Jessica Kirby is a 2D artist with a passion for design and illustration. She is a recent graduate of Florida State University's College of Motion Pictures
Since graduating she been working as a 2D Designer at a Performance Branding Company based in New York and hopes to one day be an art director.
She recently released her short film "Imani's Skin," which dives into topics such as self-love and colorism. She hopes these topics will resonate with adults and children alike and make them feel more accepted. Read a short interview with Jessica about her experiences and the film below!
FAF: First, a little about you. Where are you from, how did you get involved with animation and digital art, and what inspired you to pursue it in college?
JK: I found myself expressing interest in animation and digital art after studying fine art throughout primary and secondary school. For over a decade, I worked on developing my craft through traditional painting. As I developed these new skills, I began to focus on how I could apply my learnings to storytelling. I was very interested in finding ways to create compelling stories with just a single painting and this became my primary concentration. As technology became more accessible to me, this love for crafting stories with a paintbrush naturally evolved into me exploring the world of digital painting and storytelling. I was able to transfer a lot of the same artistic principles of painting to the animated world, allowing me to breathe a new life into my art. From there I decided to pursue film and animation in college.
FAF: How would you describe your specific style in both animation and art in general? Who or what are your inspirations or influences?
JK: I feel like my overall visual style is constantly evolving. I’m always exploring new techniques and approaches as I find new inspirations. It’s honestly really fun to see how each piece of art compares from week to week. With that being said, I’ve noticed that the one thing that is always consistent across my art is the theme of self-expression. I’ve always had an interest in how people externalize their personas and how I as an artist can emphasize and highlight this. I think one of my earliest inspirations is a painter named Kehinde Wiley. He creates these beautifully expressive portraits centering around the Black experience. His juxtaposition of new expression with the old was something that was always so compelling to me. Each piece tells such a compelling story about the person being showcased it’s literally incredible. Another artist that I have become very fond of in recent years is Sara Shakeel. She’s a contemporary artist that uses glitter and sparkles to create radiating pieces that often center around empowerment. Since high school, I’ve had an obsession with glitter as a medium. I even made a 6x8ft portrait using only glitter. I think it’s just a captivating medium that can lead to lots of external expressions of the internal. We all have an inner sparkle and it’s one of my favorite things to convey.
FAF: Something about your film that is really captivating is the animation paired with the poetry-like storytelling. Can you tell us a little about how you developed the story and why you decided to tell it in this way?
JK: Growing up I always considered myself to be a black sheep, almost literally. Most of my family is significantly lighter than me. I used to be extremely insecure because of this. I was motivated however to finally get my message out there when my little sister told me that she didn’t want to be seen with me because I’m too dark. This seemingly small statement caused a rift in my family: those who felt my sister was too innocent to understand the power of her words and the select few who thought that such discrimination was dangerous at her young age. This whole experience inspired me to confront the issue of colorism head-on. “Imani’s Skin” actually began as a direct response to this situation. It was initially meant to simply be a poem that I wrote for my little sister to help her understand the effects of colorism in our community. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that this story had the potential to reach so many other kids who have gone through similar experiences. From there I decided to develop the poem into a script.
Once I had a tangible script, I worked with a local elementary school where a group of students helped me bring the story to life. For a film like “Imani’s Skin,” where I was speaking about an issue that was plaguing the larger community, I wanted to make sure I was being inclusive of multiple experiences. It was also important to me that I was including kids in the process since this story is overall for young elementary-aged children. This process of working with children in the community was truly how the story came to life. They helped me develop Imani’s design, fine-tune the story, and nail down an overall look for the film. It was honestly my favorite part of the process of creating this film.
FAF: What was it like to take on the roles of director, producer, art director, and storyboard artist on this film? Did you find any challenges along the way, and what was it like to see it all come together?
JK: Wearing multiple hats while working on this film was actually really cool. It provided me great insight into the role each department plays in the creation of a film. My dream job is to one day become a director and I think in order to be a successful director you have to have an understanding and overall appreciation for how everything comes together. This film really gave me the opportunity to build knowledge across departments and explore things that might not have initially appealed to me. It was such a fun process. At times it was very overwhelming but overall it was an amazing learning experience that I am immensely grateful for.
FAF: "Imani's Skin" is really accessible for children yet still talks about really powerful and impactful topics such as colorism and self-love. Why do you think this is an important message to teach kids, and what do you hope audiences take away from your film?
JK: It was really important for me to speak to young children with this story. I wanted to teach children like my sister about the complexities of colorism. I wanted to show children like my younger self that our worth is not defined by the color of our skin. And overall I wanted to let any other child who can relate to this experience know that they are not alone. A lot of my insecurities and self-doubts concerning my skin color started from an extremely young age. With this film, I wanted to help children so that they don’t have to grow up experiencing the same lack of self-worth. I wanted to be able to teach children that we are all beautiful and that we should lift each other up and empower one another despite our differences.
FAF: Since leaving college what have you been working on? Any fun projects, art pieces, or other things you want to share with us?
JK: For the past year I’ve been working as a 2D Designer at a Performance Branding Company based in New York. Since starting as a designer, I have had the opportunity to bring my pre-existing skill set to different projects while also learning new innovations and programs that have allowed me to take my work to the next level. Beyond my growth as a designer, I have also been provided many opportunities to develop my art direction skills through creating concepts and working on campaigns for some really fun clients. When I’m not working, you can usually find me developing a new artwork for fun.