Gem City Style: February 2024
An interview with artist Precious Thompson
I recently sat down with local artist, muralist, and mental health advocate Precious Thompson to talk about artistic influences, inspiration, and motivations.
Jessica Hunter (JH): Precious tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got introduced to the art world.
Precious Thompson (PT): I've always dabbled, since I was a child. I think the pivotal moment for me, however, was getting my first sketchbook at school in sixth grade. I really struggled that year and art was my release. I spent so much time reading webcomics on DeviantArt and looking at tutorials — I dreamed of illustrating comic books when I got older. I've never really had any classical training, but I started assisting with murals a few years ago. For my first mural, I worked under Mwanel Pierre-Louis and he taught me a lot. This opportunity was thanks to DaVona Pacley; she really pushed me to take that next step in 2021. Now I'm here! So exciting!
JH: You designed the cover for this issue of the Erie Reader. It is stunning and shares a beautiful message. What was your inspiration behind the design for this specific piece?
PT: Portraying Black women as soft, cozy, feminine, classical. This is a common theme in my work. Historically, these words have not been associated with Black women. In honor of Black History Month and Valentine's Day, I was inspired to make a very pink, sweet piece about self-love and self-care. I always see those little cozy illustrations of women wrapped in blankets, reading books, drinking coffee — but they're never Black women. I saw something I thought the world needed and I made it. Representation is so important. I know how good it feels to see myself in art, in video game characters, in government, etc. I want to help other women like me feel that way too.
Artist Precious Thompson stands before a mural she designed and executed adorning the building at 10/20 Collective.
Photo: Jessica Hunter
JH: We have seen your artwork displayed throughout the city of Erie. What is the process like creating these large scale murals?
PT: Like I said before, I've assisted on a few murals. I've worked with Mwanel, Nicole Salgar, Ana Balcázar — all extremely talented and supportive. And all of their processes were very different. So, I took what I learned and I made it my own. After talking with the client about what they want, I usually am hit with a bunch of ideas. I often consult my friends and family (even if I'm just talking at them, haha) to try and solidify an idea. I illustrate digitally, right on my iPad mini. I use Procreate — a really awesome app. I try to keep in mind the space I am painting because that can really affect the layout. Flexibility is important — sometimes I get out there and start painting and a color I chose just doesn't look right and things need to change. Depending on complexity, size, subject matter, I will sometimes use a projector to create an outline on the wall. I'll just project my digital illustration right on the wall and do some sketching with a small paint brush. Prepping the wall is an important part, especially on interior murals. Taping, removing outlet covers, stuff like that. Other than all that, it's just like painting a canvas. Ya know, just a really big one. There are things like polytab, and I've attended a workshop on those but I have yet to try that method.
JH: Who are your biggest artistic influences? What motivates you to create?
PT: I really love pop art and comic book art. Fiona Staples illustrates the comic book series Saga and she is just incredible. The way she communicates through her work, it's so immersive. I'm thinking specifically of this scene she illustrated where a train was passing by a few characters having a conversation. I could hear the train, hear the characters yelling, feel the wind as the train passed — that's talent. I also follow a lot of artists on Instagram like Sydney Irvine (@sidthevisualkid), SSEBONG (@ssebong_rama), Teddi Parker (@teddiparkerart), and so many more. I appreciate different things about each of them — their technique, their characters, their style, their eye for color.
I'm really motivated by a desire to make people feel good. And sometimes to make them a little uncomfortable. I love seeing people smile and laugh at the art I create. I love portraying underrepresented ideas and people in ways they aren't usually imagined. I think there is a need for it. It's my niche.
JH: How do you think art is important to society?
PT: At the risk of sounding repetitive, here is the short answer: representation. And here is the long answer: rep-ruh-zen-TAY-shun. Haha!
But seriously, I think it's so important to expose people to different ideas and ways of life. Especially when it comes to Black women. There are some other themes I like to focus on, like menstrual health and women's sexuality. Things that are kind of taboo, but really shouldn't be. Art is important for so many reasons, but these are the reasons most important to me: dispelling stereotypes, representation, advocacy, destroying stigma — all to encourage a more accepting, loving, and inclusive world.
JH: If you could tell younger Precious anything you have learned along the way, what would you tell her?
PT: "Leave that boy alone!" Haha!
Ugh, there are so many things I would tell her if I could. But I also think it's good that I can't, and that she didn't know the things I know now. All of that — the experiences, the trial and error — she went through that so I can be the person I am now. And I'm happy there was a point in time where I didn't know all this stuff. I got to be a kid.
Jessica Hunter can be found at jessicahunterphotos.com