Web and graphic design

The Circle & The Square

Nyamekye and DeQuan — known as the circle and the square, respectively — are the artists behind this creative collective. Nyamekye and DeQuan say they enjoy creating “miscellaneous everything” — including dance, music, writing, modeling, graphic design, photography, branding, and more. 

The homepage for The Circle & The Square. It's a butter yellow page featuring their logo – a circle in a square – in the center, and on opposing sides of the frame, images of the two founders are staring at each other. Surrounding the central logo are the various menu items, including "About," "NFTs," and "Shop."

Their site design incorporates Pan-African colors — red, black, green, and yellow — along with gorgeous line drawings and pattern work. Simple animations and background videos make this site feel like an immersive experience. 

Nyamekye and DeQuan’s varied backgrounds allow them to take on many different projects. On their site, you’ll see work ranging from logo and packaging design for vegan burger joint, Seed Burger, to brand and logo design for Soul Food Markets — a supermarket that primarily sells products from the African-American community. 

Black Illustrations

Founder and designer John D. Saunders created Black Illustrations for a simple reason — he had a lot of trouble finding good images of Black people to use on his own sites. Plus, the limited illustrations he could find didn’t include diverse hair styles, skin tones, and body types.

The Black illustrations website homepage. On the left, the headline reads "Beautiful illustrations of Black people for your next digital project," and the hero image on the right is an illustration of a Black person with locks wearing a blue shirt typing on a laptop.

Black Illustrations offers free and paid illustration packs in categories like 3D, activism, business, disability, education, finance, LGBTQ+, and many more. They even partner with Black illustrators around the world to create special illustration packs like The Epitome: Black Woman

They offer a variety of free packs, as well, making these designs incredibly accessible to small business owners or anyone looking to improve visual representation on their website or in their marketing materials.

Black Virtual Exhibition 

Where Are the Black Designers and Working Not Working partnered up to create this incredible virtual exhibition. Designer Laetitia Auguste and design studio Okay Jak helped create the website that showcases more than 300 pieces from artists around the world. 

The purple homepage for the Black Virtual Exhibition depicting an illustration of TVs and screens stacked on top of each other displaying the project title.

Artists were asked to select artwork and complete the phrase “Black & ____,” inserting an adjective that best describes them. The results are stunning. Categories such as photography, illustration, lettering, and animation serve up a diverse collection of artwork from Black artists of all ages. Statements like Black & Grateful, Black & Joyful, and Black & Vulnerable leave a powerful impression.

Browsing this virtual exhibition feels like you’re on a self-guided tour at a museum — you won’t want to miss it. 

Print design

Carlos Basabe

Illustrator Carlos Basabe created several illustrations for Teaching Tolerance, a magazine that the Southern Poverty Law Center publishes for educators. 

Two of Carlos Basabe's illustrations displayed side-by-side. The left despicts a room of Black children appearing frightened as a Confederate soldier on a horse watches them through a window. The right image displays a black and white sketch of an almost identical image, aswell as a sketch of a Confederate soldier riding by students in a line.

Carlos tackled challenging themes including white supremacy and the gaslighting that Black students often experience when told that America is a land of equal opportunity. For a story about Black students and educators at Confederate-named schools, Carlos drew on his own experience of growing up looking at a huge Confederate flag in Tampa, Florida. 

Check out more of Carlos’ work.

Afua Richardson

Afua Richardson is the artist behind many comic book covers from both DC and Marvel — including cover art for five issues of Black Panther: World of Wakanda.

The comic book cover art for Black Panther: World of Wakanda. It features the Black Panther in fighting stance, as well as various Black character from the comic book on a geometric black, red, and green background.

As one of the few Black women to work with the top two comic book publishers, it’s no surprise that Afua received The Nina Simone Award for artistic excellence in 2011. And her illustration work is not limited to comics. Afua has illustrated ad campaigns for Mailchimp and Vanity Fair, and even illustrated a Langston Hughes story for NPR Books and Code Switch. 

Afua’s creativity extends beyond visual design. She’s sometimes called a “Jane of all trades” because she’s not only a talented illustrator, but also a skilled singer, actor, and flute player. 

Gail Anderson

Designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson has left her mark with several incredible print designs. Her gallery includes a variety of theater posters, book covers, editorial designs, and even a commemorative U.S. postage stamp. 

Two images side by side: postage stamp example and movie poster from Gail Anderson. The one on the right (the stamp) is cream colored and reads "Henceforward shall be free, Emanciption Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, 1863, Forever USA." The one on the right is a yellow movie poster with an abstract image of a red figure holding a sword with the title "Man of la mancha" in black script-looking font.

