Portrait: A Comic About Mickalene Thomas
This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of ten women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a woman student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.
When contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas was in art school, she couldn’t afford traditional materials and gravitated towards craft stores and the glitter and rhinestones within. Her paintings speak to female empowerment and of women of color owning and defining their own spaces.
Long Text: A vividly colored cover with a patchwork of purple, yellow, pink, tan, and blue geometric and floral designs. Artist Mickalene Thomas, a black woman wearing glasses with her hair in micro locs--thin individual pieces--pulled away from her face, is seated in a wheeled desk chair. The artist has her left arm resting on her forehead as she leans backward in a relaxed position. The background is full of many different patchwork patterns in a variety of colors with various floral patterns and textures represented. Text reads, “Mickalene Thomas: Portrait”
Long Text: Panel 1: Young Mickalene Thomas stares at her reflection in a locked glass cabinet full of rows and rows of oil paints. The young black artist is wearing glasses and a white tank top and has a longing expression on her face. The voice of Mickalene Thomas narrates. Text reads, "When I was an undergrad, I couldn’t always afford oil paint.” Panel 2: Mickalene walks through the aisles of an art supplies store with shelves full of vibrant colors of paint, brushes and other arts and crafts supplies; however, a large container of bright green yarn catches the artist’s attention, and she stops in front of it, picking up a bundle in her right hand. The artist reminisces. Text reads, “Because I was in school, I had to figure out ways to make my art and not limit myself. I began going to craft stores because the supplies were cheaper.” Panel 3. Bundle of green yarn. Mickalene says “I could afford yarn...” Panel 4: Two containers of glitter, one gold and the other purple, with a pile of blue glitter in the background. Text reads, “Glitter...” Panel 5: Pink, yellow, purple, blue and green rhinestones. Text reads, “Rhinestones...” Panel 6: Mickalene Thomas working on a large colorful artwork depicting a beautiful black woman at the center of the canvas with a purple, pink, green, blue, and yellow background. The artist is surrounded by plastic bags of glitter, glue, rhinestones, scissors, and other craft supplies. Mickalene narrates. Text reads, "I could get an abundance of those versus a tube of paint.” Panel 7: Close-up detail image of a woman of color’s hands sewing together squares of fabric to create a quilt. Each square has a vibrantly colored geometric pattern of blue, purple, green, pink and orange. Mickalene reflects. Text reads, "I guess my appeal to craft materials is yet another historical reference to women.” Panel 8: Close up detail image of a woman of color’s hands weaving a piece of purple, pink, brown and orange striped fabric on a loom. Panel 9: Close up detail image of a woman of color’s hands weaving a basket. The woman is wearing a brightly colored dress with a green sash draped over her shoulders and a pink and blue floral-patterned skirt.
Long Text: Panel 1: This panel is divided into three sections. In the middle, Mickalene’s hands are shown using a needle to place bright purple yarn on one of her artworks. A vibrant purple stripe of zigzagging yarn runs diagonally down the center of the artwork. On the right, a beautiful Black woman wearing glittery blue eyeshadow and natural hair is depicted. On the left is an elaborate floral pattern with pink and orange flowers and orange and pink paisley and spiral designs. A red piece of yarn lays over the canvas ready to be used by the artist. Panel 2: Young Mickalene Thomas stands in front of a vivid patchwork patterned backdrop with her arms crossed and head resting in her right hand and looking off to her left in a contemplative manner. The artist is wearing glasses and a vibrantly patterned pink, purple, and blue shirt with floral designs. Text reads, "As I acquired these materials, I began to find meanings and ways to use them in my own work as a way of identifying myself.” Panel 3: Front entryway of a bookstore with floor to ceiling windows and a large marquee sign that wraps around the corner that says “Powell’s Books Used and New Books.” Text reads, “When I was living in Portland, Oregon I would go to this bookstore called Powell’s Books.” Panel 4: Mickalene’s hand reaches up to grab a book titled “African American Art” off a full bookshelf with other book titles on Augusta Savage, Impressionists, Watercolor, Japanese prints, History of Pink, Art Deco, Loïs Mailou Jones, and Oil Painting. Panel 5: Mickalene Thomas is walking down the aisles of the bookstore carrying a stack of books surrounded by full shelves of art catalogues and books about African American artists. She wears denim jeans and a black t-shirt. The artist narrates. Text reads, "Within the stacks of their books I would just go up and down the aisle pulling out books on African American Artists.” Panel 6: Two large books stacked in the left-hand corner with another large book depicting artwork by artist William H. Johnson open in the middle of the panel. Mickalene is flipping through the catalogue pages. Mickalene reminisces. Text reads, “I remember looking at a William H. Johnson’s monograph...”
Long Text: Panel 1. Young Mickalene Thomas, with her back to the reader, is sitting at a desk with a collection of large books and catalogues spread out over the desktop, featuring artwork by the famous artist William H. Johnson. Narrator Mickalene continued, “and thinking how his sensibility of line, representation of his journeys, and the people in his environment, and depicting his world, and depicting African American lifestyles was a direct representation of who I was.” Panel 2. Switching to the present day, this panel shows a young black girl walking the halls of an art museum. The walls are full of paintings depicting white women. The girl is staring at the floor looking downcast, wearing glasses and a teal shirt with purple sweater vest. Her skirt is purple and teal plaid, and she has a purple backpack and a purple flower hairpin. Mickalene narrates, “It’s really important for me as an artist to have representation of myself so that the youth could see themselves in these particular environments like museums. When they see my work with all the art history, that when they’re standing here...” Panel 3. The young black girl continues to look at the floor looking downcast; however, now a red exclamation point is hovering over her forehead. She has noticed something showstopping in the gallery. Panel 4. The young girl who is wearing glasses and purple flower hair clip in her hair looks upward with an expression of wonder, disbelief, and excitement on her face. Panel 5. Young Black girl who is also wearing a purple backpack, a teal shirt, and a purple and teal plaid skirt looks up at large artwork depicting a beautiful Black woman wearing a white shirt blue pants and bright pink shoes reclined on a vibrantly patterned couch. Narrator Mickalene concludes, “... That they see themselves.”
Long Text: The final page depicts a purple gemstone set against a black background. Below the stone is text in white that reads, "Illustrated by: Shayna Cohen.”