Why Representation Will Always Matter
If you haven’t been tuning in to my Instagram Live series 1:1 with Lo, you are missing out! Since starting the series in April of 2022, I've gotten to spotlight a number of wonderful creatives, artists, visionaries and professionals from various corners of the creative universe. Each month I have uplifting conversations around creativity, entrepreneurship, mental health, and how we can show up in our work as our authentic selves.
Today I want to share highlights from my conversations with Domonique Brown @snoopdoggydom, an illustrator and the founder of DomoINK, a decor and lifestyle brand that focuses on expanding representation in the culture. Before her art blossomed from a side hustle to a full-fledged business, she was working, not one, but two full-time marketing jobs. Eventually, she left the cubicle life behind and her art career took off.
She has worked with Target, Samsung Lowe's, Bath and Body Works, and many, many more. And work has also been featured in Issa Rae’s Insecure, and most recently Reese Witherspoon's Your Place or Mine.
Domonique and I talked about the importance of representation and how this drives her work and so much more.
Lo Harris: Share a bit about yourself, your work, and how you got started.
Domonique Brown: I live in California and California is super expensive. So I picked up two jobs because I really wanted to buy a house, which I'm in now. That was very hectic. At the same time that I was working two jobs, I was going to school full-time to get my degree in marketing.
But once the pandemic hit, I just said, I am tired. I think I'm going to see if there is a pathway for me as an artist. I was doing marketing for real estate and for healthcare. I gave up on the real estate side and I started posting my artwork on social media. I didn't think that it was going to grow to the level that it has.
But there was definitely a perfect storm, I will say, for Black artists, to where there was so much attention towards us. Brands were opening the door for us to have opportunities like working with Samsung and Lowe's which allowed me to have DomoINK and continue to grow it to a level that I never thought it was going to be. My first thought of me having my own company, it was definitely going to be nail and hair money. And it grew into a business to where I was making more than on my own job.
LH: In February you shared the 10-year anniversary of being let go from Target and going into the same Target to show off your collaboration that you did for Black History Month. I’m sure that was a huge thing and very exciting. You mentioned having two full-time jobs. Why did you have two full-time jobs and what was the toll of working 80-hour weeks?
DB: I was working from home and as you’ve probably seen on so many TikToks that when you work from home, you are given so much more time and opportunity. So yeah, I was working 80 hours, but you take away the commute time. Also, once you finish your work, you're done for the day. When you're at the office, it's kind of hard – if you only had two hours of work -- to be like, Alright, I'm out of here. At least when you work from home, you have that opportunity.
But It was very hard. I will say, it was very frustrating. But what helped me so much was that I had a goal in my mind: I want to buy this house. My fiancé was working two jobs as well. He was working for Dell and for Restoration Hardware at one point. So we're both just dying. But we just really wanted to have our own place.
Once the pandemic happened I said, I can't work two jobs anymore. I'm just going to have to see if I can just have an art business. I still kept one job for health care. But I really wanted to just test it out in a really, really uncertain time. So it was kind of crazy to do so but I just needed to because I was just so tired.
LH: I'm curious about what mindset you had to say, Alright, I'm done working on these projects that I hate. I'm ready to just go into this art thing full time -- while also balancing that desire for financial stability and for the homeownership and for having that consistent income.
DB: Yes, it was definitely hard. When I quit the real estate job, I did go through a month of just absolute fear. I was like, am I crazy to give up that extra income? We had just moved in. But it was just something in me that said, I deserve better. I'm literally just working just to have a house, but where's the happiness level? Money can only buy so much. I wanted to be happy in my new home. I didn't want to be stressed out. It definitely was a huge risk for me because I was just using my savings when I first started DomoINK. I didn't really know what I was doing. I was just posting my artwork on social media, trying to have my own Shopify store, trying to have Etsy. I didn't know there was actually space for me as a Black artist. So it was definitely a huge risk to give up thousands of dollars in extra income for a business that I never really tested out.
LH: You’ve talked about a major driving force in your work being your personal experience of not always feeling represented. You and your dad would seek out Black families in something as simple as a greeting card and you would have to find independent artists to create the cards because they weren’t readily available. And it's really cool that you went from doing that to being able to work with the American Greetings brand. So we all know the saying “Representation matters.” And we've heard it repeated over the past few years. But can you explain why you think representation matters and how it drives your art?
DB: I think it's super important. I think with me growing up and not seeing Black art, I think that really deterred me from wanting to really pursue an art career growing up. I think if I would have gone to an art gallery or museum and seen more Kehinde Wiley, more Basquiat, more Kerry James Marshall – I would have probably felt more inspired. By always going to the store and never seeing a Black-owned brand on the shelves, you start to feel like maybe there isn't a space for me. Or if there is space for me, it's because I know somebody in industry. So that was a huge deterrent for me. That's why representation really matters. People need to see themselves.
LH: You have so many different art styles. What inspires your work? How do you determine how to bounce between the different styles?
DB: I think with me having a background in graphic design and me working with so many different industries and just different requirements… so I've done the corporate side of printing work and I've done the more colorful designs. So, I think when I first started really pushing DomoINK in 2020 I really didn't know what we wanted to do it.’
I was seeing different artists getting brand collaborations. So that's why I kind of got into the whole faceless art trend. I saw that huge trend. With the whole marketing background, I'm like, I'll jump on that. I'm always trying to be versatile as an artist, to where I could do so many different collaborations, or even just give more diversity to my store. Not everybody is looking for a portrait on their wall.
I think I'm always just trying to offer something else. I think I'm always just looking for the next thing. I'm always trying to educate myself. I recently bought a 3-D printer. I know nothing about 3-D. But I wanted to just educate myself and just be more versatile.
