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Kyra O'Kelley

Content by / Illustration by

Kyra’s work is intricate and beautiful. And, as a person, you clearly understand she’s hungry to

become a better creative.

For instance: we were at the Hue design summit and there was a talk about UX research and UX

design theory and Kyra knows her strength is illustration. Instead of being in the talk, she had the

internal intelligence to see Gail Anderson sitting by herself and Kyra took a chance on asking her to

review her work.

I looked behind the room and saw Gail’s distinctive curly hair and Kyra’s jet black locks and I thought

that was brilliant and every indication of a creative who lives in the now, knows her strengths and is

not timid. Those are the qualities it takes to be successful.

In addition, we’ve sent Kyra work and not only has she slayed the work, she’s found a way to

generate additional projects (income) with the client.

So, we thought it would be fitting to continue to work with her for the first issue and let you know

more about her. Well, cause we’re old and she’s the future.

Man holding hands across black pants and making sure this looks long.

Kyra, when did you know you wanted to be a creative?

I’ve always drawn and painted, for as long as I remember. Art and design has always been a part of

my life, however I only recently discovered that I wanted to pursue a career in design. It all started

with a summer program at the Creative Circus, a portfolio school in Atlanta. It was an 8-10 week

crash course in all things advertising, including design. It was there that I fell further in love with the

world of art and design, and decided that I wanted to be a graphic designer and illustrator.

What has influenced your style?

I have many art and design influences, from tomes depicting mythological creatures to botanical

illustrations to beer packaging. I’ve always loved plants and animals, so I wanted to figure out a way

to combine my abstract illustrations with lettering. Other inspirations include bible illumination, henna

patterns, and textile patterns.

What is your focus, where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Lettering and illustration are my main focuses at the moment. I would love to be an established

illustrator and designer, with projects ranging from packaging design to public works of art.

Who do you follow on Instagram and why?

I draw a lot of inspiration from the works shown on accounts showcasing hand-lettering and different

kinds of art, particularly black art.

(I don’t want this to be a list, I would like you to talk about inspiration.)

I gotta know. When did you figure out that you could have a personal portfolio review with Gail

Anderson? What did you learn?

Ah yes, I had the privilege of having a personal portfolio review with Gail Anderson, and it was a

wonderful learning experience. The entire event happened on accident, at least on my part! Earlier

that Saturday afternoon, Gail sat next to me as we all sat for lunch at the HUE Design Summit. Other

designers at the table, including Naeem Holman and Stephanie Stewart, were chatting about

everyone’s work when Gail sat down.

Suddenly, they started talking up my work in front of Gail! Curious I’m sure, she asked to see my

work. If there was one thing I learned from that interaction, is that when Gail Anderson tells you to do

something, you do it! So, I sat there nervously as she perused my work on Instagram. I don’t recall

her sharing many thoughts on it, just her mysterious request to send her my contact information and

a picture of a piece.

After lunch, I noticed her sitting by herself in the house’s sitting room. A scheduled talk on UX/UI

design was to start soon, and I didn’t want to miss that (as UX/UI design isn’t my forte). So, I thought

I would get her quick thoughts on my work, and sneak into a talk as it was starting. However, Gail

had other plans. She told me to sit next to her so we could chat a little bit more.

Thus, our portfolio review commenced. She inquired on my work, career goals, design education,

and how I went about doing my work. I happily answered her questions, asked for some advice on

how to further my career, and asked about her career. We made a template for my work, to show to

other designers for internships and apprenticeships. Near the end of our interaction, she gave me

some homework to prove myself.

From that amazing experience, I learned that I need to embrace my illustrative skills and pursue

typography as a focus of my portfolio, among other types of design. I also learned that I should be

more confident in myself and the quality of my work. I’m so thankful to Gail for taking the time to

educate me and give me her wisdom.

Why did you decide to attend the Hue Design Summit? Was it worth your time? How did you pay for

it? What did you experience? What was your greatest takeaway?

I decided to attend the HUE Design Summit because I believe in the collective power of black

people, particularly black creatives. It was very, very important to me to be surrounded by other

black designers, so that I could connect with them, share in their experiences, and learn from their

collective wisdom.

It was extremely worth my time! Those two days at the design summit are in my top five most

cherished experiences.

Regarding paying for the conference, I will be honest: I did not pay for it! To make a long story short,

Tiffany Ricks, one of the conference coordinators, put a message in a black design group asking if

there were any local Atlanta design students interested in attending. It was a mini contest of sorts.

After seeing her message, I jumped at the chance and reposted the HUE graphic as she asked. I

then Facebook messaged her and told her a bit about myself. A few days later, she informed me that

I won the contest and that I could attend the conference free of cost. The universe works in

mysterious ways!

What else do you do creatively?

I sing regularly, dance occasionally, paint, and co-write fantasy campaigns with a group of friends!

What are the challenges you face as an African American illustrator and designer?

The challenges are in abundance, unfortunately. It’s difficult, being a young black designer and

illustrator, who also happens to be a woman. My work may not be taken as seriously when

compared to my white and/or male counterparts for example. Or people may not consider me for

projects in which I’d be a perfect fit, despite my quality of work.

In a way, I find that I must work harder to prove myself as a capable designer and illustrator. The

common phrase “work twice as hard to gain half as much” comes to mind. My work is not allowed to

be mediocre, it must be extraordinary for me to successfully make my way in this field. I’m up to the

challenge of course, but it’s daunting nonetheless.

Do you have African American mentors who are successful creatives?

Of course! Of note is Nakita Pope, whom I met through AIGA’s mentorship program. She’s been an

amazing source of help and support in my journey, and is always there when I need her. Through

her work with her design firm, Branding Chicks, I’ve learned more about different types of design

projects I can take on to boost my portfolio and the black community as a whole.

New additions to my list of creative African American mentors are Gail Anderson and Terrence

Moline. In the short time I’ve known them, they’ve offered valuable advice on my work and how to

conduct myself as a professional. I hope to expand this list as time goes on and my network grows!

How did you find them?

I found Nakita through AIGA’s yearly mentorship program, and I found Terrence and Gail at my time

at the HUE Design Conference.

We commissioned Eddie Battle to do your illustration. It was kinda by coincidence because we

picked him first. Then we saw y’all liked each other’s work on Instagram. What do you think of the


Eddie Battle’s illustrations are beautiful, I’m constantly amazed by this talent. He can capture the

likeness of a person so well, while also adhering to his specific style. I’m looking forward to seeing

his illustration of me, and making it my profile picture on Facebook!

Where can people find you?

I show most my work and process on Instagram, where my profile is @ksoanimation. Once can view

more of my work on my portfolio site:

Why do you love dragons?

What’s not to love about dragons? They’re beautiful, majestic, fearsome, and come in all shapes and


In all seriousness though, I love dragons because I love fantasy and magical worlds, where myths

are real and flourishing. There’s something wonderful about escaping into a world of fantasy,

through literature, film, or art. Every so often, I draw a dragon as a sort of reminder to myself that

magic exists in real life too, if you let it.


Ladies walking by the river in Rio De Jenerio



Dave McClinton

No long excerpts