Graphic designer Jesiah Atkinson, 24, unifies practice and perseverance with pop art
by Lilac Burell·
Her works show that people don’t need a college education to be successful in their field.
Atkinson’s creative advertisements on Instagram and Twitter exemplify how artistic conventions follow composition, not the other way around. Atkinson developed her design portfolio by completing the 365-day design challenge twice. Today she uses a combination of Adobe.
Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects, and to make brilliantly textured digital advertisements and images.
Although she started designing at 19, Atkinson decided to pursue a degree in accounting at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. It took only two semesters of college before she dropped out and, without other options, started designing. Her first designs were made with an iPhone and this was her main design tool until 2018.
At 24, Atkinson’s designs marry minimalism with light-oriented textures that contribute a timeless aura to each of her pieces. She’s experimented with chrome, neons, radial lighting, and even desaturated lighting to balance digitally-made analog textures like paper, ink bleeds, and dust. Common elements in her works include a wide range of fonts, centered subjects with a heavy reliance on negative space, subject overlap, and functional use of variety.
With over 1000 images in her archive, variety is an understatement. Her subjects have taken from pop culture and art between the mid-1980s and the modern day. She’s remixed advertisements for films like “Scarface” (1983) and “Do The Right Thing” (1989); albums art for Pharrell, Gus Daperton, and Joji; and shoe companies like New Balance, Adidas, and Reebok.
"Imagined Advert for Aimé Leon Dore / Friendship Through Basketball" Photoshop (April 2021)
BURRELL 1: What would you say to someone who’s in college in it’s not really working for them?
ATKINSON 1: I would say, re-evaluate why you went. Look at who you were when you were enrolled. And see what fundamental things about you have changed and lean into who you've become, to help lean into what you're supposed to do.
“Dresma Clothing -- It’s Not Real” Photoshop (December 2020)
BURRELL 2: Where did “Dresma Studios” come from?
ATKINSON 2: Honestly, I completely forgot about Dresma and how I made that up. I needed something to build stuff off of because I was in a 365 challenge. And I was like, dreams production, but like dreams are felt so fucking wack. Dreams? Give me a break! And so I just broke it up and called the “Dresma” instead. Nobody's figured out that it's dreams, which is crazy.
“Imagined Interview magazine cover (using photos from Rayan Nohra" Photoshop (September 2021)
BURRELL 3: When you think of your ideal lifestyle, with graphic design in mind, how does that look?
ATKINSON 3: Ideally, I wouldn't have to deal with anyone. I would have an agent. That person would handle inquiries. If I think that this is someone that I want to work with passion through, let’s talk. That tedious weeding out of good opportunities and bad opportunities, I don't want to deal with it anymore. I'm tired. But aside from that, I'd be in a villa somewhere with lots of water surrounding me. I’d just get to choose, you know? Spend my time traveling and having love affairs around the world and doing whatever and then graphic design is the kind of thing I did sometimes. Not, necessarily a main thing.
"Coke" Photoshop (May 2021)
BURRELL 4: What were some of the core designs or core memories that helped you shape your creative library?
ATKINSON 4: Um, the first thing that comes to mind is when I first saw “Goodfellas” when I was 9 years old. That movie just f*cking blew my mind! So that was definitely something that started helping build my taste level, just because I'd seen all kinds of things, but I had never really become obsessed with anything before. And that just really sat with me and I think it's informed a lot of my decisions visually and just creatively as I've grown my life, but yeah, that was one.
Another thing was, and this is really embarrassing, but the song “Let Me Love You” by Mario. When that song came out, it just was an all-encompassing representation of how I felt even though, at that point, I never even developed a crush. It was just something about the lyrics.
Naomi Campbell has just been a fixture since I've been able to see honestly. Obviously, she's a Black woman, but she's very clearly a Black woman. And I think for me growing up, and not seeing so many examples of beauty or whatever attached to someone that looked like me, it was hard.
One last thing, the movie “Belly”, the poster for that movie. Done.
"Imagined Naomi Paper magazine cover" Photoshop (March 2021)
BURRELL 5: How do you navigate the complexities of the art industry?
ATKINSON 5: I just mind my business. I don't try to "position" myself really. I figure, if I want to attract sincere opportunities and people, then I need to be sincere in my approach to all things. For me, that means not chasing an algorithm or trying to befriend certain people because they're well connected, among other things. I don't want anything that isn't meant for me, regardless of how cool the opportunity may seem. Essentially, I'm just existing, continuing to solidify who I am, what I want, and where I want to go. Letting what's meant for me come to me. I thoroughly believe that whatever is supposed to be mine will be, so I don't have to do anything other than be who I am.
"Rouge Dior" Photoshop (March 2021)
"New To Explore" Photoshop (April 2021)
BURRELL 6: Which software/ tools do you use to design; when did you stop designing on your phone; and how have you grown as you've used different design tools?
ATKINSON 6: I use a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator, and sometimes After Effects. I'm currently learning how to navigate Procreate as well. Pretty sure I stopped using my phone in the Fall of 2018. I've grown a lot in my ideation process. I feel like as I upgraded my tools, I was aware of how much bigger the possibilities were and were able to come up with things that had no limits. When I was using my phone, I couldn't do as much, which wasn't an issue at first, because my ideas were quite limited. In that phase, I was just trying it out of boredom. When I upgraded to GIMP, using my home computer from Goodwill that had NO storage (dark times), I was able to expand a bit more because that program is far more intricate and capable of more than the app on my phone. When I finally got the Adobe Suite and my Macbook, I felt like any limits had been lifted and I could do whatever, which resulted in my brainstorming process being a lot freer and more expansive. That ultimately resulted in better work.
Lilac Burrell (they/ them) is a cultural curator and multimedia journalist currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Lilac uses journalism, digital art, photography, and film to canvas community and intimacy, and explore the relationship between spatial agency and creative freedom through a Black cultural lens. They aim to use storytelling to archive the modern Black experience and have career goals of being a creative director in advertising.