Baroque paintings. Electronic music. Landscapes in the Kiera Knightly version of “Pride and Prejudice.” Shoujo manga. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Fashion looks from Pinterest. Those are just a few of the references and inspiration that fuel Rachelle Baker’s illustration work.
A multidisciplinary artist, Baker studied printmaking at Wayne State University and has been working professionally as an illustrator in the state for the last five years. Whether she’s drawing a history-making politician or a stranger she passed on the street, Baker stuffs her illustrations with colors and textures. She typically works digitally, using the drawing app Procreate, but weaves in layers that evoke her printmaking background.
“I like to show how cool and interesting and energetic the people might be that I’m drawing,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of the drama of Renaissance and Baroque art, and in a way I’m trying to make my version of that. Like, someone who looks like they might be walking offstage from doing the biggest show of their life, or who just experienced heartbreak, or is the coolest person you’ve ever seen.”
Her work is also driven by a desire to reflect herself and other Black women in art, so viewers can see “someone with their hair texture or with their skin color or with their eye shape or with their, wide nose or anything and say, ‘Okay, well I’m more likely to have a beautiful painting made of me.’”
A born-and-bred Detroiter, Baker moved to Okemos last year but continues to work in Detroit and is looking for a local studio space.
Baker is one of many Detroit illustrators keeping the city’s art scene vibrant while working on books, comics, fine art and client work. Narciso Espiritu, an illustration instructor at College for Creative Studies (CCS), is a mentor for many of these emerging artists. Espiritu moved to Detroit in early 2020 and now lives in Hamtramck. He said his students have wide-ranging career goals. Many hope to work in animation and game studios.
“It’s really inspiring to see them go through the paces and the process and all the steps it takes to make something,” he said. “I largely try to stay out of their way and not put any of my own tastes on how they approach image-making. … I try and identify what they’re interested in and [let them] really heighten that and develop their own visual language.”
Check out 18 Detroit illustrators we — and Detour readers — are excited about right now to discover work you can admire, follow and even own.
Baker has contributed to outlets including the New York Times and Metro Times and illustrated books including “Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream” and “Shirley Chisolm is a Verb!” Her next title, “A is for Aretha,” is a children’s book highlighting Black women musicians written by Leslie Kwan and will be released in January.
Advice to emerging artists: “Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be illustrating or drawing or painting or anything because you’ll have the most fun making what you want to make — and it will show.”
Espiritu, who hails from New Jersey, teaches illustration at College for Creative Studies. He has worked on art magazines, editorial illustrations, production and package design and comics, including one about shark attack survivors. He’s currently preparing to pitch another, a cyberpunk story about a black market where people sell their breaths.
How he got into professional art: “Sometime during college, I started this art and literature magazine with a friend, Instigatorzine… that was a vehicle for me to get practice doing editorial illustration, because it’s often hard to get your career started after college. So it was kind of just me starting without anyone’s permission.”
Uroda lives in Farmington Hills and often tackles editorial assignments focused on science and social issues. She enjoys the challenge of telling visual stories that are clever, engaging and “have some quality of magic to them.” Next spring, her debut picture book will be released. “Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?” (available for pre-order) was written by Junauda Petrus and is a “joyously radical vision of a future where police aren’t in charge of public safety and community well-being,” Uroda said.
What’s inspiring her right now: “Recently I’ve been watching various craftspeople doing things like throwing ceramic vases on a wheel, creating stained glass windows, smithing brass cabinet handles or carving wooden spoons. I feel really inspired by those using raw materials to create both beautiful and functional objects. As a digital artist, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to get messy with my hands or make things that can be used in everyday life, so I’m living vicariously through them until I get a chance of my own.”
Djoumbi lives on the west side of Detroit but was born in Cameroon. He said his work, which spans from still illustration to moving animation, is inspired by personal feelings and emotions. He’s currently working on a motion graphic piece narrating the 20th-century African American experience. He counts social realist painter Jacob Lawrence as one of his significant influences.
Wiley, based in Detroit, is working on her first children’s book. Called “Homegrown,” it follows a young Black girl learning family history through stories passed down from her elders. “I’m able to tell a story that I think is really important about how my community preserves its rich history and culture,” she said.
How people receive her work: “It’s warm and inviting, like a hug from your grandma or yo favorite auntie. My style is storytelling. Every piece of art I make is a conversation with my audience, letting them know I see them and our stories matter.”
By day, Everett works as a design researcher at Detroit nonprofit Civilla. In his own time, he uses those design skills for his custom stickers and printmaking business and as an illustrator. His portraits stand out for their bold colors – often primaries and neons – and playful pattern mixing.
Jarecz, based in Clawson, has a job title straight out of a rom-com: she’s a fashion illustrator, who studied at CCS and lived in Paris for several years before returning to Michigan. With a feminine and traditional style, Jarecz captures looks from designers like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Jimmy Choo, takes sketch commissions and offers live event sketching.
