Visual Artist Grace Lynne Got Here By Putting Black Women First In Her Craft

"We've all heard of the strong Black woman archetype, and I think so many of us are tired of this type of imagery."

How She Got Here

In xoNecole's "How She Got Here", we uncover the journey of fearless, ambitious women at the top of their game with unconventional not-so-everyday careers. Instead of asking them about their careers, xoNecole dissects the hardships, rejections and nontraditional roads travelled by these women to create the positions they have today.

While Grace Lynne Haynes may be the 28-year-old painter behind the scenes, her artwork surely isn't. We're willing to bet that your favorite New Yorker covers starring "flat female figures in a single line," as described by Elle.com, have been curated by the Los Angeles native herself. "I find that Black women are leaning towards more diverse representations. We've all heard of the strong Black woman archetype, and I think so many of us are tired of this type of imagery," Haynes told xoNecole about the evolution of artistic portrayal of Black women, especially during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I know so many Black women who crave representation that showcases other attributes to our womanhood such as our nurturing side, the way we have kinship with one another and our vulnerability which is often left unprotected. I see more of these presentations through various art films such as television, social media and photography. Could there be a more diverse and nuanced representation? Of course, but we have come a long way."

Though there is no traditional route or rulebook to becoming an artist, Grace Lynne acknowledges her journey as one that she has learned from to become the woman in the creative spaces that she is today. "I got here simply through hard work, sacrifice, and faith in God," the Art Center College of Design graduate told xoNecole. "Stepping into my artistic identity was a spiritual decision, and when you are connected to your creative spirit, it will guide you on where to go and whom to go to."

For this installment of "How She Got Here", xoNecole spoke with Grace Lynne about the spiritual journey that led her to her artistry, getting rejected from her top choice graduate school and the lessons she's learned along the way of her journey as an artist:


Courtesy of Grace Lynne

Nick Romanenko

At the beginning of our interview, Haynes quoted singer-songwriter and activist Nina Simone to best describe who she is as an artist and why she does what she does: "An artist's duty is to reflect the time." "I firmly believe that an artist shows what society has the potential to be, or reflects the reality of society to its audience," she said as she defined her purpose.

Grace Lynne Haynes always knew that she had a keen interest in art from a young age, but stopped drawing during her teenage years because she felt "discouraged and didn't see the purpose." It wasn't until her early 20s when she began to sit with her purpose and passion for art and strategically shape her future around happiness and her pursuit of it. After exploring art through community art classes and Tumblr blogging, Haynes had a spiritual moment of realization and tapped into the new artistic waves of her brain.

"Colors were brighter, scents were stronger and it was as if my life experience overall was enhanced and much more visible. Since then, I made a commitment to dedicate my life to art making. This wasn't just a practical decision, it was spiritual. This made the journey seamless and everflowing, because I was in my purpose and I was willing to do the hard work."

When Haynes decided to take her passion and transform it into a career, she started as a commercial illustrator and designer - but admittedly had much apprehension about the flow of money. "Coming from a low-income background, I knew I wanted to pursue a creative career but was afraid of the income trajectory. I figured commercial art was a way to be creative and bring in consistent income." Throughout her undergraduate career she had various jobs throughout her career path that both generated income and drive for her passion, including painting for a denim company, freelance commissioning for theatre companies, teaching art classes, and working as a Communications Manager for a non-profit. "Transitioning into the gallery world so soon was a complete surprise. I always say the gallery world chose me, not the other way around. I always painted as a hobby, and showcased my works online. Eventually my hobby started to garner more attention than my commercial art and I was able to become a full-time artist," Haynes revealed to xoNecole.

Above all things, her confidence in her talent and artistic abilities is a key component in who Grace Lynne Haynes is today. "If I'm not confident, then my creativity lacks and I'm not motivated to be ambitious. Even at the very early stages of my career, I've always been super confident in my work," she said. "I would apply for top notch residencies, art programs and scholarships even though my work was still in the development stages. My applications and artist statements were always confident, and this led me to Kehinde Wiley's Black Rock Senegal Residency which completely changed my life and career."


Nick Romanenko


Unfortunately, during the coronavirus, like most creatives, Haynes had to readjust and turn lemons into lemonade. "Each day looks different, especially because of COVID and I am also in graduate school," said the current Rutgers University student about her day-to-day routine as an artist. "On a typical weekday, I have class in the morning, and I head to my art studio right after. Some days instead of going to the studio I'll read a book that is related to my art thesis. The book I am currently reading is Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell. Some days, with all of the heaviness in the world, I don't feel inspired to create so I'll do research or sketch to take the pressure off."

