THAheadline Highlights: The Art of Empowerment- A Spotlight on Gerda Boateng and Gerda Creates
As part of THAheadline's coverage of Black History Month, we are featuring Gerda Boateng, a Canadian illustrator and founder of Gerda Creates. Gerda Creates is a practical art brand that celebrates the beauty of people of color. Gerda was inspired to start this brand due to her childhood experiences of feeling inadequate because of negative comments about her appearance. She aims to transform those negatives into positives by creating designs where people of color are the main characters, and everything that was once ridiculed is now celebrated. Gerda hopes to enrich people's lives and boost their self-confidence by creating practical art that promotes representation and inclusivity.
We had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Gerda. Check out the Q&A below:
1. Can you share with us your journey of becoming an illustrator and starting your own brand, Gerda Creates?
It’s been a long journey. I Went to university for advertising and during that course I knew I was meant to be a designer and an entrepreneur but university had a way of making me feel like I wasn’t creative or good enough. It wasn’t until 10 years after graduation that I revisited art again. I went from making art that was just for me to regaining the passion I had for design. I was mindful about the message I wanted to convey and wanted to create with a purpose and a meaning to the viewer. I focused on making art that spoke to women like me women with similar experiences and helping them love themselves and understand that they are art too. That is how I came up with Gerda Creates. I love creating and I don’t limited to just art I wanted to make it encompass all that I am ; a creative.
2. How do you approach designing and creating artwork that is both practical and representative of people of color?
I always start with the art piece and think, what message is this conveying?I then share it with my audience. Then I take the time to sit with the image and conceptualizing how this image would resonate, or work best if presented on something more practical; such as a journal a sweatshirt or anything else I can put together myself without manufacturing. I think of ideas that I don’t need to depend on anyone to bring to fruition. I love making things by hand and putting my heart into it.
3. Can you tell us about a particularly memorable experience or moment you've had while working on Gerda Creates?
It was very memorable when I was interviewed for a network here in Toronto and having people reach out or see me outside and tell me how much they were inspired by my work and that they purchased something of mine that they loved. Knowing that people truly find use in the things that I design makes me proud of the work that I have done.
4. In what ways do you hope to see the art and design industry become more diverse and inclusive, and how do you plan to contribute to this change?
I am noticing that the industry is opening up to the idea of representing people of all facets, On social media. But when it comes to actual print or galleries it still could use a bit more representation. I think it would be amazing to have an even playing field when art directors are looking for artists that they look for people of colour as well and not just around black history month. It’s always been my goal to have my work in the hands of people who feel represented by it. I want to be found in your local supper stores, Targets, Marshals. Where women and little girls can go to find items that resonate with them and take it home. I want my art to be attainable, not pretentious. I create for the people not just the rich.
5. Can you speak to the importance of representation in art and design and how it can impact individuals in the wider community?
Representation is so important it builds confidence, it builds self actualization and self love. When people are able to see themselves in the world around them it convinces them that they are worthy. When you grow up never having that or continue to live in a world where you’re fighting for that it makes you question your value and I think that is wrong. Humanity should all feel represented in a world created for all races, sexuality, and cultures everyone deserves to be represented. If design encompassed true representation little black girls from a young age would know that they are just as good and important as their white peers. This would foster a sense of confidence that they would grow up with that could help them to achieve anything because they have the same value as everyone around them.
6. Can you walk us through your creative process when designing a new artwork or product for Gerda Creates?
I only create when I’m happy that is when I make my best work. I like to find inspiration from people and things around me. I create an art piece that I believe will resonate with my audience and then my brain starts working overtime about how this image can be made into something someone can use. After I get all this conceptualized on my iPad then i look into ways of making the product. From assembly to packaging. Once that’s done, I then present it to my audience via social media and make it available on my online store gerdacreates.com
7. What challenges have you faced while building Gerda Creates, and how have you overcome them?
I am finding the biggest challenge is doing everything on my own. No one has as much conviction about your dreams than you. But It’s hard to build something to be great on your own. This hinders the growth and connections that I can make, which has been difficult for expanding. I know my message is great but it is so hard to build it to the level I know it can be without support. Sometimes I feel like it’s too much to handle, and maybe this isn’t for me to maintain all aspects of a business. But I always remember that this gift is a blessing, I was given it for a reason and in time I will have the means to support the individuals that want to help me along the way.
8. Can you tell us about a particular design or artwork that holds a special meaning to you and why it is significant?
My painting called chocolate gold will always be my greatest creation because it spoke to the inner parts of myself. Growing up as a dark skinned girl with full lips and hair that “felt like cotton” as the kids would say influenced me create a piece that celebrated those qualities that I was made fun of for.
9. How do you stay inspired and motivated in your work, and what advice do you have for other artists who may be struggling with creative blocks?
People that believe in me and are inspired by me are what motivate me to keep going. Knowing that my message is not just for me and that there are people that truly resonate with my work pushes me every day to keep going, although creating is my passion, I also do this for the ones that need to feel seen. As an artist that goes through creative block myself I find the best thing for me to do is take a break or create things that don’t have to have a purpose. Just create for fun, anything that comes to mind even if it’s not your typical art style. I find when I do this I’m more excited to come back to my style with fresh eyes
10. What's next for Gerda Creates? Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're excited about?
The Goal for Gerda Creates is to be accessible to anyone that my message resonates with. I want to not just be found on social media e-commerce, i want to be found in stores. That is the dream. That little girls and women can find my work in their local stores, and wear clothing with representation of them on it on their first day of school!Im working on an African children’s cook book. I just received a commission project from a university and will have the students wearing some of my designs. I have some upcoming mural projects for the school board, and facilitating creative programs in schools. I am very excited about influencing younger people of colour, it’s is a genuine desire of mine.
Gerda's designs are created with authenticity and care, with the hope of boosting people's self-confidence and enriching their lives with practical art that celebrates diversity. You can browse and shop her amazing art merch, including accessories, planners, stickers, fashion, and more, all of which celebrate the beauty of people of color and promote representation and inclusivity. To learn more about Gerda and her inspiring work, be sure to visit www.Gerdacreates.com and follow her on Instagram at @gerdacreates.