Category Archives: Graphic Design

Q is for…


Selections from Gee's Bend artisans.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a quilt is worth a thousand stories. The practice of quilting has been an important folk art for African Americans since before slavery ended. These story quilts were a way to tell narrative and record histories and employed weaving and textile techniques many blacks had retained from their African roots. These intricate tapestries were often created for slave owner’s homes. Quilting emerged as a known African American art form in the antebellum era influenced by traditional black art forms including: basket weaving, woodcarving, painting, pottery, and quilting. I find that interesting as all of these techniques are typically used to create everyday objects of common use. It reminds us that there is beauty in the things we see everyday and their very creation has a story to tell.

Harriet Powers Bible Quilt.

Since early quilts were often requested by whites using their own fabrics, the true art is in the way they were put together. Especially in the South, many slave women were trained in textile weaving. This was ironic, considering that in many African countries, weaving was a male dominated field. Much of our history of these practices are only known for biographies and first hand narratives remaining from this history and the skills that were passed down from generation to generation both orally and in the transfer of techniques. One of the few examples from this period that is Harriet Power’s Bible Quilt which can be viewed at the Smithsonian Institute. Powers was born into slavery in Georgia, and has been acknowledged for creating the best examples of 19th century quilting. Power’s style was applique and included panels depicting scenes that tell a story.  Some historians also believe slaves hid messages in quilt blocks to support the underground railroad.  Thus these symbols and stories had a shared message and served as a means of communication.

Quilt that employs the "string quilt" method using a variety of fabrics.

After Emancipation, many free black women found domestic work. Here the practice of quilting continued for practical reasons to create fabric coverings and reuse and re-purpose scraps around the house from garments, feed bags, and other textiles. This practice was called “string quilts” with various strips of fabrics being sewn together to make an intricate pattern. Few examples of this style remain from the period because they were in heavy use. Another technique for quilting is the pine burr quilt. In this method, overlapping triangles are used to create a 3D effect in a radiating pattern. This style was considered to be masterpiece style like applique quilts.

The women of Gee's Bend hard at work.

The Great Migration opened up career opportunities and quilting became more of a recreational activity for black women, especially in retirement. It became an activity that was celebrated in social organizations, church groups, and senior centers. This shift from necessity to pleasure has fostered in a new found love for the art form. Looking at the Gee’s Bend collective, this group of women quilt for their love of the production of their elaborate art pieces and the preservation of a historical technique. The Gee’s Bend quilters have established a community and organization around their shared passion and have reintroduced the current generation to the beauty of quilting.

Recent trends have included the deliberate inclusion of African imagery, fabrics, and influences to reference back to our ancestry. There is much debate over whether or not there is a unique style to African American quilting that is similar or stems from textile patterns and styles from Africa. This theory becomes difficult to prove as there are few surviving examples of the work. Also, since quilting techniques were often shared across races in the South, it is not easy to determine the race of a quilter if their piece is found. Still the tradition remains in modern times as a nostalgic reminder of our past. Modern black artists like Charlotte Lewis, Erika Rae Allen, Chris Clark, Willie Birch, Donnette Cooper, Roland Freeman, and Faith Ringgold have all been influenced in their own work by the tradition of quilting and the techniques it employs.

Praise by Chris Clark.

Regardless, quilting still represents a period of our history as blacks and physical creations that came of this practice that reflect a level of craftsmanship and artistry that can be traced back to our early history in America. What I see most visible from the art of quilting is a physical collage that tells a story not just in its pattern and image but in the craft used in its production. I see the results of its strong influence daily in my travels through black neighborhoods, from accessories and garments that use quilted patterns and African fabrics to the intricate murals and panels we paint on buildings and walls. I am sure the art of quilting will be something we still talk about years from now, because ingrained in black culture is the creative practice of finding new and artistic ways to share our stories with the world.

Images from Faith Ringgold's Tar Baby.



O is for…


In 2010, the design world celebrated the addition of Eddie Opara as a partner at Pentgram, the worlds largest design consulting firm. Spanning three countries across four offices, the company literally design everything. Even more impressive is that Opara is the only partner of African descent at the prestigious design company. Opara was born in London and studied graphic design at the London College of Printing, going on to get his MFA from Yale University.

