The DART Interview: Veronica Miller Jamison

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 18, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the pen or the brush?

Veronica Miller Jamison: I love this question. Right now, for me, the brush comes first. I love putting down large strokes of color and the challenge of communicating objects with just a few passes of the brush. The way color behaves as you move the brush from one side of the page to the other is fun to watch, and the tool has a little bit of inherent unpredictability, so when I’m painting it’s like I’m having a conversation with my materials.

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

VJM: Almost all of my work is done in traditional media. If I’m working on an illustration, I will sketch some concept and composition ideas in pencil first, then take it to full color art with watercolor and ink. If I’m working on textile print design, I have a bit more freedom to play and experiment with singular motifs and textures, then I’ll arrange the artwork digitally to create patterns.


PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

VJM: I’m a trained fashion designer, so the work of master fashion illustrators are a huge source of inspiration for me. My biggest artist inspiration is fashion illustrator Bill Donovan. I’ve followed his work for years, took a workshop with him in graduate school and worked with him to produce his main stage talk for ICON10 in 2018. The way he can communicate movement and shape in one stroke of a brush is incredible. 

I also start my workday by listening to albums by Solange—her music is eclectic and diverse and draws from so many references and sources of inspiration. It gives me permission to play, explore and experiment with all types of things in my art. It’s also no secret that I am a massive fan of Beyoncé — and fan might be an understatement. The way she embraces and centers Black femininity, vulnerability, strength and artistry continues to inspire me, as it has for 22 years.

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process? If yes, does this figure in with your travels?

VJM: It’s funny — I have so many sketchbooks and I’m bad at keeping all of them. Well, I was bad at it. I’m getting better. For illustration assignments I spend some time furiously churning out ideas in my sketchbook — then the sketchbook sits until the next project arrives. Now that I’m building my focus on textiles, I more regularly play with motif, layout, and sometimes color ideas in my sketchbook. Traveling with one used to be cumbersome, because I prefer watercolor over anything else, and would pack every palette that I own out of indecisiveness. But now, I’ve found the joy of simply sketching with a color waterbush (black ink only!), which allows me to focus on shapes and compositions, and I can always add color digitally later in the process. 

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

VJM: I live in Philadelphia, right smack in between Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so yeah, you can say it’s pretty inspiring. The park lets me experience and draw inspiration from nature, while the museum is just an incredible resource on its own. Philly also has a thriving art and fashion scene, and I’ve been able to meet and collaborate with some very cool makers and designers here.

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone.

VJM: My workspace is small studio in the basement of my apartment. Because I spend so much time there alone, I like to make it comfortable with cozy textiles, bright colors, fresh-smelling candles and music. (I’m also not totally alone — my cat Winston likes to nap on my ottoman while I’m working.) I will listen to podcasts or sing along with music, or sometimes, I’ll pull up interviews or YouTube videos of other artists, and listen to them talk about their work while I’m plugging away on mine.

PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline? 

VJM: What are breaks? Okay, I’m kidding — kind of. I’ve gotten better at this. With the park so close to my apartment, I’ll leave and take a walk on a nice day. Or, I’ll go enjoy a good lunch from one of my favorite eateries. Or, if it’s completely miserable outside, I’ll take a break by cooking a hearty lunch and watching a documentary (or The Office, again) on Netflix. 

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

VJM: It’s hard to explain — I just get this feeling that there’s nothing else to do. I really know it’s done when I look at it, smile, and feel satisfied. Sometimes I’ll put it away for a few hours or a day, and if I’m still happy when I come back to it, I know it’s finished.

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference? 

VJM: For illustration, if I’m using photo reference, I’ll sketch the thing a few times until I’m confident that I understand the proportions and relationships between objects. If I need to exaggerate or emphasize some part of the image, I’ll work on that while sketching. Then I’ll draw the object or scene for final, making sure that I’m confidently drawing in my own hand so that the image has my DNA in it.

For textile design, photo reference is used in a slightly different way. I’ll have photo reference, but maybe it’s there to help me build a color palette, or imagine a motif. So when I do use it for this application, it’s more about identifying the elements of the image that speak to me — the color, textures, shapes — and reinterpreting them in my own hand. 

PR: If you could live and work anywhere, where would that be—and why?

Either Paris or New Orleans. Paris is beautiful and romantic and the center of haute couture. New Orleans is just incredible. The music, the people, the history, the culture, the beignets. In both places, people really now how to celebrate and enjoy life, and both places share an architectural DNA that is super inspiring to me.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?

VJM: With me, it will never be just one thing. LOL. I want to do more picture books about incredible artists in black history, the ones that you don't see when corporations launch their marketing for Black History Month. I’m talking about Alma Thomas, Patrick Kelly, Stephen Burrows, the Howard Players and the Fisk University Singers. It combines all the things I love — research, art and the deep history of Black cultural expression in America.

That, and… I would love to be the creative director and designer for a line of home goods and textiles. I believe a beautiful, comfortable home is so important, inspiring and nurturing. It would be amazing to create a concept and the artwork for an entire range of products — from window treatments to throw pillows to rugs and upholstery fabric — that helps people decorate their home in a way that inspires and excites them.

Veronica Miller Jamison is an illustrator and textile print designer living in Philadelphia. Her first picture book, “A Computer Called Katherine,” was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and has received praise from The New York Times and Kirkus Reviews. Veronica teaches fashion design at Drexel University and Made Institute, and she’s worked with Hallmark, Bloomingdale’s, and Essence magazine, among others.


Instagram: @veronicajamisonart