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Meet April's Featured Designer: Shahv Williams


Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be an illustrator/surface pattern designer.

I started drawing when I was a kid. I was really inspired by the cartoons I watched back then. For the first fifteen years of my life, my “practice” was all about improving technically. The high school I went to partnered with Philadelphia’s universities to provide students with opportunities to attend different workshops and programs around the city. I spent Summers at Tyler School of Art and Architecture and Moore College of Art and Design. During the school year, I’d attend figure drawing classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. It was during all this that I learned about the many professional paths available to artists. The idea of a freelancer’s lifestyle has always been very appealing to me and I've always felt like illustration offers a lot of opportunity for experimentation. It is a great choice for me.

I learned about surface pattern design in my junior year of college, and I have been into it ever since. For one of my first surface design projects, I created a pattern, had it printed on fabric, and sewed it into a dress. I find the design process to be very relaxing. It pairs well with a big hobby of mine: sewing. And it allows me to tell stories in a subtle way if I choose to.


What influences your art the most?

Stylistically: comics/graphic novels/manga and animation. Some of my favorite artists include Bryan Lee O’Malley, Junji Ito, Ai Yazawa, Rumiko Takahashi, Rebecca Sugar.

Thinking of things that make me want to make stuff: fashion and sewing as well as my other hobbies. I feel most inspired when I am out and about either on a walk, sitting in a park, traveling, or doing something kinda novel and fun with friends. I enjoy making art about my own personal feelings or things that happen to me. I illustrate things I have felt both positive and negative, in an effort to get people to understand.


What mediums do you use to create your art?

Right now, I start all of my surface design work with pencil on paper and then finish it digitally in either procreate, photoshop, or illustrator. This wasn’t always the case. A lot of my older illustrative work is traditional using watercolor and colored pencil or graphic liners. My work became mostly digital in college to help me meet deadlines. I am getting back into making more traditional pieces. Going forward, I am excited to explore new combinations of traditional and digital mediums in my surface pattern design.


You are a recent graduate of The University of The Arts in Philadelphia. Being so new to the industry, do you feel ready to work as an independent designer or are you looking to be employed by a company?

At this point in my life, I prefer the stability that a job with a company would provide as well as all of the things I could learn in a position like that. I see myself picking up a lot of valuable information about the business side of surface design/product design and that excites me. Eventually, I plan to be an independent designer. Right now, however, I am honestly just focused on getting the most out of any opportunity to work as a creative.

You were awarded the Presidential Award for Creativity and the Richard C Von Hess Travel Scholarship at University of The Arts. Have these accolades helped to encourage you to pursue your work as an illustrator and surface designer?

Yes, absolutely! Winning these awards has been affirming and encouraging. Having my work recognized is a constant reminder that I'm moving in the right direction. Whenever I am feeling discouraged I look back on the awards and recognition I have received and it’s a reminder of what I am capable of achieving. I’m very grateful to have had my artistry acknowledged by The University of the Arts and the Richard C Von Hess Foundation. It’s definitely motivation to keep going.


You were also recently awarded The Wind Fellowship supported by InLiquid and the Dina Wind Art Foundation. Tell us about that experience.

It has been a wonderful experience! I’ve been able to engage with an amazing community of other emerging artists. It has been great getting to know them, make connections, and hear about their experiences working in the arts. It’s also given me a new perspective on the opportunities available to me in the city and helped me make some critical decisions about the direction of my career.

My work is on display as part of the 2023 Wind Fellowship Exhibition. I had never thought of myself as a fine artist or my work as something that would be shown in a gallery space. This experience has definitely encouraged me to reconsider the conceptual aspect of my practice. It has also been a great chance to get more eyes on my work; something that is already proving to be crucial in my success as a creative. I am very grateful to Inliquid and The Dina Wind Foundation and excited to see what the rest of the year has in store.


Do you feel there are new opportunities for black artists to bring diversity into the mainstream market in the illustration and surface design fields?

I’m not sure. Surface design to me is a field where the designer’s faces and personalities can get lost behind their work. I googled black artists working in surface design to help answer this, and I found a few black women artists I hadn’t been aware of who have been working in this field for years. I think black people can be a bit underrepresented in creative careers.


Your work has a fun, comic, and graphic style. Have you always inserted a comic element into your work?

Yes. Comics are what got me into drawing as a kid and reading graphic novels now as an adult always gets me in the mood to make something. It’s the style that feels the most authentic to me. I want to keep refining my graphic style in surface design to create patterns that will sell well and still be fun, kooky, and uniquely me.

Do you have any dream companies you'd like to work with in the near future? Lazy Oaf. I love everything they make. It’s my dream to one day collaborate with them to make something cool.

What's next for you in your artistic endeavors? I want to start looking for art licensing deals and apply for employment opportunities. I also plan to apply for residencies and apprenticeship programs. I am looking for opportunities that provide a bit of structure for me as well as time and resources to do more experimental work and pick up some new skills along the way.



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