One look at Laci Jordan’s prolific output says it all. Working between illustration, photography, product design, and graphic design, at age 31, the Los Angeles–based artist and creative director has already left a unique mark on a wide swath of visual culture. You can find her vivid patterns on custom apparel for Jordan Brand and social campaigns for Nike, and spot her editorial illustrations in Vice and The New York Times. Her personal artwork even plays a cameo on a recent episode of HBO’s Insecure.

And if you ask Jordan, you’ll soon see her graphics on the side of a commercial airplane, flying high through the sky. “My dreams are so big,” she tells me. “They literally scare me and they keep me up at night.”

Drawing of a woman with long black hair in a purple top wearing a matching purple face mask.
Drawing of a woman in a swimsuit leaning against a wall and looking out at sailboats in water.

 

“I started creating these unapologetic women because that's what I wanted to see represented for myself, through my lens,” she says. 

Jordan’s swift ascent into the design industry has made her a role model for young aspiring creatives, though her path was anything but linear. As she avows in her popular Skillshare Original course for digital illustration, “It’s not a one-day process to finding your own way. It’s something you’re always doing and discovering. It’s more of a process than picking up a pencil or tablet and saying, ‘Hey, I have this style and now I’m lit!’ It doesn’t work like that.”

A career in the arts wasn’t always in the cards. As an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, Jordan pursued a major in Criminal Justice, and a double minor in Computer Science and Political Science, with the aim of working in law or government. By the end of her third year, she was on the track to graduate early. Then a requisite summer internship for her major—with the FBI, of all places — led her to an unexpected lightbulb moment. Looking through floor plans at work, she encountered Adobe Illustrator for the first time and left the internship experience with more curiosity about design than the job at hand.  

“That’s where I picked up the idea to investigate design,” she says. “When I got back to school, I signed up for a design course and fell in love with it.” Hungry to learn more, she doubled up on art classes, and by the end of her senior year, she had earned the Criminal Justice degree completed and finished her Design studies.

That unshakeable work ethic led her to a new world of career opportunities. The first, a coveted spot in the Disney College Program, took her to Orlando, Florida. But when her assigned role in the food and beverage division proved counter to her creative aspirations, she took on extra work. In her off-hours, she completed a remote graphic design internship with a regional fashion magazine, and freelanced for a local graphic designer. “I’ve just always worked a lot,” Jordan says, with a laugh. “I enjoy working a lot, and I tend to carry work everywhere. I'm definitely that friend that has a tablet in the car, working on things while on a road trip.”

Drawing of an open hand with long nails and rings. Above the hand is text that reads,
: Silhouetted drawing of a person with red lips, red updo, and a red feather boa against a dark background.
: Drawing of two people embracing in the foreground against a background of a pool and an arched window.

The end of her time in Orlando took her back to her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, and back on the job market. With a bit of tenacity, she soon landed a second internship at Disney — this time, in Los Angeles with Walt Disney Imagineering, the “blue sky” division responsible for envisioning the design and creation of Disney theme parks and attractions across the globe. A born-and-raised Southerner with little other reason to be in yet another new city where she didn’t know a soul, Jordan poured herself into her work. She familiarized herself with corporate culture, studied the brand, shadowed meetings with her supervisors, and took every coffee meeting she could.

“It was a fight to remain valuable,” she recalls of the high-octane dream internship, where evaluations took place every three months. It was also an experience of a lifetime that taught her the value and real-life possibility in dreaming big. “Being in that department, in particular, was very, very special. You are given the space to literally dream big — even if, you know, it's something crazy — because a lot of the time, it can actually be done.”

Seven years on and two full-time jobs later (first as a graphic designer at ABC, then at the Creative Artists Agency), Jordan has successfully carved out a space as an in-demand multidisciplinary talent in the creative industry. And she’s doing it on her own terms. A fully autonomous designer and creative director, she now employs a manager and counts brands like YouTube, AdWeek, and Nike among her many clientele. Meanwhile, SO LACI LIKE, the moniker for her personal projects, is her “uncensored creative space where I can create content with no filter,” in her words, “making stuff you don’t see by the person you don’t usually see.”

