Q&A with Jonquel Norwood: Body Positive Illustrator and Artist

Jonquel NorwoodHave you ever seen art that made you feel beautiful and special? That is what happened to me the first time I saw Jonquel Norwood’s work.

Born and raised in a small city outside of New Orleans, Jonquel studied illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She was first introduced to fashion while living in Atlanta, but noticed that her style and body type was not always represented.  After graduating college, ventured to NYC where she noticed everyone had their own style and expressed themselves through fashion in a way she never saw before. Through social media, she stumbled across Full Figure Fashion Week and her world was changed forever. She saw women with body types like herself wearing bold and expressive fashion and she fell in love with the attitudes, the styling, and the overwhelming feeling of self-love. As a result, she started to put her new found love on paper and express what she was seeing: body positive women loving themselves and not feeling ashamed.

Check out our interview with this up-and-coming young artist!

Natasha: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Jonquel: I have always been an artist – Drawing since a little girl off and on. I was 22 years old the first time I knew I wanted to be a professional artist. Even though I was enrolled in college, it wasn’t until I finished my internship at Walt Disney World Resort College Program that I knew I was going to pursue art professionally.

Natasha: What are somethings you wish you knew before becoming a professional artist?  

Jonquel: Not so much before. I just wish I learned more about the business. You don’t know what you need to know until you are in the middle of it. School can only teach you so much. You will have to deal with working with clients, communication skills, and the business side. As an artist, you focus on the art and technique, not how to send an invoice, deliver a pitch to a client, or send a proper email. It is touch and go, you learn as you go along. You don’t know what type of problems you will have. Plus, I needed to learn more about plus size fashion illustrations. 

Natasha: Did art school help with your technique and the art you currently create? 

Jonquel: School helped with learning and mastering my technique. I mainly use digital media which I learned about in art school. However, I am self-taught with painting. I started painting in high school. I had to teach myself how to paint because my art teacher didn’t have the ability to show all of the students in class how to really paint. Luckily, my mom bought me the supplies I needed and she let me paint on the walls of her home.  If you go to my mom’s house, you will see work from when I was 17 years old. 

Natasha: What prompted you to make your art body positive? 

Jonquel: It was a journey and a half. It came about in an interesting way. I used to draw characters in “normal” fashion. Thin and pretty. My body positive art started and took off when I drew an illustration inspired by Nicki Minaj. The song “Only” – Drake said, “I like my women BBW”. So, I drew three women plus size. My husband encouraged me to post it on Instagram. The next morning, there were over 400 likes. However, I kept drawing regular drawings but I kept getting asked when I was going to draw thick girls. In life, I have been teased about my weight. So I started drawing body positive art which increased my own confidence. I played around with different body types. It became more of a confidence journey then an art journey. The more I drew, the more I felt confident about my body. Especially after I attended Essie Golden pool party.

Natasha: Do you think there is a trend for body positive art? If so, why? 

Jonquel: I think there is a trend starting up, because there are a lot plus size women. And, a lot of them are artists who are now drawing characters that look like themselves. With the visibility of Tess Holliday and the #PlusisEqual campaign really inspired artists to draw women that resemble themselves and the average woman. It is a scary thing to do and put yourself out there. There are people that will claim that artists are glorifying obesity. I recently became obsessed with the lifestyle of being a fashionable woman, which wasn’t always associated with curvy women. It seemed like fashion didn’t belong to the curvy girl back in the day. Now, people are so surprised to see me dressed up. When moved to NY, I was able to be fashionable with my weight.

Natasha: Are there difficulties in the creation of body positive art?   

Jonquel: Not having a lot of reference material to draw from. When drawing skinny women, I can find endless pictures. If I want to draw a group of four plus size women sitting at table, it’s not as easy to find pictures in magazines or online. Finding reference material is hard to for getting stuff properly proportioned. A lot of times I have to make it up.

Natasha: Do you believe there is a relationship between art and body image? 

Jonquel: I can only speak for myself. I noticed the pattern with my body image when my art changed. I only draw things I find enjoyable or beautiful in some way. I do notice that people really idolize the hourglass figure. I try my hardest to mix things up with my art. 

Natasha: What do you want people to take away from your art? 

Jonquel: Biggest thing I want people to take is that representation matters. Nothing touches me more when I get a picture of a person from Instagram, and she says that my art looks like her. That is what I enjoy most of what I am doing. I am representing women that look at my art. Straight style fashion is a culture and language that includes art. As with the plus size industry, we need to embrace art and include it in the culture.

Natasha: Who are artists that have influenced your personal style? 

Jonquel: Walt Disney animation and Tim Burton really influenced me to want to draw.  One of my favorite illustrators include Megan Hess, Hayden Williams, J. David Mckenney, and Cassandra Rhodin. I really love that Cassandra and David’s work are really animated. A lot of people want me to do art that is more realistic in the face. Fashion illustration doesn’t have to look like a person. 

Natasha: How can people incorporate art into their lives? 

Jonquel: Buying more art generally. Most cities have local artists and local talent. Buying original art is really important. Our local artists will enrich your neighborhoods. Artist put their energy into their art which is the same energy that will go into your home. There is a reason why the rich have original art in their home. This is the first time that the plus size industry has a spotlight as a whole. We have things like theCURVYcon, which we didn’t have before. For me, when I was at Full Figured Fashion Week, I only attended 1 of the events because I didn’t hear about it early enough. At the townhall meeting, one of the questions asked was what we would like to see in the industry. People talked about models and designers, but no one discussed art. A lightbulb went off in my head – we need to see more fashion illustration and body positive art in the industry! 

Natasha: Who are some of women or blogs that influence your work?  

Jonquel: I’ve already mentioned Essie Golden, I look to her for style and well as using her body type as a muse. Sarah Chiwaya (Curvily), Shainna Tucker (A Thick Girls Closet), Madeline Jones of Plus Model Mag, Maui Bigelow (Phat Girl Fresh), Marie Denee (The Curvy Fashionista) and Alysse Dalessandro (Ready to Stare). I don’t just follow these people for fashion tips alone, they’ve all at one point played my muse and have been big supporters of my work.  There’s also Sharron Quinn who has a YouTube show called Model Behavior where she teaches about the plus size fashion industry, I watch it every week as a form of research. Also let’s not forget the amazing Natasha of Dressing Room 8!  

I have told Jonquel that her art makes me feel more alive. Share your thoughts below 🙂 

Want to reach out to her personally? Email her at Jonquel@jonquel.com. And, don’t forget to follow her on: 

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