Soulight On: Lisa Hunt

spotlightlogo_LHSoulFul Design is proud
to present the series
Soulight On: a showcase featuring designers of color across different creative fields. My purpose is to shine light on fellow creatives that we don’t see in the mainstream design trades. My goal is for you to be inspired, be informed, be creative.

Lisa Hunt, former Creative Director of Essence magazine, launched her own design consultancy, Lisa Hunt Creative, and product line, Parasol New York, in 2009. With over a decade of experience in art directing photography in the categories of food, home, celebrity, fashion, beauty, health, fitness, and travel her work is vibrant, polished and fuses her well-honed knowledge of industry trends in publishing and branding across multiple platforms including web, tablet and mobile.

Her passion and special interest in ceramics, home textiles, furnishings and tabletop led her to create a line of home accessories, greeting cards and art prints for her company Parasol New York.

A former adjunct professor at New York University and a Pratt Institute alumnus, she currently resides in Brooklyn.

1. How did you first become interested in graphic design?

My mother was very instrumental in my interest in art and encouraged my creativity from an early age. She was a true creative spirit herself as she was always drawing, painting, knitting, crocheting, decorating and gardening. She passed away very suddenly two years ago but her creative spirit lives on in my sisters and me. During my preteen years, my love for reading magazines and music sparked my interest in type, color, and photography. By high school, everything from album covers, book covers, fashion and packaging were things I found myself drawn to and became a bit obsessed with. As a junior, I took a commercial art class at a technical school—where they also taught farm machine repair—for two hours a day twice a week. We learned everything about color theory, composition and typography. That class and its teacher really paved the way for my career in graphic design.

Even after my experience in the art class, I didn’t understand that it was possible to make a living as a graphic designer. I applied to and was accepted to liberal arts colleges. My decision was to study journalism as a way to work in magazines. For financial reasons, I had to delay my enrollment in American University and worked for a year to save money. It was during that year that a friend told me about different art colleges and encouraged me to apply. I used my high school portfolio.

2. Often times, families of color look at the creative arts as a ‘white thing’ that we should get a ‘good job’ like a doctor, lawyer, government worker, etc. What did your family think about your choice of career? Do or did they support it?

I think my parents, and even friends, had doubts about me pursuing my creative desires and studying art in college. Like me, they really didn’t understand the possibilities and potential of making a living—let alone building a career—as a creative professional. But I was always very driven and hard-working so I don’t think my family ever worried about me not making a living. They are very proud of me and all that I’ve accomplished—even if they don’t always understand the scope of what it is I do on a daily basis. When my grandmother looks at one of the magazines that I’ve worked on, she still asks me if ‘I do the ads’!

3. How did you get your first big break?

I’ve had a few breaks along the way but the one that comes to my mind first was working at New York Magazine in the marketing department. It was there that I got my first printed piece, I still have several copies. It was an advertising sell sheet where I got to assign the illustration as well as to go on a press check. It was the first time I worked on a project, from start to finish, by myself.

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4. In your experience, have you ever felt that you and/or your work were ignored simply because of your ethnicity? What made you think this?

I haven’t really felt any blatant disregard for my work. I do feel that my name gave me an advantage especially in the beginning of my career. Most times when I showed up at an interview, I could tell by the interviewer’s expression that they didn’t expect me to be black. It’s hard to say if they felt I had something to prove to them because I am black but my work spoke for itself and I was able to slowly make my way and build my portfolio.

As a creative director in publishing, I know I’m in a small group of black designers, art directors, stylists and photographers. Publishing and traditional print is shrinking and it’s a very competitive job market. I feel that I have to constantly add to my technical skills and keep up with design trends. But that’s true for most creative professionals; the best we can do is to always be prepared.

5. Have you ever attended any events or conferences in your industry? Did you feel welcomed? Did you see many folks of color? If not, how did that make you feel?

I was more active in industry events when I was younger like the Society of Publication Designers and the Art Directors Club. There were usually one or two other black designers in attendance but I got used to being one of a few. As friendly as people usually are, it can still have an isolated and lonely feeling. It can make you insecure but if you want to survive in this industry, you have to move forward despite those feelings. Believe in your talent, network, and make your presence known in the design community.

6. Lastly, what project are you most proud of and why?

I was creative director at Essence magazine when we were given exclusive access to then Senator Barack Obama and his family at their Chicago home. We only had a 15-minute window to shoot the family, so the pressure was on to create an iconic image of the first black man with a solid chance to make history as the first African-American President. After the election, that image was everywhere—from mainstream media to tea towels sold on the streets of Harlem. The magazine was later given access to the First Lady and her mother at the White House for a special Mother’s day cover. If you would have told me as a teenager growing up in Aurora, Colorado that I would one day be directing photography in the White House—I can’t even imagine the level of disbelief I would have felt!

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