Editor’s note: This post is a continuation of our series How I Got That Gig, where craft industry professionals tell us the story behind a great commission, job, freelance opportunity, or contract. In this installment, artist April Sunami explains how she got the opportunity to design a t-shirt for retailer Lane Bryant.
Finished image for the Lane Bryan T-shirts (the gold was later omitted digitally). Design is exclusive to Lane Bryant.
My name is April Sunami. I am a visual artist based in Columbus, Ohio, who was recently commissioned to create the art for a shirt by Lane Bryant, a national clothing retailer. It has been both thrilling and surreal to see my work take on a life beyond canvases and walls.
I have been a full-time professional artist for well over a decade and my muse has been depicting Black women as powerful, contemplative, complex people with agency. I typically paint the face and figure with acrylics, but render the hair and the background with a variety of mixed media.
April Sunami is an award-winning visual artist primarily focusing on mixed-media painting and installation.
Starting in the summer of 2020 I moved from canvases in galleries to walls in public spaces, as I took on a number of highly visible murals. Although I had been interested in murals for a long time, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice meant that my work and themes had a new resonance.
I was dedicated to sharing my message of the worth and value of Black lives with a larger audience, and a number of people reached out to amplify my voice.
One unexpected connection was with Lane Bryant. I had been taking on some of my most ambitious projects and posting them to social media. During this time I was contacted by a marketing and social media associate via Instagram. She asked me if I could bring the spirit of my murals and paintings to a shirt.
Preliminary sketches for the Lane Bryan shirt.
Whenever I am asked to create an image for something it is always my practice to create at least three different versions for my patrons to choose from. For Lane Bryant I came up with several quick sketches and their team picked one for me to turn into a finished design. I don’t have a background in illustration or graphic design, so it was fun to stretch myself and utilize a completely different way of thinking about my artwork. With this project I had to consider how my subject could translate into something that could be reproduced on merchandise. Normally my work involves oil, acrylic, glass, paper collage and a wide variety of other materials, but for this project I drafted the design in ink.
Another element that came straight from my work over the summer was quotes from thinkers and leaders of the civil right era. Like many other artists, I looked to them to help bring this moment of racial reckoning into contemporary context. For this project, I didn’t want to use a specific quote, but text seemed an appropriate tool to bring this artwork into focus and make it accessible.
I chose words that came to mind whenever I thought about the strong and amazing women in my family –my mother, aunts, sisters, and mother-in-law –and the traits they possess.
If I could identify this in the women that I know, then everyone else could relate. I chose the words powerful, warrior, nurturer, protector, blessed, survivor, loved, sister and daughter.
Left: Preliminary sketch. Right: Mock up of the image on fabric before mass printing of the T-shirts. Design is exclusive to Lane Bryant.
Once I was finished with the image I sent over a high-resolution scan of the design. Lane Bryan’s team of graphic designers who cleaned up the lines and converted my image into a workable format for printing. A couple of months later I saw the mock-up for the design, and after a few more weeks, I received a t-shirt in the mail. Elation doesn’t describe how cool it is to see your work on a national retailer’s website. This was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot from this process. I would definitely take on more projects with Lane Bryant, and other companies that are willing to be respectful of my message and values.
April Sunami is an award-winning visual artist primarily focusing on mixed-media painting and installation. Sunami’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at the National Theatre in Accra, Ghana, and during the Cuba Biennale in Mantanzas, Cuba. Her work has been featured in various juried group exhibits, galleries and museums including the Columbus Museum of Art, the National African American Museum and Cultural Center and a solo exhibit at the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her work is also represented in private, corporate and public collections throughout the United States.