Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series on "20-somethings" in Milwaukee.
When Yessica Jimenez was 4 years old, all of her preschool assignments were returned to her parents, but not because they were incorrect. They were covered in doodles, a habit Jimenez picked up from her older sister. She remembers one in particular, a cartoonish whale that she tried to replicate from the day’s classwork. Other times, she drew intricate flowers and animals.
Jimenez, now 23, is an independent artist with a studio on the South Side who is working to connect with artists across a variety of genres.
"I have lived my entire life in Milwaukee and as an artist, but I never really connected with the community," said Jimenez, who graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) in 2014.
In addition to her work designing album and cover art for clients, Jimenez’s current personal project involves creating portraits of hip-hop artists — one for each letter of the alphabet.
Jimenez knew few rappers, so she asked other Milwaukee friends for help. It wasn’t clear to them what she intended to draw until she released two rapper portraits representing the letters A and B.
"I ended up with such a following that I wasn’t expecting," she said. "My goal was just to draw portraits — get back into drawing and have fun with it."
After releasing the first two portraits, Jimenez was getting more than five friend requests on Facebook per day. It took her only two months to find an artist for every letter except "U."
The "A" features local hip-hop artist Arnold Wesley, aka AR Wesley. He and Jimenez have been friends since their junior year of high school at the now-closed Downtown Institute of Arts and Letters. He later recruited Jimenez to help create cover art and stickers for his shows.
"I’m sure I gained more of a following from it," Wesley said about being in the alphabet portrait collection. "I really love working with her, and I am glad she did that project."
Deniesha Kinnebrew, aka Fivy, who Jimenez describes as "a rapper with a jazzy feel," is the "F" in the alphabet.
"[Yessica] is, without a doubt, one of the most inspirational women in my life," Kinnebrew said. "Aside from her dreamy, artistic, fem-empowering talents, she is a very supportive member of the music community."
Jimenez’s parents, though always supportive, could be skeptical at times. "They are immigrants from Mexico, so I think that they were kind of hoping for their daughter to go to law school."
Besides freelancing as an artist, Jimenez works two jobs – in the coffee shop at the Milwaukee Art Museum and as a hostess at Lakefront Brewery. She hopes to continue her art and make it into an "actual career that makes money."
Until then, Jimenez has been hired by some of the same hip-hop artists who make up her alphabet to do paintings and artwork for their shows.
A sticker she sells at art shows is one of her favorite drawings. "It is a girl blowing a bubble with chewing gum. She has a bandana around her head and her bun is a gumball machine."
When Jimenez creates art for personal pleasure, she draws inspiration from the Taiwanese-American visual artist James Jean. She wants to continue developing her work, by doing projects such as turning the hip-hop alphabet into a coloring book. Eventually, she would like to be employed by an art company, but for now she is happy with her work.
"I don’t think that I could ever stop being an artist. I am a creator now, and once you start creating, you can never really stop."