Alexis Eke illustrates divinity and peace in drawings of evangelical Black women

By Lidia Abraha, p
Posted on July 6, 2020

Toronto-based illustrator and designer, Alexis Eke, talks about what inspires her work and her new colouring book fundraiser for Nia Centre for the Arts.

Graphic of Black woman in Black dress
Alexis Eke illustration called “Veil” (Courtesy of Alexis Eke)

Spirituality and divinity have deep historical roots in the Afro-diasporic community. Alexis Eke draws on this inspiration for her contemporary illustrations of Black women. Alexis is an illustrator and designer based in Toronto, and has collaborated with large-scale brands like Adidas, Art Gallery of Ontario, Nike Jordan and more. 

Most recently, Alexis has collaborated with Pique, a Toronto based production studio and creative platform, to create a colouring book, with all proceeds being donated to Nia Centre for the Arts. This book titled “Hope You’re Well” contains illustrations by Alexis and Bible verses meant to inspire calmness and peace for the user.

“I’ve always found colouring books to be extremely relaxing, especially during stressful times where we may feel emotionally, physically and mentally drained. I hope this colouring book can be an aid for some (along with the encouraging words inside),” said Alexis.

We sat down with the artist and asked what has kept her grounded during the pandemic, how her spirituality inspires her work, and her colouring book fundraiser with Pique. You can get a copy by signing up for our contest challenge on our Instagram page. 

Graphic of three Black women
Alexis Eke created for Prose in her latest coloring book “Hope Your Well.” (Courtesy of Alexis Eke)
Graphic of Black family infront of sun
Alexis Eke illustration called “Root for 143 (I love you)” (Courtesy of Alexis Eke)

What kind of intentions do you bring to your work? 

I intended to bring more Black female representation in the design industry. This is something that I’ve been passionate about from the very beginning of my career, as it’s quite personal to me. Going into university I was quite intimidated and worried about going into Design as I didn’t think I would achieve much in that field. I wasn’t able to name one Black female designer in my country until I graduated. This was an issue to me and I didn’t want younger Black girls to feel this way either. I hope that through my work, I can encourage Black women to pursue design and to feel that there is room for them to succeed in this industry. 

What drew you to this style of illustration? 

This style of illustration was what I felt most comfortable with at first. In my earlier work, my flat graphic style was all I did. Starting off with this style helped me to experiment with different compositions, colours and subject matter which I was eventually able to translate into my portrait illustrations. Another reason why I was drawn to this style of illustration is the simplicity of it. The simplicity of this style is a nice break from creating realistic portrait illustrations. 

We’ve been living in quarantine for almost three months – what have you been doing during this time?

This time of isolation has been quite calm for me. I’ve been doing a lot of organizing, bible study, working out, painting and watching movies. 

How did the collaboration with Pique for the Hope You’re Well series come about?

Around April, Imad had emailed me about doing a colouring book for his “Hope You’re Well” series. Given that I was a huge fan of colouring books as a child, I was completely on board with the project.

We know it can be difficult to stay inspired and motivated. Where did you draw inspiration for the colouring book?

I always admired the design of black and white comic books when I was younger. I knew that with this project, I wanted to try and emulate that same tone. 

Pages from Hope You’re Well, a colouring book by Alexis Eke (Courtesy of The Canvas Agency)
Drawings of Black women in colouring book
Pages from “Hope You’re Well,” a colouring book by Alexis Eke. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Nia Centre for the Arts (Courtesy of The Canvas Agency).

What inspired the use of Bible verses within the pages?

Reading scripture helps me a lot mentally and emotionally. I find that seeking God and spending time in His Word fills me with an unshakeable calmness and peace. I hope that with the verses I included in the pages, readers can also experience this feeling. 

What do you hope people take away from using the colouring book?

Definitely the importance of being still and resting. Everyone has busy lives and responsibilities they have to take care of, but it is important to rest from the work you do. Don’t let your work control you. Even God rested on the 7th day. 

What message or words of inspiration would you give to an artist (or someone) who is going through a creative block?

Step away from creating for a few days and get some exercise. It is something about getting your heart rate up that helps to clear your mind (or my mind at least). And definitely pray about it! Many things can happen through a casual conversation with God. On the other hand, having a creative block could be a sign that you need to experiment more with your craft as well!

What is helping you continue creating and putting out work?

Spending time with God really gives me strength and energy to consistently create and put out new work. 

Do you have any upcoming creative projects?

I’m working on a few projects, I have a cover coming out pretty soon which I’m really excited about. I’m super grateful that I’m still able to work on projects during this pan

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