With her eye for vivid color and bold, declarative elements that inspire future vision, it’s no wonder that Khia! Jackson has become an in-demand designer for a host of fashion houses and creative agencies. This Caribbean daughter and technicolor mastermind has created a slew of iconography for clients like Azzuré, Heatherette, Disney, Rocawear, Jordache, and VIBE Magazine. Plus, she’s been one of the primary go-to people for pop powerhouse Beyoncé and her domain of brands. In addition to working as head graphic designer for the Deréon and House of Deréon labels, Khia! recently created t-shirt concepts for Ms. Knowles’ “Move Your Body” anthem as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program.
With a willingness to explore a variety of mediums as she opens up her own studio in Atlanta, Khia! has just produced the innovative webisode series Drawn Out with media house Visually Inklined; the pilot, featuring rapper Joell Ortiz, is set to launch next month on VIBE.com.
Vixen spoke to this accomplished entrepreneur about her history, her philosophies on art vs. design, and what it takes to run your own business.
When did you first start to draw? What was the feeling like holding pen or pencil in hand and creating?
I first began drawing when I was about 4 or 5. My family and I were in the Caribbean. I had an art teacher who taught us students how to make a palm tree with coconuts and two humps at the base for sand. I became obsessed with that little drawing, making it over and over. It was on and popping from that moment on. For all creative people, I feel like there’s a compelling force that pushes you to make something. For illustrators, your pencil is your vehicle. It’s like pouring lime juice through a sieve and making lemonade. Something natural and raw on one side becoming something tasty and sweet on the other.
What made you decide to go into design as a career?
I love that design is commercial. It’s not elitist. It’s art that allows you to speak to broad audiences with the most varied materials. Fine art often focuses on the artist’s life and perspective, whereas design is speaking directly to an audience. When you design a chair, it needs to be comfortable, it needs to be attractive, it needs to fit the person’s body… it always has to appeal to a group of people. Design always has to appeal in function to a larger audience than fine art. People use design. They sit on it, use it to open their cans. Even if I do a piece that’s considered art, it’s always commercial, for the masses.
Speaking of the divide between art and design, you have a whimsical illustration style yet you’re also able to come up with elegant designs, a la your logo for Déreon. How are you able to exist in both worlds?
[Laughing.] Well, when I design for myself, things do get pretty pop, that’s true. But when you design for a client, you’re meeting their needs and speaking to their audience, so you translate your skills to do just that. It’s not as difficult as you would imagine.
Are there any artists or designers you would name as influences?
I’m influenced by Karim Rashid, Insa, Banksy, Alexander McQueen, Roy Lichtenstein, and Archie comics.
What are the rewards and challenge of being an entrepreneur?
Working for yourself gives you a freedom that’s hard to walk away from once you’ve had it. I can take the day off when I want to and know I still have job. I can prioritize my work vs. my life more than an employee can. But you also have to steer your own ship, meaning you have to market yourself and manage your own time and the people that work for you. The pressures of the business are all mine to navigate and there’s no clocking out.
What advice would you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a design career?
Your relationship with people is key. Every major job I’ve gotten is because someone not only liked my work, but also liked me as a person. In the creative world, that’s rare and valuable. Also make sure that all legal agreements protect your interests—especially if they were generated by your client. Shoot for extended contracts; building new relationships takes time and money. And don’t be afraid to align yourself with someone who can do the things you don’t do well. I woke up one day and realized that I’m a big old softie… so I went out and got myself a shark. My new agent is Ari Gold in a skirt!
Check out some of her artwork below:
For more information on Khia! and her work, visit khiajackson.com