You may have seen her work at local festivals, or maybe she drew your favorite local rapper. Her name is Yessica Jimenez, a native illustrator born and raised on the Southside of Milwaukee. As a child, she found herself in love with art and creating worlds and characters with her drawings. It was her senior year in high school that she really started to hone her skills and take her practice seriously. A freshman year of college at MIAD is all it took to find her calling. For those who have attended, as an artist, you could easily see why. Walking through the halls of MIAD, she came across the Illustration department, and the rest was history. Her creative community grew and grew. There were easily accessible studios on campus and her roommates were all curious artists, just like her. It was perfect. She would Illustrate along side her roommates who were digging into projects of architectural drawings, or paintings, all laid out around the apartment, then create alongside them again at the studio. Through this art hub, they were able to receive creatively diverse critiques and inspirations from one another. Yessica was right where she wanted to be - here she started attending local parties, festivals, and performances, creating a habit that would lead her to many muses.
Yessica finds much of her inspiration on the stages of Milwaukee’s music scene. She created the MKE Hip Hop Alphabet, a sensational collection of Illustrations, that capture the essence of Milwaukee musicians from A.R Wesley to Webster X. She rented out tables at Comic Con to put her work in the ring with talented artists from all over the world, and paid tribute to local festivals - like Femfest, where she was introduced to and illustrated local female performers like Fivy, Zed Kenzo, Chakara Blu, and Queen Tut. Through her art she looks to find herself, by creating visual representations of her city and culture. Her love for sound and art breathes life into her portraits of the brilliant stars in Milwaukee’s musical landscape. TMAS was able to sit down with her and ask her some questions about her beginnings, creative processes, dreams, and advice for current and future artists. Check out what she had to say!
I saw that you had some pieces at Comic Con in Chicago - how was that experience?
That was - oh my god it was weird! (laughs) Well first, I was never much of a fan art kind of artist you know, but I’ve always appreciated it - I don’t know I just could never get into it, and then I was just like, well screw it, - let’s just have fun with it. I had a few Avatar Last Airbender pieces in there, and I think I had a Cat woman piece, a Harley Quinn piece and a few Disney Princess characters in there. It was cool, as for a first timer I think I definitely should've started somewhere different because the table by itself was 200 dollars - no it was 400 dollars and I split it with a friend, so it was 200 dollars a piece. And the friend that I split the table with - her name is Kelly Main, she’s a really amazing artist, also an illustrator - that was her thing, she was a nerd and I loved it, you know, so I learned a lot there. I started off small and now I think I’m a little more comfortable with getting a table at different events. It was a little tricky, it was a big intro - you’re this artist who has never had a table anywhere else, I’ve never done, like, fan art and you are in this place with hundreds of other artists, artists who are professional illustrators only living on that income…So it was intimidating but it was inspiring, a really good learning experience.
What was the process of the MKE Hip Hop Alphabet, how did it come to be?
Well, the idea came to me back in May, because I have a lot of friends who are musicians, who are writers, who are hip hop artists here in Milwaukee you know so it’s just like oh it’d be really cool if I could draw em and I was like ah I could just make an alphabet - so it was just for fun, you know, it was nothing big or anything. But I started a list in my sketchbook, wrote down my friends that I’ve known since high school, and then I was just like well who have I met this year, what shows have I gone to. Initially it was just to get me drawing again cause I went through a phase where I was just like - I can’t pick up a pencil, I just didn’t feel inspired. So then the first letter was A for A.R. Wesley, he’s a pretty well known artist here in Milwaukee. When I uploaded it, I got like 50 likes on it which to me was a big deal (laughs). I don’t think people really expected it to be what it was still at the letter A, and then B, C, etc. Not even half way into the alphabet people were like “what's the letter today?” It was crazy, and then for a few of em I had doubles - for R I had three, etc., but I was like screw it let’s just do em all. I know there are other artists who could’ve been included but I wanted this to be something smaller. It was fun, some of them were really hard to pick between though because they are close friends of mine. They are all in a moleskin sketchbook no bigger than 8 by 10, I started them with pencil and finished them off with ink. A lot of people are still asking about them, when I’m going to print or sell them but I don't want to print anything until I find the letter U (laugh). That's the only letter I haven't found yet.
I saw that you also did some pieces for FemFest?
For that one I had a project that started around the same time as the alphabet, maybe a little bit before. I had drawn out Fivy originally, cause I met her a little over a year ago and we became pretty good friends, and I just loved her. I drew her as kind of like, an embodiment of what I think mother nature kind of is through her because that’s what I saw through her. She’s very spiritual, all about healthy eating that’s just what I saw Mother nature this little singer girl from Milwaukee (laughs) so that’s what I started with, and then I went to the Milwaukee Home party at the Miramar and that was the first time I ever heard Siren perform and I was just like oh my god, this girl’s amazing - so i drew her along with it and I uploaded those two images, they were in the same sketchbook as the alphabet. But I didn’t paint them until December and January. Originally I wanted to do em on woodblock, but that didn’t work out cause I didn’t have a studio or a space big enough to be comfortable working on a larger scale. So I just did em in watercolor but they turned out really good, I’m happy with them. Portraits that I completed were of Fivy, Siren, Queen Tut, Chakara Blu and Zed Kenzo. And then I also sold small prints of them.
When you are illustrating, would you say your characters normally take on a similar style?
Kind of, I have I guess a habit or maybe things that keep repeating themselves - line work, drawings to paintings, either way I love line work. I recently started experimenting with different color line work, like paint markers - that’s actually what I used for the Fem Fest portraits and it’s fun, I love it. I also - like I don’t really add shade or volume with a pencil or anything - so I just do shapes on the face, like ovals on to the forehead and the cheeks as a way to represent light. So instead of shading, I just draw shapes. That’s something I started doing less than a year ago.
Why do you create?
A lot of it is just for me obviously, they’re things I do for myself. I know there are portraits of people of Milwaukee, especially the latest big projects I’ve done, but it’s kind of been my way of making myself a part of the community a little bit more. Yeah I’m a visual artist, but I love my friends who are musicians, I kind of wanted to have that connection with them, it’s my way of extending my arm to that. You always want a reaction out of people, no matter what kind of artist you are - people can say that they don’t, but it’s like no, you kind of do, because you like compliments so obviously you want a reaction from people. The amazing thing of Instagram -which I didn't really start appreciating until this summer - like the whole tags thing I never understood what they were for, but now I use that to my advantage. I started using tags like “illustration”, or “painting”, “illustrationgram”, things like that. Other illustrators and artists are using those tags, and through that I started to notice professional artists liking my posts and I thought it was great (laughs). So it is kind of an ego boost in a way, but no one wants to call it that!
What advice do you have for young creative people?
Something that I learned on my own is don’t focus on what other people are doing - that’s such a cheesy thing to say but it’s so true. Do what makes you happy, you know, find yourself - don’t be like “oh this person’s doing that so I’m going to do that even better” it’s like, no don’t do that (laughs). Like that’s not you, find what you like, find what you wanna do and you will gain respect through that. So I think that’s important, and that’s my advice to other artists, not just younger artists, all artists.
Want to check out more of Yessica's incredible illustrations? Click here to visit her Tumblr page.