Drawing of a confident-looking woman dressed in bright clothes and striding across a bright background.

The breadth and range of Jordan’s work today is all her, full stop and full circle. Everything up to this moment has contributed to the designer and artist Jordan is today, with not a single lesson or opportunity overlooked.

Twerking, embracing, daydreaming, and looking ahead to better days, the characters in her personal artworks depict strong, Black people who exude strength, vibrance, and a sense of fearlessness. “I started creating these unapologetic women because that's what I wanted to see represented for myself, through my lens,” she says. “A lot of the times, it’s women with attitude, just because that’s me, and it’s a lot of people who I’ve been surrounded by, who raised me. And when I say ‘attitude,’ I mean a great attitude — you’re not taking cues from anybody. These are women who are empowering and bold in spirit.”

With the freedom that comes from being a fully autonomous artist, Jordan has also used illustration as a platform for advocating for representation and social justice: making social media GIFs that tell the story of Juneteenth, creating graphics for Black Lives Matter, and calling for larger support and representation for Black artists, among other initiatives.

“The activist route is a reflection of me and who I am as a person,” Jordan says. “Of course, I am a Black woman, so I’m going to talk about issues that pertain to me, people who look like me, and my community. Whichever route I would’ve taken, whether it be law or working for the FBI, the whole basis of my interest has been searching for freedom, searching for truth,” she adds. “It’s right in line with the investigative spirit of my work and journey, from criminal justice to creativity.”

Drawing of an animal's mouth with red lips and yellow teeth; letters inside read,

As with each major move in her career, transitioning to a fully independent role took grit and a bit of soul-searching to navigate the uncertainty that often accompanies a creative career path. She moonlighted as a freelancer at her last full-time job and had resolved to go fully solo if she could land a $10,000 gig—an amount she rationalized as a large-enough cushion for the potentially daunting leap. To complicate her decision, she was also being tapped by recruiters at Wieden+Kennedy.

“I fasted, I took a sabbatical, I meditated and prayed,” she recalls, looking for answers. In the meantime, she focused on growing her illustration portfolio and further developing her own distinct style — a goal of hers since that first fated internship at the FBI, toying around with design programs.

In October 2017, she launched a 30-day illustration challenge on her social media pages, unsure of what day 30 would bring. “Forcing myself to create something every day taught me a lot of things,” Jordan says. “One was consistency. Two was the value of my work ethic — just being on top of things, putting it out there, and making my interest known. That process is what opened me up to getting illustration clients.”

Editorial commissions from Hypebeast and Refinery29 quickly followed. But Jordan’s march towards Day 30 continued. By day 21, “a lot of things started to come my way,” she says, and in a matter of weeks, Jordan Brand called. The commission — to create an array of custom pieces for All-Star weekend, in close collaboration with young girls from local communities — was her big break, and the $10,000 sign that convinced her to quit her day job and become her own boss once and for all.

Drawing of a woman in red sunglasses smoking something.
Drawing of woman wearing sunglasses reflecting a rainbow and a turtleneck that also has brightly colored stripes.

“That was such an iconic moment for me,” Jordan says. “I’ve always been into sneakers. I’ve always worn Air Jordans. And I’m the youngest in my family, with four brothers, so I’ve always been a tomboy. I’m such a huge fan of Jordan Brand, and working with them was something I’d never imagined. It was a wild experience.”

The breadth and range of Jordan’s work today is all her, full stop and full circle. Everything up to this moment has contributed to the designer and artist Jordan is today, with not a single lesson or opportunity overlooked.

But, at least for the moment, Jordan is less interested in looking back than leaping forward. Tomorrow, that might involve designing an airplane, or starting a product or home goods line of her own. One day, she’s convinced, she’ll be collaborating with Rihanna, Beyoncé, or Michelle Obama—her ultimate trifecta of dream clients.

“I definitely want to work with Rihanna,” Jordan says. “I don’t even know in what capacity, because I don’t necessarily see it as an illustration collaboration, but I think it’s going to happen down the line. I’m just going to put that energy out there.”

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