The artist is present — and ready to collab: Q&A with artist Domonique Brown

Photo courtesy Domonique Brown

Even in the age of multi-hyphenates, Domonique Brown presents an impressive oeuvre. A visual artist with an MBA, Brown has shrewdly positioned herself at the nexus of culture, art and commerce, and the results speak for themselves. Not only has she produced a fabulous body of work that stands on its own — she primarily makes portraits with markers (yes markers!) and acrylic paint — and she’s done brand deals with the NAACP, Bath & Body Works and FX, among others. All the more impressive: after a lifetime of creating artwork while making her living in marketing, she only started focusing on art as her primary business a few years back.

In fact, there’s a decent chance you’ve already seen her colorful and distinctive work, which has been featured in Target and Urban Outfitters. Or maybe you saw it on HBO’s Insecure? Or perhaps swiped through to see her painting Beyoncé while listening to Renaissance on TikTok. Her online store features stunning original works, affordable prints, mugs, pillows, links to her branded collections — even a plate featuring “Girl With the Bamboo Earring” (which I will almost certainly be purchasing for myself as soon as this is published).

Recently, I chatted with Brown about her art, brand deals, a recent FX activation featuring her work, and the reason she doesn’t (exclusively) paint celebrities anymore.

Joe Hollywood: Talk to me about your evolution as an artist.

Domonique Brown: When I was in grade school, I had the notion that if you’re an artist, you’re broke. My mindset was always, okay, I’m just going to draw in class and make time go by. But I never really saw a career in it. In college, I wanted to go into advertising. During school, I was selling my artwork through festivals, the 626 Night Market in Arcadia and small vending events such as art walks. I was also selling through Etsy. So when I graduated with my master’s in 2019, I had a sense that maybe there was some interest in my work.

JH: What was it like to transition from art as a passion project to a business?

DB: It was tough for a little bit. When you’re just doing art as a hobby, you just draw whatever. You’re not thinking about what would make it sellable. With the transition to doing more commercial work, I thought, all right, I need to really understand what is happening now. If I want to sell my artwork, it has to be work that people want. Having a background in marketing taught me that you need to be on trend.

I started trying to learn as much as I could about what was trending. I wanted to take a moment to embrace what was happening in the art world. When I first started as an artist, I was drawing family and friends or celebrities. But after I did more research, I realized I needed to start drawing ordinary people. If you want a picture hanging in your home, you don’t have to have Michael Jordan.

JH: Talk to me about the pop-up celebrating the 5th season launch of FX’s Snowfall show. What was that like for you — someone with a background in marketing, participating as an artist?

DB: That was a very crazy experience. When you walked in, you had to walk through a bunch of small businesses. A grocery store, clothing store, plant store. There was also a jewelry store and a photo shoot area. Then, you walked into a kind of office setup and you saw my artwork hanging on the walls. Outside, there were additional walls with more of my work.

JH: What was it like to watch people interacting with your art?

DB: It was really cool. I was there for three days, and my job was just to be there. People walked and looked around and saw me sitting there. They’d ask, “Are you the artist?” It was nice; people said, “Hey, you should keep going.” Some people gave me advice. “Oh, get into NFTs.” And I was like, “One day…”

At the beginning of this year, there was a huge drop in home decor sales, because of inflation and the recession — all the fun things. So, what else can I be? When Snowfall came along and I was in a space with other small businesses and also being around the cast of the show, it was an eye opener for me, oh my God, there’s definitely space for me to do more brand collaborations. And that just hit a trigger for me. I thought I am reaching out to everybody. Hello, this is me. This is my media kit. Let’s talk. That was a big pivot for me.

JH: Do you have any advice for artists and creatives who are navigating brand partnerships for the first time?

DB: Know your worth. Don’t take small deals. You have to be respectful of your time — especially if you’re a freelancer. You need to know how much you’re really going to make. Is it going to be worth your time if this company wants you to work for $500 and it’s going to be a two-week project? Does that make financial sense? You need to know what your yeses and nos are early on because otherwise, people will rip you off.

One thing I’ve learned is, when you get approached by companies, ask what their budget is. You might sell yourself short if you just tell them what you want.

JH: What makes brand-side folks easy or difficult to work with?

DB: What makes it hard is when brands are looking for you to be the voice, and they don’t really know what they’re trying to say. They might tell me, Hey, you’re that artist, you know what Juneteenth is? So draw it. And I’m like, Excuse me? What do you want? What makes it easier is when brands give you true creative freedom. When they’re not putting a lot of restrictions on you, especially in terms of a color palette. I think that’s really fun. If there is no direction, at least give me creative freedom.

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