Art of influence: Varnette Honeywood
About a couple of months ago, I created an art nouveau-based bookmark for my History in Visual Communications class. I decided to create a bookmark that showcases a beauty that the media and Hollywood do not talk about or embrace. Using both Illustrator and Photoshop, I gave my vision life, which I call “Beauty of the Flower”. I chose that name due to a quote from Indian writer, Rabindranath Tagore:“By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”
After praise from both my instructor and people who have seen my work, I decided recently to start selling these bookmarks. I wanted something inspirational and beautiful that people could look at while reading.
The other day, I conversed with a gentleman who is a friend, artist, and photographer, who purchased five bookmarks from me. He told me that my work reminded him of his great friend, the late Varnette Honeywood. Little did I realize that this is the same Varnette Honeywood who created the fabulous, vibrant works of African-American art that were featured in “The Cosby Show” and the illustrations of “Little Bill” in both the book and Nick Jr. cartoon series. Her artwork was also featured in shows such as, “227”, “A Different World”, and “Amen”. Camille Cosby, wife of Bill Cosby, had spotted her work and started collecting her pieces in the 1980s. That humbled me deeply because I felt like I was nowhere close to her genius. I’ve barely tapped into art and design, even through art has been a huge factor growing up. Her use of texture, shapes and color made her works extremely strong, brilliant, and memorable that depicted Black family life.
Ms. Honeywood was inspired by the works of mentors Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, whose works I deeply admire. She and her older sister, Stephanie, founded one of the first African-American owned art and greeting card company in the 1970s called “Black Lifestyles”. She went on to creating works of art for her alma mater, Spelman College, painted the mural for Bill Cosby’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, taught art at various programs, and became the Director of Art Outreach Program for the University of Southern California.
As I read more and more about this incredible lady who passed away on September 12, 2010, I know she has left an remarkable legacy of outstanding art, passion, and dedication to showing the beauty of Black life in everything that she’d done. I’m truly inspired.
I will own a Varnette Honeywood painting soon. It’ll take a lot of bookmarks to sell, but I want my walls to be blessed with her art.
Make sure to see the links of her work, along with her mentors.