Logo Opara designed for SORG.

Opara started his career at Art Technology Group (ATG), moving to Imaginary Forces, and eventually went on to head his own studio, The Map Office. His specialties are the design of brand identities, publications, exhibitions, user interfaces, environments, software, and installations. Opara employs many different types of media in his creations. Starting out more focused on print design, Opara learned web design, programming, and animation, expanding his breadth of work.

Example of publciation Opara designed.

Since joining the legend-wait for it-dary, Pentagram, Opara was instrumental in making their website more accessible and showcasing the firm’s work. It uses a content management system, MIG, designed by Opara himself that is customizable. The system is intricate, allowing visitors to sort out projects by a number of parameters to get the results they desire. This is just one small example of how his creative genius affects everyday interactions.

Screenshot of MIG in action.

One word many design publications have associated with Opara’s work is wizard. His manner of bringing mediums together to create multi-faceted readings in all of his projects. This is evident in one of MAP’s most well known projects, STEALTH, which was done for the Studio Museum of Harlem. The project had many layers, both cultural and visual. Shaped like a stealth bomber plane, the project makes reference to a line from Ralph Waldo Ellison’s, Invisible Man, alluding to the way African-Americans are treated in American society. At the same time, the aircraft it is based on is a paradox, expected to operate invisibly, but has such a well designed and eye capturing shape you want to watch it. Stealth is made out of paper, and can fold out to be a wall covering, but is viewed as an optical illusion. The text that wraps its surface is best read from far away, but becomes muddled up close, and once unfolded the patterns leads the eyes to believe the wall is moving. This one project shows the complex level of thought Opara pays to all his work.

Opara's Stealth project in its many forms.

His other work is just as impressive, so be sure to continue to check Pentagram’s website (content changes daily) to see Opara’s other magic. With the design field in an ever state of flux, only the future knows what Eddie Opara will do next.




G is for…


Page from Graham's Vampirella comic.

Usually when one hears of blacks in comics, Storm, the Nubian member of the famous X- Men series or Aaron McGruder immediately come to mind. What most people don’t know is that there were creative black minds working behind the scenes for years. Billy Graham was one of these influential artists, whose characters first became popular in the 1960s.

Graham was working at Warren comics where he spent some time as art director and contributed to the risque horror series, Vampirella. He was also picked up on some strips at EERIE magazine. In the early 70s, Graham moved to Marvel Comics, where he helped create the character Luke Cage. During his tenure at Marvel, he also worked with Don McGregor on a volume in the Black Panther series, Jungle Action, one of the most read appearances of the character ever.. One story line, Panther’s Rage is heralded by many comic aficionados as the best representation of that character ever. For the comic illiterate, Black Panther was the first black superhero that was conceptualized by someone within the Diaspora.

Black Panther in 1975.

In the 1980s he worked with McGregor again in the conceptualization of the Sabre comic at Eclipse Comics, and worked on many Marvel magazine ventures and comic guides. His artwork is often appreciated for the realistic features in his characters proportions and figures and detail in relaying their facial expression. The rough quality of his lines create a dynamic movement on the page and a raw feel that is not easily rendered. After his successful career, Graham passed in 1999, but his characters and images will forever live on.

Jungle Action illustrated by Billy Graham.

F is for…


The Furture

FUTURA (2000)

A is for…

We at All Black Everything decided to wait until February to properly kick off the year in celebration of Black History Month.  Stay tuned every day this month for the ABCs of Black Design.  Starting our alphabet soup of inspiring artists and creative minds is graphic designer, CEY ADAMS.

We often forget about the design of many of the iconic images and items we handle on a daily basis, not understanding the thought, planning, and artistry that goes into making them beautiful, simply, and memorable. That’s where graphic designer Cey Adams comes in, who has been designing logos, album covers, and music artists branding since Hip Hop was still wet behind the ears. He started as a known New York City graffiti, traveling in the same circle as Basquiat. After earning a degree in painting from SVA he landed a gig with Rush artist management. In 1984 he became art director at Def Jam and started his design company, the Drawing Board.

