Geneva B. brings joy to the page

POWER OF POSITIVITY: Illustrator Geneva B. says one of her main goals as an artist is to bring joy to those who see her work. Photo by Thomas Calder

Video games and fashion design have been a steady source of inspiration for local artist and digital illustrator Geneva B. But for the 24-year-old creator, the first true impulse to sketch originated from a sibling rivalry. “My sister drew better horses than I did,” she says. “I wanted to draw better than her.”

On the surface, the competitive spirit of Geneva’s youth appears to have receded. The soft-spoken artist says one of the main missions of her work is to bring joy to those who view it. “There’s a lot of stuff going on [in the world] right now,” she says. “I just want to make somebody smile.”

But with the recent publication of her book Tournesol, it’s clear Geneva’s ambitious nature hasn’t completely dissipated. If anything, it has been redirected inward. The book, which is available for purchase at ZaPow Gallery, 150 Coxe Ave., chronicles the last five years of Geneva’s creative endeavors, offering a sample of the series she’s developed, as well as a look at her artistic process.

Through this documentation, readers catch a glimpse of an artist in competition with herself. She chronicles the multiple stages that go into creating a single digital image, her primary medium. Various versions of the same scene are included on a given page, with commentary explaining what each frame represents.

Young female characters fill the pages of Tournesol. In “Fruits,” a series of illustrations place characters in everyday activities — roller skating, lounging and searching the web — within the confines of various produce.  Other works are more futuristic, with a nod to video games such as “Sonic the Hedgehog.” Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge Mountains appear in a handful of Geneva’s illustrations, featured either as part of the actual background or blended in more creative ways, merging the character with the landscape.

Beyond an exploration of the illustrative process, Geneva also offers advice that is applicable to any creative endeavor, such as the necessity of distancing oneself from a given project in order to come back to it with a pair of fresh, critical eyes. “Some things are better in your mind, but when you actually draw it or put it on paper, it just doesn’t work out,” she says. “But I keep trying. I actually redraw a lot of my pictures, like a year later, to see if I can improve on [them].”

Born and raised in Winston-Salem, Geneva says money was always tight growing up. Still, she credits her parents for their untiring support of her goals. She remembers a high school, arts-related field trip to New York City. “I knew we didn’t quite have the funds for me to go, but my parents somehow managed to get me there,” she says.

A self-taught designer and illustrator, Geneva relocated to Western North Carolina in 2012 after landing a job at a local design company. She spent her first four years living and working in Asheville, a city she describes as “the only place so far, where my art feels like it belongs. … I don’t know why; it’s just a feeling I have.”

Geneva’s illustrations have found their way beyond this region. In 2016, she gave up her full-time design job to pursue a career as a freelance illustrator. Since that time, she has created covers and illustrated children’s books for a number of publishing houses, including Disney Publishing Worldwide and Simon & Schuster.

Though the artist says she has “no earthly idea” how the publishers found her work, she does have a strong online presence. Her Instagram account, @gdbee, boasts nearly 80,000 followers. There, she regularly posts new artwork, such as the results of a recent challenge to depict each month’s birthstone in figurative form (including fun asides: The emerald character for May likes Venus’ flytraps; June’s pearl “looks superkind”). Most posts attract at least 5,000 likes, giving a hint of Geneva’s visibility.

Along with her freelance work, Geneva is currently revisiting previous mediums, including acrylic and oil pastels. She is also in the early stages of writing her own children’s book.

But no matter the medium, her goal is to accentuate the positive moments in life, regardless of the obstacles that inevitably arise. “I remember, about a year ago, I was freaking out, thinking, ‘I’m not good enough to do anything; I’m never going to get hired for anything,’” she says.

But gradually, as the publishing houses started finding her work through her social media accounts, Geneva says she came to a realization. “Things take time,” she says. “They just take time. Don’t try to rush yourself. Don’t rush the work. Don’t expect results right away. Good things come to those who wait.”

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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