Instagram’s @Design Taps #BlackDesignVisionaries Grant Recipient Jon Key as Lead Artist for Black History Month Stories Illustrations

February 7, 2022

illustration of two black men hugging, fist raised, and pick comb in afro

Instagram’s @Design, dedicated to celebrating the craft and creativity of the design community, is unveiling new global Instagram Stories Illustrations today to mark Black History Month. We’re doing this in collaboration with artist and #BlackDesignVisionaries Impact Grant recipient Jon Key (@jkey13) of Morcos Key (@morcoskey).

Key explores Black intersectional identity through four design pillars: Blackness, queerness, southernness and family. His approach resulted in rich Instagram Stories illustrations about Black love and Black joy.

@Design sat down with Key to discuss his vision for three new Black History Month illustrated Instagram Stories stickers, his redesign for Instagram’s US-only #ShareBlackStories and #BuyBlack stickers, and a new sticker: #BlackLove.

buy Black, share Black stories, Black love

@Design: The audience we are trying to reach with #BlackDesignVisionaries is people who are curious about exploring design as a career. Was there a moment that made you realize that you wanted to be a designer, illustrator and an artist?

JK: So that moment happened when I was a sophomore in high school. When I was a sophomore, my friend was applying to SCAD (Savannah College of Art Design) and had a little prospective thing that tells you what majors you can do. I was flipping through this book and I saw graphics, and I was like, “What is graphic design? Like, you can do this? You can go to school for this? Is it a thing that people do?” Nobody had ever really explained to me that that was a career. Literally that moment, I closed the book and ran to the art department, and I was like, “I think I need to be here.”

@Design: You’re very committed to black and gray. Can you explain a little bit about your reasoning for using black and grey to display people of color?

JK: If you think about history, and black-and-white photography, and people holding protest signs – it’s not like you’re seeing all of these kinds of things. You’re seeing one powerful community come together. Regardless of whether they’re lighter or darker, they have the same goals. They want liberation, they want freedom. So I think about that a lot with my paintings. I think a lot of these paintings are talking about liberation, talking about freedom, fighting for whatever you’re feeling suppressed by – pushing forward.

@Design: As a Black designer, what is something that you always want to get across in your art? What do you hope to get across in these Instagram illustrations?

JK: The biggest thing is the nuances and the power of what it is to be a Black person and to be living and thriving, breathing and celebrating, building community and having family – and having chosen family. These illustrations are showing a little bit more of a complicated perspective of Black History Month and Blackness. It’s not like this cis, straight, hetero thing that people get left out of. If you think about gay rights in New York City, these are all Black trans women that were leading the way. Even with Black Lives Matter, these are Black women and Black queer women that are leading the way. I’m very happy that queerness is apparent, and that it is being celebrated and supported.

@Design: In terms of sharing Black stories, how do you feel about doing the entire redesign?

JK: Oh, my God! So that’s super exciting. I think it looks very cool. But it’s also like, “well, how do people actually use these things?” I really like the typefaces that I’m selecting, one typeface is by Tre Seals of Vocal Type (@vocal.type), which is a Black type designer. That’s my job as a designer, right? It’s my job as a person that gets opportunities to do things – is bringing other people with me, like them up and to elevate them and amplify their stories and voices, as well, and try to get as many people as many opportunities. I think it’s really super fun.I think that people are gonna get it.

@Design: Your four core themes are Blackness, Southerness, Queerness and Family. Can you explain why it’s important for your art to reflect those themes?

JK: When I was an undergrad at RISD, I was really questioning, “What does it mean to be a graphic designer?” I was making work. Nobody was listening. Nobody cared. I was like, “Do I care?” So I started writing and I started asking myself these questions: “What does it mean to be a Black graphic designer? What does it mean to be a graphic designer from Alabama? What does it mean for my family to impact my graphic design work? What does it mean for my queerness?” And really investigating what I care about: “What is my story?”

I continued to write and try to visualize and contextualize this writing that I was doing as an undergrad, and the themes that came pretty clear to me are these four pillars that I really care about – these four pillars that really define who I am as a person.

So those four pillars are then translated to four colours. Black became blackness, the color black – I love that it takes up colorism. I love that it is really thinking and referencing contemporary painters, but also referencing art’s historical painters as well.

Our southerness became green – I grew up in Alabama. I grew up on a farm, it was bucolic, it was very verdant and there were trees everywhere.

Family became red – thinking about bloodline, thinking about ancestry, thinking about lineage, and thinking about being reborn.

And violet was queerness. I thought about how red and blue are primary colors that are a duality that come together to make purple. But in actuality, violet is its own true colour. It exists in the world outside of that binary. I think about queerness working the same way, existing outside of the binary – being its own true thing.

When people ask me to do these types of commissions, I like to use my colors. I like to instill that kind of system and identity within the work. I’m also a graphic designer, so I think visual identities, visual systems – things having conceptual rules that make sense – are a thing that I am bound to, somehow.