He was in charge of setting the aesthetic tone and creating album and performer print identities for many noted artists such as Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and Jay-Z. Adams then went on to create corporate ideas for Sean Comb’s and his restaurant franchise and the soundtrack packaging for Belly, Rush Hour and Next Friday.

Some of Adam's iconic album and concert direction.

The Drawing Board closed in 1999, allowing Cey to work on corporate advertising campaigns for Nike, HBO, Coca-Colo, and famed NYC radio station Hot 97. He also co-designed the hip hop wing of the Rock and Roll museum in Seattle. In 2003, he was hired by Dave Chapelle to create the logo for his new sketch comedy show, Chapelle’s Show. Recently, he has worked on the album designs, tour photography, stage wardrobe, and tour merchandising for acts like Maroon 5, the Foo Fighters, Enimem, Stevie Nicks, and the Beastie Boys. Throughout his career, Cey Adams has brought his unique urban stylings and strong design aesthetic to making some of the most iconic images of the hip hop generation.  Check out his website for more inspiration!

Adam's logo is now a New York institution.

All Black Everything: Holiday Gift Guide

With the holiday season quickly approaching, we here at All Black Everything thought we’d offer up some fun suggestions for the artist or designer in your life, with our very own Africana twist.  2011 was a great year for the black creative mind and created some wonderful books, exhibits, shows, albums, and products. Sure to bring a smile to all!


African Metropolitan Architecture by  David Adjaye| $100   ISBN # 978-0847837168

This is the latest book from the world renown architect.  It documents contemporary African architecture and cityscape in vibrant photographs.  The book was personal project for the author/designer, who spent the last decade visiting and documenting all the major cities in Africa, fifty-three in total.  The collection comes in 7 volumes and is sure to be hit with the photographer, urban planner, or designer in your life.

available here

  One Day It’ll All Make Sense by Common and Adam Bradley| $25  ISBN # 978-1451625875

This is the memoir of the actor and emcee Common aka Rashid Lynn.  It chronicles his life from his childhood on the Southside of Chicago to  his current life of premieres, movie sets, and performance.  Known for his conscious hip hop style, the book provides a great introspective into the mind of the artist.  This is Common’s first book for adults.  Perfect gift for anyone who is a lover of music or film.

available here

   The Legends of Hip Hop by Justin Bua| $34.99   ISBN #978-0061854972

Justin Bua is better known for his vibrant art pieces utilizing his unique urban look.  This book takes his genius and goes one step further, cataloging the great masters of this musical art. It profile fifty hip hop icons, each with a biography and a portrait completed in Bua’s iconic style.  If you know any true fan of hip hop, graffiti, or street art, this book will be a great addition to their coffee table.

available here

New African Fashion by Helen Jennings| $35    ISBN # 978-3791345796

From the editor of ARISE Magazine, the premiere publication in the world of African fashion come New African Fashion.  The book serves as a guide to honor the new wave of high fashion designers coming out of the country.  It covers the history of African fashion and how it has influenced the modern designer, highlighting the current artists ripping the runways and pages of the fashion world.  The book includes lines and products that are African inspired and African made.

available here

  200 Something by Tiffany Millner| $10    ISBN # 978-0615448947

Tiffany Millner is a registered architect currently practicing in Philadelphia.  The book is a collage of memoir, journal, and inspiration; chronicling the authors thoughts and emotions on her career path.  The title references the number of African American female architects practicing in the United States.  This is a great gift for the architect, artist, or feminist who is finding her voice. This is Millner’s first book.

available here


   Undun– The Roots| $12

This is the latest release from perennial favorites the Roots.  As the first conceptual album from the alternative rap band, undun is the fictional narrative of Redford Stephens, a hustler.  The story chronicles Stephens’ life in reverse from his ultimate demise to his birth navigating themes of morality and vitality.  True to form, it is a sonic vacation, highlighting the many musical talents in the group.  This is the Roots 11th studio album.