LH: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists who are just getting started and want to play with aesthetic, reference, or inspiration?
DB: Just do you. If you really want to try this different style, do it. You don't need to feel like you need to be boxed in. When I was first posting on my Instagram, I was just only posting my work with markers and acrylic paint. But in the pandemic, I decided to just learn how to do digital art.
I really didn't think digital art was real art at one point when I was younger. But once I got older and saw how powerful it was – using apps like Procreate and Adobe Illustrator, you can make artwork that looks better than what a painter had made. So it was definitely something I really wanted to learn.
So when I started doing digital art -- because most artists stick to one kind of style -- it was kind of weird. But I don't box myself in ever. So if you don't like that I'm doing different styles, then hey, you have the right to not follow me.
LH: You're incredibly prolific. You’re always sharing new pieces. How are you sustaining yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, with the amount of work that you're putting out there?
DB: I think it is tough. I will say, at the beginning, I was doing a lot of burnout because when I first started getting into posting my artwork, I didn't have a huge following. I had like, 2000 or 3000. So, I felt this pressure to try to catch up, especially me seeing these other artists with like a huge following. I mean, they have 100,000 and they’re collaborating with Netflix or Google. And I'm like, oh my God, how do I get my artwork in front of them? What do I need to do? So, I was just posting, drawing, creating stuff. It got to a point where it was burnout. It was like what is this? I literally left having two jobs to have a healthier lifestyle and I'm basically putting myself back into being unhappy, unhealthy. What I've been doing now is just trying to have more of a balance in what I'm doing. Even though I have a new post, it might be an older piece that may have done. It may just be me speaking about oh, this is one of my favorite pieces that I've done. It is hard to create new artwork all the time.
LH: Can you speak more about your approach to posting and sharing and being consistent?
DB: I wish that I had the confidence back in the day to be more outgoing on social media. I think it was my fear, the whole cringe value of it, like using hashtags or just promoting. I think I got too caught up in thinking about the judgment of others. That's probably a huge hurdle that a lot of people deal with -- fear of someone not liking it. But I feel like even if I posted, I was at the Rock Nation brunch or something, I'm hanging out with Beyoncé, there's still going to be someone that says, “Wow, she sucks.” So once you kind of get into that space of ‘I'm not for everyone,’ then just post whatever you want.
LH: How do you approach the challenge of having so much of your life influenced by social media – especially with comparison or impostor syndrome or butting heads?
DB: Negativity actually pushes me. I think that I've always been able to turn negativity into a positive to where it makes me want to work harder. I'll give an example. There was an artist who told me, I feel like you're bumping into my trend. I was the one who did the whole faceless trend first. And I was like, okay, I'll let you have that feeling. Instead of letting it be a downer to me, it motivated me to just keep creating, keep doing digital work. I was like, I'm not going to let you tell me what I can and can't do. So I used that negative to just end up doing more collaborations, doing more projects.
LH: If you had to choose one thing out of this entire journey that you learned about yourself, that you've learned about your work, and that you can share with another artist who's just getting started, what would that be?
DB: I'll definitely say block out all noise. Always remember what you're doing it for. I created DomoINK, I was creating this artwork because I grew up not seeing representation. So my big motivator was always that I am providing this artwork for children, I’m providing this artwork for a young woman, an older woman, or man, for anybody that is looking to feel represented in their space. It could be their cubicle, it could be their home, it could be anywhere. That was my huge motivator and it was just about just blocking out anything that could be a deterrent.
Always remember your why in order to always keep moving forward, especially when you have those sleepless nights or you're working so hard that you wake up tired. You have to remind yourself why you're doing this.
LH: Who are your motivators in your life. I hear you have a pretty supportive dad.
DB: My whole family is really supportive. My sister is really good at editing and writing. So if I'm typing out something for an article, I'll have her look it over. My mom would drive me an hour in traffic to L.A. every weekend so I could go take classes at USC. My family has always been there for me being an artist. I feel like without that support, then it would make me feel very isolated to where maybe I don't want to pursue this kind of career path. It's a lot of budgeting and understanding your finances, worrying about taxes, doing brand negotiations, running a store, responding to customer inquiries. It's always good to have people in your corner that tell you to keep going.
My friends are really supportive. A watershed moment for me was when I got into Target. And I had a friend that lives in the Detroit area and she sent me like pictures of her holding the plates and mugs. And it was so beautiful. It reminded me again, what my why was. This is all I want to do -- disrupt the industry as much as I can while I am on this earth to where there are more Black-owned brands on the shelves. There's more Black art in spaces.
My fiancé as well helps me with everything. He drives me everywhere so I can continue to be on my phone, trying to do what I need to do for business. On days where I don't feel like doing anything, he's there to cook for me or clean around the house. It’s just always good to have a village around you.
LH: Are there any goals that you have over the next year with your art?
I really want to take more control of DomoINK. For a minute, I was kind of focusing on just trying to do more brand collaborations, but I really just want to build my own seat and table at this point. I would love to just be the brand that people want to collaborate with, instead of me always looking for the next deal. I mean, it's always a blessing to work with different brands. But I think it'd be really nice that I can grow DomoINK into being the lifestyle brand that I really want it to be. I want to work on my own kitchen line, I want to have stationery. I just have so many visions for it to where I really want to take that time this year to really just go ham creating for myself. When you do these brand collaborations, you kind of lose a little bit of your voice because you obviously have to meet their brand guidelines. So to be able to just create wildly – I would just love to do that this year.
To see more DomoINK, head over to @snoopdoggydom on Instagram.