Her inspirations: “I’m very inspired by current trends in fashion from the latest runway shows to editorial photography. Artists René Gruau and Kenneth Paul Block are a constant source of inspiration for me.”
Peacock is a comics artist from Dearborn who studied illustration at CCS. He creates work like the comic “Peppermint Desert” under the moniker All Sorrows and recently won the illustration category in Arts Thread and Gucci’s 2022 Global Design Graduate Show.
Harvey is a Hamtramck-based illustrator whose evocative line drawings and layered illustrations pop off the screen in bright colors or black and white. The comics and video game fan writes that she’s inspired by “skillfully ‘bad’ art.”
Nesom is a potter and graphic designer as well as an illustrator. She lives in Grosse Pointe. Many of her drawings capture relatable still lifes, with playful, lively drawings of food and flowers.
A project she’s excited about: “I’m currently working on a collection of pastel drawings inspired by all the time I spent during my childhood at my grandparents’ house drinking iced tea in their backyard.”
Longtime Hamtramck artist Matt Feazell might be most known for his “Amazing Cynicalman” cartoons. The “minimalist cartoonist” uses plenty of stick figures and as a designer, sees his challenge as “to always find the simplest solution.”
What he’s working on right now: “I have been weaving a superhero universe out of eight-page minicomics starring the Amazing Cynicalman, America’s Laid-Off Superhero. The latest issue is a satire on comic book collecting. It’s called “Slab, the Minicomic You Can’t Read” and it comes sealed in a hard plastic shell. Whatever I wrote and drew in that comic, no one will ever see!”
Gaber graduated from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design and lives in Dearborn. She regularly publishes personal, relatable cartoons — the four-panel comics are lighthearted but earnest, touching on everything from student debt to teen angst and pap smears.
What she’s working on: “I like to think of my style as busy and expressive! I love creating works with little stories to be found in every corner and engage the viewer in its complexity. I’m also a big fan of drawing silly little creatures. Project-wise, I’ve got a silly side project filling out a journal of sketches of imaginary animals (inspired by the fantasy encyclopedia “Codex Seraphinanus” and Dougal Dixon’s speculative evolution books) and I’m slowly putting together some comics that I’m very excited for.”
“Mark Sarmel” is just one of a couple of alter egos — and a self-described “superhero” identity — used by Mark Moreno. Sarmel, who also came out of CCS, uses the term “mythography” for a series of character portraits that give “a glimpse into an alternate universe to our own, one that is filled with multicultural characters inspired by ancient mythology, modern anthropology, music, fashion and comic books.”
Earlier this year Detour talked to Marshall about “This Is Not a Bill,” a project the Detroit artist started in the early days of the pandemic where she mails custom illustrations to strangers, based on their prompts about where they’re finding joy. Marshall’s professional projects include graphic design, book cover design and photography, though it’s her lettering style that might be most recognizable.
What she hopes springs out of her work: “What I like to do is set the stage for us to ponder on, not just life’s problems, but its joys, the world’s beauty and the solutions that we can come up with in a way that sees as many people as possible… I want people to engage with more beauty in their lives and in the lives of others — and let us rejoice together,” she told us in January.
Bieri has his hands in all sorts of local art institutions, from cofounding Hamtramck art gallery Hatch to previously serving as art director for the Metro Times. He also works on the Hamtramck Disneyland public art project, now maintained by Hatch. You’ve probably seen one of his comics or at least one of his graphics gracing an event flyer, Metro Times cover or an ad at some point in the decades he’s been working locally.
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Okoye’s work captured attention in 2020 when the ACLU of Michigan commissioned him to create a mural promoting voting at their headquarters in Detroit. The CCS advertising grad works across disciplines and shares on his site that he aims to “motivate, represent and inspire people, especially those throughout the African Diaspora. The combinations of hand-lettering, geometric shapes, vibrant color palettes and tribal patterns create an improvised rhythm throughout my work to uplift and motivate the viewer.”
He illustrated the book “Love Your Amazing Self: Joyful Verses for Young Voices,” which was written by Ofosu Jones-Quartey and will be available later this month.
Shik is a Detroit-based illustrator whose painterly, rich illustrations depict quiet moments at home and bustling city scenes. His work for Detour included illustrations capturing grief and mental health during the pandemic and scenes from Midtown, the Avenue of Fashion and Eastern Market.
A designer and drummer who lives in Detroit, McPeak uses bold, psychedelic colors for cheeky illustrations and graphic design, full of text and depictions of the female form. Her horoscope prints are a favorite.
Inspired to put your own illustrations out into the world? Applications to table at next year’s Detroit Zine Fest are open until Nov. 14. Get drawing!
Thanks to Detour readers Adam, Emma, Erin, Michael, Tom and others for sharing their favorite illustrators! Did we miss you or your fave? Send your artist recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.