When it comes to the actual painting, Haynes prefers to sketch before hitting the brushes and toy around with compositions and colors. "For the pose, sometimes I'll have a friend pose for me or will do a few poses myself for visual reference. After a bit of experimentation, I begin to paint on the actual canvas itself."

"The majority of my ideas come from an accumulation of imagery and experiences I have collected within my subconscious or on my laptop. In my work, I like to use color as a verb, as a form of action. I'm very interested in the colors that we choose to wear and surround ourselves with and how that shapes our environment."

Similar to her creative process, the journey of being an artist - a Black female artist at that - is no cake walk, but Haynes has mastered the art of riding the wave and learning to go with the flow.


Nick Romanenko


When you trust the process, you'd be surprised at the outcome and where life can lead you. Who would've thought that this would have led Grace Lynne Haynes to land her acclaimed interpretation of Sojourner Truth on the cover of The New Yorker to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment. She described the major placement as "the most thrilling experience," especially during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. "So many people were supporting Black artists by reposting and sharing our artworks. I received about 8,000 new followers in less than two weeks, which led to my work attracting the attention of VOGUE and eventually The New Yorker. They reached out about the opportunity to submit sketches to celebrate the '100th Anniversary of Women's Rights'. I had two days to make the painting, and stayed up all night to finish the final product. It was all worth it in the end and I'd do it all over again."

As an advocate for Black women through her work, and as she said in a CNN interview, Grace Lynne takes it upon herself to "explore what it means to be a Black woman in 2020" in her artwork.

"In my work, I strive to think about how being both a millennial and a Black woman have shaped my perspective on womanhood. I think this is an era where Black women are finally getting opportunities to pursue freedom. We are able to have flourishing careers, pursue our passion and be more selective about who we choose to partner with."

"There are so many sacred havens, especially online, of Black women coming together and giving tips on how to survive and thrive in this world with what has been given to us. I strive to showcase Black women in their own sacred spaces and interiors," she continued to tell xoNecole. "The way we choose to decorate these interiors, and the colors we choose to showcase all are representative of our individual identities. I strive to showcase this in my work. "


Nick Romanenko

5 Lessons We Learned From Grace Lynne's Career Journey

Don’t Think, Just Do

"One of the major challenges is the pressure to make art strictly for capital gain. It's important that the work comes from the heart, and not to think too much about how it fits into the 'art market' or if it will sell. Thinking about this waters down my art process, and creates an anxious art process. Fortunately, I am now at a place to fully explore my creativity without any bounds. I think every artist should do check-ins with their work to make sure the market isn't swaying their decision on what to create."

Patience Is Key

"I've never had a moment where I wanted to give up or change career paths. Even through intense struggle and rejection, I knew that this is all part of the journey. I've had moments where I thought, is the hard work really worth it? But I realized sometimes it takes a few years for the world to notice the work. Paintings that I created over four years ago are finally getting recognition. Sometimes it's dependent on timing."

Learning The Difference Between Loneliness & Being Alone

"I've learned that success is great, but it doesn't mean much if you have no one to celebrate it with. I used to isolate myself when creating and building my career. When things began to pick up, I looked around and realized I wasn't too happy with my social life and relationships that I was building. My mental health was not at its best either, and it was affecting my interactions with people. I took time to slow down and focus on my personal life, and ensure that I had a stable and supportive community around me. It's so important to not neglect your mental health, because success can feel empty if you don't have a well-rounded life. Career success isn't the only type of success, and shouldn't be the only focus in your life. Balance is essential for a more well-rounded type of success."

Start From The Bottom & You’ll Get Here

"Do the work, there is no way out of it. We all have to pay our dues. In the beginning, you'll have to deal with the rejection letters, working to build others careers, and doing jobs that you aren't passionate about. This is part of the process, and it's a season we all have to cope with. Remember everyone has a different timeline, and sometimes your career might blossom at a different pace than your peers and this is OK. Also don't let your ego get in the way of great opportunities for fear of rejection. I know so many artists that don't apply for opportunities because they hate the idea of being rejected. Develop a healthy detachment from your work to be able to not take everything personally, and look at your work outside of yourself."

No Regrets, Just Lessons Learned

"I've made many mistakes in my career and will continue to do so because I am human. It is all a part of the journey, that is how you learn and grow. I've been fired from certain positions, missed deadlines and opportunities, and miscommunicated. I can't turn back or redo anything so I simply look forward knowing that I am not perfect and I am a young artist still figuring out her way."

For more information on Grace Lynne, follow her on Instagram and check out her official website.

Featured image courtesy of Nick Romanenko

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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