available here

   The Dreamer, The Believer– Common| $12

Set for a December 20, 2011 release, Common’s ninth album arrives just in time for the holidays.  Produced and c0-written by hailed producer No I.D. The first single from the album, Ghetto Dreams, featued Nas and was released during the summer of 2011.  In interviews Common has said this album was inspired by his life.  Fans can look forward to appearance by Maya Angelou and crooner John Legend.  Dates for the album’s tour have recently been released.

available here

  Chamber Music Society– Esperanza Spalding|$14

For those who haven’t heard of Esperenza Spalding, your time has come.  The  27 year old musician made headlines in 2011 when she won for Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards, becoming the first Jazz artist to win the prestigious honor.  Her impressive musicianship is expertly performed across an array of instruments, her music a modern myriad of jazz and neo- soul with influences from classical and Latin music.

available here

   Break of Dawn– Goapele| $9.99

R&B songstress Goapele’s latest album has been two years in the making.  The fourth release from the singer marks her return to the music scene after a 5 year hiatus.  Look to expect a more grown up sound, with the content of this record conveying a much more seductive and suggestive vibe.  Reflected by the cover art, Goapele is not holding anything back this time around and its sure to move all who listen.

available here

  The Dreamer– Etta James| $10.99

The latest studio production from the icon will also be her last.  In the twilight of her over 50 year career, the blues singer delivers more of her moody, soulful sounds.  The collection of covers represents a ride array of genres and eras of music, showing that at 73, James is still up on the times.  One highlight on the album, is James’ rendition of Otis Reading’s “Ciggarettes and Coffee” guaranteed to make you sink into the depths of your own emotions along with her.

available here


  The Black Power Mixtape; MPI Home Video| $25

This documentary was a hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.  The film is and in depth look at the evolution of the black revolutionary movement within the black community.  The footage was by Swedish filmmakers and had been lost for year, beautiful edited by Swedish director, Goran Olsson.  Look forward to video featuring Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael, and Eldrige Cleaver.  The movie also features commentary from many black icons.

available here

   Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest; Sony Pictures Classic| $30.99

This film is a portrait of one of the most famous rap groups in history.  Directed by Michael Rapaport, the documentary features interviews with all of the members of Tribe Called Quest.  Following the group during their 2008 reunion tour, giving a behind the scenes look at the group dynamics and journey during the year.   The documentary is an in your face and realistic portrait of the group members showing their progression as artists and ultimate differences.

available here

  Hidden Colors: The Untold History of People of Aboriginal, Moor, and African Descent; King Flex Entertainment| $30

This informative documentary looks at the history of the African Diaspora around the world.  An often overlooked and under told story of people of Africa descent in regions like Asia and Europe.  Featuring commentary and interviews by many of the premiere scholars voices in black studies, this dvd is the perfect gift for the suppressed revolutionary, history buff, or great thinker.  It is sure to foster strong sentiments of black pride and open eyes to some rarely shared information.

available here

   Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child; New Video Group| $30

An homage to the great artiste, The Radiant Child features a real look at the gone to soon Basquiat.  The documentary provides an introspective into his radical life as well as the New York art scent of 1980s. Its authenticity comes from the lost footage of Basquiat covering all aspects of his life.  The film moves chronologically, so you see his evolution as both a creator and a man, commemorating his short life.  Its has this raw, pure energy, allowing viewers to really see the legend’s human side.  This dvd is sure to  inspire the inner artist in us all.

available here

   Mooz-Lum; Vivendi| $20

This indie fan favorite got a lot of press when its marketing went viral in the past year.  Written by new director, Qasim Basir and produced by Danny Glover, the story follows a college bound young man, Tariq, who has been raised as a strict muslim in the time around 9-11.  Starring Evan Ross, in a critically applauded role as the title character.  It provides an interesting perspective on the often misunderstood religion.  The film was the winner at the 2010 Urbanworld Film Festival.

