We had the good fortune of connecting with Vanessa J. Thompson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vanessa J., why did you pursue a creative career?
I have always drawn, ever since I was little. My older sister (ten years older to be exact) KNEW that I would be an artist when I grew up after she watched me draw with my first set of crayons.
I love the idea of creating visuals and bringing people’s thoughts and visions to life on the page. There is also such a variety of job positions and careers within the art field, one could dabble in a little bit of everything. Right now, I am focusing on caricatures (cartoon-like portraits to put it simply). I also create children’s illustrations and coloring pages for self-published authors.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art can be divided into three components: caricatures, children’s book illustrations, and performance art.
Let’s start with caricatures. This art form is the primary focus of my art journey and professional career.
I actually did not do very well in my drawing classes in college. In figure drawing and portraiture, my professor always referred to my work as a caricature of the model instead of portrait. But even though I got negative reviews and scores in school, that hasn’t stopped me from getting commissioned for work. A few years after I graduated from school, there was a job opening for a caricature artist at Goofy Faces, LLC who was opening a retail stand at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. I applied and underwent the two-week training course and got my official start as a caricaturist! It was not easy. I am a shy person and putting myself in front of so many people was very nerve wracking. ESPECIALLY, having to draw and create good likenesses in a short amount of time (around 5 minutes per face) in order to please the paying customer!! To overcome the challenges, I just had to keep pushing through and pretend to be a more extroverted person. I also had to toughen up my skin, for those occasions where I couldn’t get a good likeness of the client and the drawing was not accepted. I worked at the stand for a few years, and then moved on to just working events, both private and public.
I have worked many birthday parties, wedding receptions, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduation parties, employee appreciation celebrations, company/corporate events. It has really been a lot of fun. I even dress up to match themes of the events. For example, I dressed up as Rapunzel for a five-year old’s Disney’s “Tangled” themed party.
I also do commissioned pieces from client’s photographs. I actually prefer doing caricature work this way because I can take my time and really make the art piece something special (by being able to add more details, explore more ideas, and erase mistakes without someone sitting in a chair staring at me and getting antsy. ha ha ha)
Okay, next is children’s book illustration.
I’ve been interested in colorful pictures, cute characters, and scenery since I was a little girl. Children’s book illustration allows me to tap into my inner child’s visions and bring them out onto paper. Right now, I work as an illustrator for self-published authors, bringing their stories to life in vibrant, colorful drawings. I also create coloring book pages. I hope to one day build up my portfolio enough to get an agent or representative in the traditional publishing industry. I still have a long way to go, but I am optimistic and feel that I can bring something else to the industry.
The idea of taking someone else’s words and creating imagery that doesn’t already exist for that story and seeing the author’s reactions to my interpretations of their work is just so intriguing. I love bringing their ideas to life visually.
I have also written and illustrated my own story, and plan to do more of that.
Lastly, performance art.
Around the Christmas holiday season, I dress up as Grenchessa Bah Humbug Grump (loosely based off of a famous grumpy green character who hated Christmas) to bring joy and a little mischief to holiday parties. This character plays little pranks and engages in fun banter with little kids (and even provides a coloring book page with a cartoon depiction of herself), but in no way tries to destroy the holiday. She is just here to offer something a little different than Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves.
I’ve done this for a few years, skipping the 2020 holiday season because of the Covid-19 pandemic running rampant, and have made so many people smile. That in itself is rewarding, especially after such a trauma the nation and the world have faced (the pandemic claiming so many loved ones). It is nice to bring some silliness and overall joy back, especially around the holidays when people need it most.
Grenchessa can be booked for parties and events: offering services such as reading Christmas stories, creating coloring pages, and maybe even a dance off or pool noodle fight (lots of fun but still provides distance between people).
Lessons learned along the way:
1. Trust yourself. People can be so negative, don’t let that dampen your spirits.
2. Use criticisms in a positive manner to enforce what it is you are trying to accomplish.
3. Practice, practice, practice
4. Try to branch out of your comfort zone, even if it is just baby steps
5. When doing project estimates, give yourself plenty of buffer room, so that if life takes a turn, it hopefully won’t impact project deadlines as much.
6. Word of mouth is very effective. Get people to talk about you and your work. Get your name out there.
What do I want the world to know about me or my brand?
“There’s no other possible explanation… I’m just Outrageously Vanessa!”
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout goes to my mom, who is always so supportive and encouraging. She helps spread the word when I have a new book out or when I am open for new caricature commissions. Word of mouth is how I get most of my work, and she plays a big part of that! My dad is also very supportive.
I also want to thank Gordon David Brown, Sally Lenski-Brown, Chad Dresbach, Darlene Ledwell, (just to name a few) who were really there for me while I was a student and continue to encourage me now!
I’d like to give a shoutout to Dr. Kimberly P. Johnson, who gave me my first children’s book illustration job right after college graduation!