TOPS: How did Pretty Strange Design come about?
Ciara: Pretty Strange Design was born from a desire to create things that occupy both a space of beauty and oddity. I subscribe to the idea that imagination doesn’t have to stay inside of our minds—it can be united with everyday life if we have the courage to create daring things, and explore weird ideas without fear of failure.
“My art is a reflection of what I am thinking about, writing about, and observing in the world. My work bends toward encouragement because I am learning to be kinder to myself and I seek to pass that message on to my audience.”
TOPS: What have been your challenges in turning your art and creativity into a career? How has it been rewarding?
Ciara: It has taken me about a decade to become a full-time, consistently working artist. My twenties were characterized by a lot of hard work, multiple random jobs, emotional searching, and artistic discovery. I also had to go through a period of taking on creative work that wasn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse, but paid the bills. Looking back, I’m glad I was open to a variety of creative experiences and commissions because it helped me figure out what I didn’t like, but it also opened me up to mediums I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Being a full-time artist is rewarding in so many ways. I feel deeply blessed to do what I love every day, make my own schedule, and have the flexibility to try out new ideas whenever I want.
It is also rewarding to exist as a Black woman artist in America, and show other Black girls that art is a viable field for them to consider. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of artists who looked like me in art museums or in textbooks. I used to prefer letting the art speak for itself and staying out of view myself, but in the past couple of years, I’ve realized it’s important for me to be visible as a Black artist—to show my brown hands and face alongside of my work, so more folks who look like me feel more comfortable showing up and showing themselves proudly.
TOPS: One theme I’ve noticed in a lot of your embroidery and illustrative works is uplifting others. Why is it important to you to share those messages?
Ciara: I have anxiety and depression, and spent many years battling destructive inner dialogue and feelings of inadequacy. I am also deeply empathetic and try to identify ways I can help others with the battles they’re fighting every day. I’m constantly ruminating on what it means to be alive, be human, and be feeling so many things at once. My art is a reflection of what I am thinking about, writing about, and observing in the world. My work bends toward encouragement because I am learning to be kinder to myself and I seek to pass that message on to my audience.
TOPS: How does sustainability factor into the direction of your brand?
Ciara: One of my core values is sustainability. In my fiber art and fashion pieces, I almost exclusively utilize second hand, remnant, and vintage fabrics. Not only is it environmentally friendly to use items that have been cast aside, thrown away, and forgotten, but it is also a powerful metaphor for second chances and hidden potential.
TOPS: How can other creators use their art for activism?
Ciara: Don’t be afraid to use your work to spark conversations about important social issues. Art is a great bridge to deep conversations because art is often beautiful and captivating. There’s nothing wrong with using that beauty to draw people toward deeper things.
Make sure whatever spaces you’re in as a creative are inclusive and safe spaces for people who don’t look like you.
Consider offering your skills and services to underserved and marginalized populations for free to help balance the scales of privilege in our country.