Cymone Wilder is a local creative, lettering artist, and brand designer originally from central Illinois. She has probably one of the most chill vibes I have experienced in a long time. She is a true artist that is comfortable in her own skin and enjoys showcasing this through self-expression in her art of lettering and branding. When we sat down to chat, she just wrapped up a super dope BLM project for Megan Thee Stallion’s SNL Performance while knocking out amazing work as a brand designer with Smile Direct Club. This is Cymone’s Nashville story.
What brought you to Nashville 5 years ago?
I graduated from college in 2015 and I had an internship here the week after I graduated with She Reads Truth. When I came here, I loved it and never left.
Tell me about how you got into lettering and the branding space? It’s a really specific gift.
When I was in elementary school and junior high, I was always sketching letters, so the gift has always been there. Crazy enough, when I joined Instagram back when it was still pretty new, hand lettering was one of the crazes that took off on the app. I jumped on that ship and did this project where you letter something every day for a year and it took off from there. My following grew really quickly. My skill grew just because I was practicing every day and I really loved doing it. People were starting to reach out to me to do this kind of work, but that’s how I really figured out that I loved lettering. It’s a skill that lends really well to brands, so the majority of the work I do centers around that space.
Has Nashville played a role in your work and inspiration?
I think the cool thing about Nashville is its rich history. I’m sure you know better than I do, but in the last 10 years or so, it’s changed quite a bit with good changes and not so good changes. I grew up in predominantly white spaces and neighborhoods. So growing up, knowing my own history was not as important to me then because it wasn’t in my face all of the time. Coming to Nashville and seeing all of the history here at this age was great because it motivated me to learn even more. Seeing the Black community here has been something really important to me and to see how our community is being pushed out (through gentrification) has definitely influenced my work and why I do my work.
What is it that ignites creativity and passion for you when working on personal custom projects versus working on client projects?
When I started I think they were 2 different worlds entirely. My work was largely faith-based when I first started. Also, my clients were just my clients and included random coffee shops and small businesses. I think those 2 worlds are starting to diverge and I think people see it in my work. It’s always important for me to take on projects I’m passionate about or see that the client has a cause related to something that I can align with. I think as I’ve grown up since I’ve started, some of the things that were important to me have changed. I’m starting to move away from some of the faith-based work and focusing more on social justice issues. My client work and my personal work have started to diverge because I think you produce better work when you care about the cause. If I can take the things that I am passionate about and do that for my clients, I think you get better results that way.
You mentioned shifting away from faith-based work. What caused that shift toward focusing more on social justice?
I think the current climate was a major catalyst. I also feel like the shift was already kind of happening within me. I think the state of the American church right now has caused me to move away from it. I still practice my faith of course but the church body isn’t exactly something I align with right now. The shift probably started a few years ago during this new civil rights era where we’re seeing all of the issues unfold front and center. I can’t ignore it anymore and have it take a backseat in my life.
Do you feel like when clients approach you now, the requests are more in alignment with your personal work?
I definitely have noticed a change. When George Floyd died, my inbox was filled with emails from companies wanting to do Black Lives Matter material. And that’s great. I also think some of it before then was just because I was coming into loving my blackness. I was a bit apprehensive about including photos of myself on my site because companies tend to turn away from people of color when looking for outside work. Now, if someone is coming to me and my blackness was something that would’ve deterred them before, I don’t want to work with them. I am a Black woman and I love my blackness. I think my clients are starting to see that and it’s attracting people who align with my work. Especially now because there is an emphasis on elevating people of color. I will say in the 4 months or so, my projects have all been directly related to race.
I’m glad these companies are turning to people of color for this work, but I’m just a good designer. Hire me for all of your projects and not just your social justice projects.
Do you think authenticity as a whole plays a part in any creative or business owner’s success?
I think authenticity, for me, plays a major part and I think it’s a part of my personality. I am attracted to authentic stories and authentic people. I like to think I have a good BS detector and I don’t really do well in environments where people are wearing a mask or putting up a front. There are people who can kind of compartmentalize if it’s work that they are not passionate about and that’s what works for them. It’s just not my thing. I appreciate telling a good, true, raw, authentic story through design as much as possible. It’s something that I try to do more personally in the way that I present myself because I can’t ask for people to share an authentic story with me if I am not doing that. Of course, that’s not super easy all of the time because it requires you to be vulnerable with others, but I think it’s important especially in the Black community.
We often put up a veil and hide the hardships that we go through, but I think it’s an asset to be vulnerable sometimes.
What do you want people to walk away with after encountering your art, murals, branding, and other projects?
I think authenticity is the biggest thing. I lean into being a print and brand designer because it provides this tangible thing that you can later interact with. It’s almost like I want you to be in communion with my work. You don’t exactly get that experience through social media because we are on our phones all of the time. Being able to touch a design or stand in front of a design I created or even take a picture next to a mural I created is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me as an artist of course but I think people can experience the work to its fullest when it’s real and tangible. Even when I’m making a digital piece that you can only see on Instagram, I want it to feel like you can reach out and touch it. The authenticity is what creates that feeling.
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