An illustrator’s journey from conception to finished product.

When you’re a freelance illustrator you just never know when the phone is going to ring with a potential job offer. And since I absolutely hate talking on the phone, and no one has my number… it NEVER rings. I guess that has something to do with working in customer service in another lifetime when I had to answer twenty to thirty calls a hour, EVERY hour, eight hours a day in a cubicle with no windows for twelve years.

Yup, you guessed it… Hell on earth.

So no, my phone doesn’t ring. But it does get e-mails. And when you’re a freelance illustrator, you just never know when an important e-mail hits your in-box. In this instance a representative of Hip Hop artist Chazz Shabazz reached out to me inquiring about illustrating promotional artwork.

For the uninitiated, there’s a certain amount of vetting a freelance illustrator has to immediately do when receiving a cold email inquiry for services. Creatively, are you the right artistic “fit” that your potential client thinks you are? Secondly, and this is very important, can said client afford your rates and pay in a timely manner?

Answering the second question first, this is a dance every creative professional has to engage in. And sometimes there is a misstep. We’ve all been there, myself included. Knowing one’s creative self-worth is an arduous ongoing process. A process than can be exacerbated by would-be “clients” inadvertently luring you into doing work on “spec”.

Case in point, fairly recently I received an inquiry from an individual who was a friend of a fellow creator. The other creator was unavailable and our styles in broad strokes were similar enough for me to be contacted. Not the most auspicious way to begin a professional relationship, but hey. A potential gig is a potential gig. After deciphering exactly what the client wanted [which is never a good sign] I was hit with the fact that said “client” had no creative budget. Translation: I was to do the illustration for free in hopes said artwork would be used to help sell the individual’s proposal to a third party.

Uh uh. Nope. Nada.

Never get strung along into someone else’s pipe dream without being paid for your participation. Especially since I was currently engaging in one of my own. These past months I’d been devoting as much time as I could to my new webcomic THE NEW DRACONIANS. Which in a way was a good thing. Since my time was limited it forced me to focus on taking outside projects that really grabbed my interest.

So when the representative for Chazz Shabazz reached out to me he was concise with his request, and most importantly, did his homework. He knew my artistic strengths and played to them. In fact, he specifically wanted something that was AFROFUTURISTIC. That got my attention.


Afrofuturism is an international movement that incorporates science, technology, and race. Afrofuturism appropriates the narrative techniques of science fiction and infuses it with an Afrocentric aesthetic and multiculturalism.

Much of my most recent work can be considered “Afrofuturistic”. So this assignment was smack dab in the middle of my favorite sandbox. The directive was simple: With photo reference included I was to insert Chazz Shabazz in an Afrofuturistic setting of my choosing.

Sometimes freelancing means never really having a day off. Sometimes freelancing means even if you’re over a hundred miles away from your studio visiting your mother for the holidays you still respond to a potential client in a timely manner. Chazz’s rep was very gracious. There was zero haggling over my creative rates. I promised to present several sketches once I got back home for him to peruse through and pick which one he liked best. At that point, half my rate would be paid before moving forward. It’s a tried and true method of an exchange for services, which Gamal Hennessy swears by. If it’s good enough for Gamal, it’s good enough for me.

Well Chazz’s rep had a surprise for me. The funds were already in my Paypal account before ever leaving for home or putting pencil to paper. A show of good faith and a testament to the confidence in my work. Trust me, this is the kind of client every freelancer wants.

I was determined to impress.

Once home, I sketched five roughs complete with a detailed description of each. Here they are as follows:

SKETCH ONE: The pose of Chazz Shabazz screamed out to me “symmetry” so that’s ongoing theme throughout all the sketches. This is most evident in the first sketch, I have Chazz centered prominently. On either side of the primary figure I replicate the image. In the background I use an “African Goddess” figure for balance. I repeat the Chazz figure continuously smaller towards the background horizon. Keeping with a Afrofuturistic theme a space background will be included as well. Taking a cue from the graffiti background from the photo I decided to create a logo that incorporates that element.

SKETCH TWO: As detailed as the 1st sketch is I went in the opposite direction with this one. Symmetry remains the theme with Chazz in the foreground overlaying the logo and the figures in the background. The female is Afrocentric with a high tech body suit. The male figure is an African mask inspired mech robot. The background would be white.

SKETCH THREE: The Chazz figure again remains the focal point. A African Goddess female is in a relaxed position, is all but in silhouette, save for her face is behind him. The interior of her body would encompass a “outer space” effect. Giving balance to the composition are two robotic African mask heads. Lastly the Chazz figure also overlays the logo.

SKETCH FOUR: The Chazz figure although the focal point is SMALLER. His aura or “chi” is generating an African/Gundam styled giant robot. There would be a space background. In addition to the graffiti logo I incorporate a CHAZZ SHABAZZ Chinese translation. Thereby giving a cool nod to the mixing of cultures.

SKETCH FIVE: Continuing a theme of mixing cultures I have Chazz once again the focal point. Then I take a traditional pose and dress of a Shaolin monk and incorporate that imagery with an African mask inspired mech head. In addition I give him a western religious and ornate “halo” to visually sell the image. There would be a space background to this as well. Lastly in addition to the graffiti logo I incorporate a CHAZZ SHABAZZ Chinese translation here also.

Full disclosure: Sketch five was my personal favorite. Unfortunately for me, the client picked the FIRST one. Which was by FAR the most complicated. Oh well, I was the one who came up with it in the first place. No one to blame but myself!

All right then, no problem. Since there were a lot of moving parts to this piece, the smartest move would be to break it up into three individual illustrations. Then I would combine the elements into the final piece.

First, I would hand design a graffiti styled logo.

Then I would flesh out and illustrate the “African Goddess”.

Third I would draw CHAZZ SHABAZZ himself.

Once all these elements were drawn, inked, and scanned I’d get to work on assembling the pieces into a composition that best replicated the original sketch.

It’s all coming together now. The last leg of the journey is the color. Thank God for my initial color notes from the sketch. That provided the baseline for the finished piece. I decided muted cool hues of the background figures [Goddess included] would work quite well with emphasizing both the CHAZZ SHABAZZ figure and the warm colors of the logo.

And voilà. There you have it.

If my work interests you, by all means direct serious inquiries for AFROFUTURISTIC cover work/illustrations to

And if you’re interested in Afropunk cyber-comics please check out my webcomic THE NEW DRACONIANS. And of course you can support my work on Patreon. Thanks!

Writer, Illustrator, graphic designer. AKA AlphaCMT.