How She Got Here

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

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



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