Gail’s extensive design experience includes working for several major publications like Rolling Stone magazine, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and Vintage Books. Gail clearly has a passion for typography as well — she has authored and contributed to many books including The Typographic Universe, New Modernist Type, New Ornamental Type, and New Vintage Type.

Kyle Baker

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s, Kyle Baker was obsessed with all things comics. According to a profile about him by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Kyle learned how to draw comics by sketching Muppets and Disney characters, and by high school he had landed an internship with Marvel Comics. 

Four Marvel comic book covers done by Kyle Baker. The first is for Spider-Man, The Road to Venom, featuring Spider-Man fighting off an enemy and saving a civilian. The second is for Marvel's Voices and depicts various superheroes and villains in full color in a circle formation. The third is for X-Men Classic and features a fiery image with various superheroes and villains. The final is for Black Panther and features the Black Panther soaring through the sky.

After a stint doing administrative work at Marvel, Kyle landed an opportunity inking the backgrounds of superhero comics which eventually led to him drawing and publishing his first comic, The Cowboy Wally Show in 1988. 

Since then, Kyle has created a litany of books for Marvel, DC Comics, and his own imprint; Kyle Baker Publishing — and has illustrated hundreds more. Some notable series include the Black Panther and Deadpool comic books and several Spider-Man comic book covers.

Font Designers

Tré Seals

Washington D.C.-based disciplinary creative Tré Seals is an award-winning designer best known for bringing people’s voices to life through typeface. His font foundry, Vocal Type, specializes in creating custom fonts inspired by history from underrepresented groups across the globe, and these fonts are named after the movements or historical figures they celebrate.

A photo of an excerpt fold from Spike Lee's photography book, SPIKE, featuring the Spike font type by Tré Seals to narrate a quote from Barack Obama about how he took Michelle Obama on a date to see Do The Right Thing when they were dating. The right side of the fold is a photo of the famed image from the film of a man wearing big gold rings that read "LOVE" and "HATE."

“DU BOIS” honors historian, civil rights activist, and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois. The typeface draws inspiration from the sans serif fonts Du Bois used in a collection of 60 poster-sized infographics designed at the start of the 20th century. The infographics aimed to raise awareness of the structural forms of oppressions that separated Black and white Americans.

More recently, Tré was commissioned to create custom fonts for Spike Lee’s self-titled retrospective photography book. The family of custom fonts, aptly named “SPIKE,” was designed to celebrate the life and prolific career of the award-winning American film director and screenwriter.

Joshua Darden

Founder and former head of Brooklyn-based foundry Darden Studio, Joshua Darden is a renowned typeface designer, best known for the font superfamily Freight, which was named favorite typeface of the year by Typographica in 2005. 

A screenshot of the homepage for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, featuring Joshua Darden's "Freight" typeface throughout. The header image is of the museum with the text "A People's Journey, a Nations Story."

Consisting of five families — text, sans, micro, display, and big — Freight contains 120 different styles and is considered a “humanist style” typeface, or resembling handwritten type. One of the most notable instances of Freight in action is the use of Freight Text and Freight Sans at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which the institution calls “the visual manifestation of the museum's voice, and when set at large sizes in heavier weights, they can be very commanding.”

More recently, Darden’s award-winning typeface, Jubilat, was used in U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.

Explore more of Joshua’s typefaces in action.

Jaamal Benjamin

Jaamal Benjamin is a designer and founder of Studio Grand, a multidisciplinary design studio specializing in visual identity, design systems, and typography. Formerly a dancer/choreographer, Jaamal recently completed his studies at Type@Cooper, a selective Typeface Design certification program at Cooper Union in New York City. Through his work at Studio Grand, he shines a light on the Black experience, social change, music, and more.

Two black and white examples of Jaamal Benjamin's typeface, Harlemecc. The left image is all black with various letters spelling "VOTE" illustrated on it, appearing to be taped piece of white paper. The left image is a plain white still that reads "NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE!" in black text.
Harlemecc type samples, via TypeMag

His latest typeface, Harlemecc, is influenced by “geometric Art Deco vernacular” and celebrates the culture of the Harlem Renaissance.

Amplifying the work of Black creatives

From art and fashion to music and tech, Black creatives have left a lasting impact on history and culture. Their creativity has shaped and transformed so much of the design industry, but their contributions have too often been unacknowledged and uncredited. 

It’s crucial we not only celebrate the influence and contributions of Black creatives, but also amplify their work and embrace equitable hiring practices so future generations see design as a viable career path. We encourage you to explore, support, and hire Black creatives. To get started, check out organizations like Where Are The Black Designers and Blacks Who Design.

We hope to play a part in amplifying and supporting the longstanding impact of Black creatives through blog posts like these, and our Black Creator showcase.

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Published

February 18, 2022

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Inspiration

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