available here


   FELA! The Musical National Tour| dates and prices vary

After an exciting year on Broadway, the acclaimed musical is now headed to a city near you!  The show’s success led to a London production and Tony wins for Best Choreography, Best Costume Design for a Musical, and Best Sound Design for a Musical.  The show follows the life of activist and performer Fela Kuti  in 1977 when the Nigerian government was trying to cease his performances.

available here

  Alvin Ailey Contemporary Dance Theater National Tour| dates and prices vary

The modern dance company, known for its groundbreaking choreography, is currently in its 53rd season.   The 2011-12 season marks the first year for new Artistic Director, Robert Battle.  Features include 6 new pieces, as well as fan favorites like Revelations and Night Creatures.  Sparking a new era for the company, it is sure to provide something new for seasoned Ailey supporters and impress those new to the amazing talents

available here

  Pariah, Focus Film Features| dates and prices vary

This contemporary drama premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and is slated for its US release on December 28, 2011.  It was awarded for its Excellence in Cinematography at the festival.  The film is an extension of a 2007 short film by the writer/director Dee Rees and was executive produced by Spike Lee.  The plot follows Alike, a 17 year old Brooklyn teen as she embraces her sexual identity as a lesbian.  The lead actress, Adepero Oyure was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.  The film also Best Independent Film and Best Breakthrough Performance for Oyure at the African-American Film Critics Association

available here

   Kinyarwanda| dates and prices vary

Also premiering this year at Sundance was Kinyarwanda, the first film from Alrick Brown.  The film one the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award.  Based on the true accounts of muslims in Rwanda during 1994 genocide, the films tells the story of hope and human compassion during that time.  Weaving six stories together, the movie gives a more comprehensive and real narrative of the lives of many Rwandan’s during that tragic time in their history.

available here

Essence Festival 2012 Weekend Passes; July 6th- 8th, New Orleans, LA| $120- 750

Every summer, music fans flock to the Big Easy for one of the largest black musical festivals in the United States.  With sessions, events, and parties for all, it is well worth the vacation days to check it out.  This year Weekend passes went on sale before the Christmas Rush, making them the perfect gift for a romantic getaway, reunion with old friends, or fun loving girls weekend trip.

available here


   Beats Colors by Dr. Dre| $350

The ever popular headphones are now available in an array of colors, so you can have a pair of Beats to match every outfit.  The SOLO model features high-definition and noise canceling audio clarity.  Its super deep bass make it perfect for catching every nuance of a great hip- hop meat, the trance inducing baselines of a complex jazz composition, or the electronic hype of a dance beat.

available here

  Scratch Art Artists Trading Cards by Scratch- Art| $7

Keep up with the latest trends by giving the gift of these artist trading cards.  Traded like baseball cards, they came out of the mail art movement.  Today they are wallet sized pieces of extraordinary art.  Combined with the elementary fun of scratch art, this activity provides an opportune moment for revisiting your inner child.

available here

    Lami Li Traveler’s Journals| $28- 43

These colorful journals are ideal for the writer, sketcher, poet, traveler in us all.  Handmade in Nepal from the bark of the Lokta tree, these eco-friendly journals help support rural economic development in the country.  Great for those who strive to live more sustainably or have an altruistic streak focused on social justice.  They include 150 bound pages of handmade paper that are acid free  and perfect for archival ink.

available here

   Obama 2012 Holiday Ornament|$40

Show that you are in for the long haul with your support of the 44th President in his re-election campaign with this festive Holiday ornament.   The rhodium features the names of the President and Vice Pres in an intricate design.   Find this and more at the Obama 2012 store to display your political stance in style.

available here

Charter Membership to the National Museum of African American History and Culture| $25- 1000

Slated for it 2015 opening, the much anticipated addition to the Smithsonian campus and National Mall is being designed by some of the world’s premiere black architects.  Help it become a reality by contributing to the campaign to raise the $250 million needed to build by becoming a Charter Member.  For your efforts, you get your name listed on the electronic wall at the museum and to say you contributed to a piece of history.

available here

Hope this extensive list has you rethinking some of your last minute gift ideas for that creative presence in your life!  From the ABE Staff, we would like to wish all of our readers and their families a Happy Holidays… we look forward to bringing you exciting new content and features next year!