Liselle Benjamin is a graphic artist, designer, entrepreneur, creative thinker and most recently, a book illustrator.
Benjamin, 40, told WMN she always liked art and being creative, but she never thought about being a graphic artist.
In her mid-20s she took some business classes at the University of the West Indies and met a new friend. She had computer and programme knowledge, and made craft items to sell, so her friend knew she was creative.
Knowing Benjamin was looking for a job, the friend put her on to one at a sign company.
There, she got the opportunity to learn and practice on the CorelDraw graphics editor programme.
“At the time she did not have a focus or direction. I just wanted to do something I was good at, something I could improve at, and something I enjoyed. That job was the push in the right direction.”
Benjamin worked there for a few years but left and worked other jobs while doing graphics for flyers and tickets for her church and friends. She started getting more clients so, while it was still a part-time endeavour, in 2008 she started her own business, Le Bouquet Collection.
In 2015, she started a T-shirt line, AfroRutz Connection, using silhouettes of black women with different lengths and textures of natural hair.
She recalled learning that a local group which promoted love for natural hair was having a showcase of products and services for natural hair. She had recently cut her hair and was going natural, so she was excited and she wanted to be part of it.
“I considered, ‘How can I promote being a graphic artist but have a product that people could physically purchase and I could make some revenue off of it.’ And I decided to try some T-shirt designs.”
Benjamin attended the event and, based on the positive response, expanded the collection. She started attending artisan markets to sell the T-shirts, became friends with people who had small businesses, and started helping them.
“I started to focus on packaging to help small businesses get their start, to be seen, to be noticed. I was helping them while they were helping me so it was a win-win situation, helping each other grow. I was able to get more customers, I was able to help promote some of their products, and that’s how that started.”
Her focus is on graphics for small start-up businesses such as call cards, flyers, logos, and product labels.
She added that, because of covid19, there were less market events so she slowed the production of AfroRutz T-shirts. For now, the business is on-line based on ShopCaribe, Facebook and Instagram.
However, she has plans to expand and would like to start printing dresses, hoodies, and other garments as soon as she gets the finances and is able to secure quality goods.
With a solid customer base and income, she rebranded the business, renaming it Off the Beet.
“My logo is a wacky little purple beet. It suits my personality – a little kooky, a little quirky but fun and expressive, creative and colourful.”
It was at one of these markets where she met a friend of author Mary Cuffy, who was looking for someone to bring to life a character in a children’s book she was writing.
The friend thought Cuffy would like the T-shirt designs and gave her Benjamin’s contact information. Cuffy called and a few months later, Benjamin was the illustrator of Lola and the Dancing Ladybugs.
“There was never any intention on my part to get into book illustration or book graphics, but Mary was so passionate about her project. She told me about the idea for Lola the ladybug, her story, her history, her goal for helping children to learn, and I came up for a concept for her. We tweaked it a bit and she loves Lola. Lola is her baby now.”
The book was published in 2018 and since then Benjamin has designed all the characters in the Lola the ladybug series – Lola and the Dancing Ladybugs, Lola and the Magic Sticks and Bake the Cocoa Cookie with Lola – as well as all the graphics for the books and colouring books.
She said it is always fun to work on Lola with her ideas being fuelled by Cuffy’s passion.
Benjamin does not consider herself a book illustrator but if the opportunity presents itself for her to learn more about book illustration, she would gladly take it because she sees herself constantly progressing and improving her skills.
Also, if the right project comes along at the right time, and if she is creatively inspired, she would consider doing another book.
“My imagination is so vast that sometimes it even amazes me. I never conceived that I would actually be doing books and characters. But if it’s well-received by the public and people enjoy what I do, it’s something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.”