Cocoa Conversation: Deun Ivory

We are a group of women who are very intentional and thoughtful about who and what we stand for as a collective. We openly discuss the kind of topics that not only arouse meaningful conversation but inspire soul care. That said, it was our pleasure to meet and shoot with the amazing, now Chicago-based artist, Deun Ivory. This woman is steadily evolving; an avant-garde force to be reckoned with. She does it all. A newly devoted wife, illustrator, photographer, art director for Black Girl in Om, co-founder of Lifestyle with Ivory + Ash, and much more. The very best thing about her is the unabashed faith and immovable love she has for Jesus. Below is a snippet from the conversation we had on our life-giving Saturday evening with her. 

Morgan: How did you start making art?

I’ve always done it- since I was a little girl. I knew how to draw, I was the only artsy one in my family. I got into sports and completely neglected my artsy side. When I got to college I was involved in organizations focusing on literary and visual arts. Then in 2014, I saw an illustration on Instagram and I thought, ‘One day I want to create art that I can see in someone’s home; art and home decor.’ The following year, God did something so divine. I worked at a school I absolutely hated. It was my first job as an English teacher.

God did something so divine.

Deun went on to explain how another teacher asked if she could create custom art on wine glasses for her. She was taken aback because this woman didn’t ask the art teacher on staff. Not only that, the patron offered to buy all the supplies Deun would need and told her she could keep them after the project was completed. She ended up with an abundance of materials after completing the project, she began to draw and posted one image on Instagram. “Literally, within a week of me posting it, someone asked me to illustrate a book, I was like, wait a minute!”

Morgan: How does being a follower of Christ impact your art?

Deun: Jesus is the reason. I look at art as serving my community, a healing tool, a source of empowerment and inspiration. I think as a black woman and as a woman who follows Jesus, especially in the realm of creativity where there are so many people who are all about the Universe conspiring and protecting your magic and energy, I think me being in this space is very divine and very intentional because I’m able to bring light to people who are dealing with a lot of darkness because they don’t know love, joy, or peace. I don’t know who the Universe is. Who are you connected to? Let’s be real. I’m in the wellness realm, and it’s very anti-Jesus. I got a tweet the other day and they were like, '...Black Girl in Om, I love the podcast, but ya’ll are talking about God too much, the Christianity is way too much.' I knew this day would come, but I was like God, this is confirmation I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Everyone is idolizing self, idolizing blackness, I understand when you’ve been oppressed for such a long time, but the ultimate goal and fulfillment is Jesus. So I just want to bring that to people.  I feel like, through my art, I’m able to make connections that I otherwise wouldn’t have without that skill. It’s a way for me to spark a conversation with an atheist or agnostic because it’s all about relationships, so I build relationships through my art. 

Morgan: Building relationships through art is the gospel, God created us to make connections. When we talk about idolizing blackness, do you think there’s a certain image you have to uphold or portray as a black creative?

Blackness is beautiful, but Jesus is better. 

Deun: For me, no. I know where my identity lies, and I don’t feel like I have to force myself to be pro-black or anything like that. I do feel that as a black creative, I have a responsibility to empower and inspire and draw from people who look like me because we go through a lot. But the moment I set my eyes on the wrong thing or idolize the wrong thing, I won’t be walking in my purpose. Because like I said from the very beginning, it’s about Jesus. Of course, you can talk about blackness, it’s very beautiful and healing. This takes me to when I was featured by Instagram and people asked how I felt, and I was like, 'I feel fine.' It’s really awesome, but what would bring me the most joy is if what I did or said or created brought someone to Jesus. We can talk about health and wellness and those things are obviously important, but that's not going to save your soul. Anyone can do that, I want you to experience this unspeakable joy I have. It’s just the Lord. A lot of people think I’m real deep, and I am, but not in the way they think. I’m silly and lighthearted and don’t take myself seriously. Blackness is beautiful, but Jesus is better. 

My ex-roommate and I talked about how her pastor said 80% of Christians are miserable. That broke my heart. That’s because we overthink everything! The focus is on us, not on Jesus. By default, if you’re spending time with the Lord and gazing upon him you will naturally give off that Jesus juice! We’re trying to be trendy and cool and we’re not making a difference. 

I don’t want to be just another Instagram photographer, I want my work in galleries. I want you to sit with it, not just look at it and scroll through it and not be consumed with it and digest it. I want my art to reflect who I am and who I am is woman loved by Jesus. 

Morgan: This is really convicting. We don’t have conversations like these enough. We can talk about the big ideas,  but not how we connect to them. So when you talk about Christians being miserable, it seems taboo to talk about, but you know everyone’s experiencing it. It should be talked about because if you’re miserable, you’re not experiencing God. Where the presence of the Lord is, there is fullness of joy. If you’re not joyful, who’s presence are you in? 

Honoring your pace.

Morgan: So, how would you describe success?

Deun: Success means nothing if lives aren’t changed or if I’m not inspiring you to change your way of thinking. Success is subjective, some people feel if they make a certain amount of money they’ve made it, but I feel like my time is now. It’s just not a moment thing, it can live on. I feel like my time is now and my success will sustain as long I walk in my purpose. If you think about when your time will come, you’ll never be grateful for where you are right now. It’s about the journey.

Chasitie: Understanding your time is now, and just honoring your pace. 

Deun: Yeah, celebrating God for what He’s doing. I didn’t know I’d be doing brand development for women-owned businesses, but I started with what I had and knew and God said, I’ll take it up a notch and allow you to explore this part of yourself; expose you to this layer of your being. And I just started, so success will look different at every level of your growth. 

Morgan: What are some sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to free yourself up to be a full-time entrepreneur?

They come in interesting ways.

Deun: I definitely will say, time. There were times when I wanted to cry. You walk away from having one boss, to having several of them. They’re your client and you have to do what they ask you to do. Sometimes I don’t have time for Eric, and he understands, so that’s a blessing. In the first 4 months, it was rough, I wasn’t making what I wanted to at all. Of course, you get discouraged. But it’s impossible for God to lie. If He told you to do something, He will give you all the resources, and they come in very interesting ways. Someone may not give you a thousand dollars but may be able to offer something else, it may not be monetary, but it’s beneficial and advantageous for what you’re trying to do. But after that period, things started flourishing, because I sat down and figured out how to monetize the gifts He gave me. Jesus and relationships got me through the door, I marketed myself as a brand developer, and the next month I made my quota and every month I make it. 

Jasmine: That’s encouraging. 

Deun: God is real. Just write it down, talk to him about it, strategize and talk to people and be genuine, because people can smell when you’re fake. 

Jasmine: You mentioned leaving one boss to having multiple, how does that have an effect on your creativity?

Deun: I’ve gotten to the point where I’m confident enough in my work to say 'no' to certain people if what they’re asking me compromises my talent or insults me. If someone comes to me to create a type of art like someone else's, I won’t feel right doing it. A lot of clients give me creative control. I don’t want to be a miserable artist, I never want to do that. When I create I want to feel free.