Unicia Buster

interview Ja’Nai Frederick photography Sarah Der Photography

interview Ja’Nai Frederick
photography Sarah Der Photography

Unicia R. Buster

Unicia identifies herself as a textile artist, graphic designer, and illustrator. She is the self-published author of Coloring Curls, Coloring Curls 2, Finding Your Picasso, and U.N.I.C.I.A.: The Unique, Natural, Idealistic, Celebrated, Illustrious Art of African-American Hair.

How did you become an illustrator?

I was not always creative, but I remember wanting to do something for my mother during Christmas at the age of seven or eight. I frequented bookstores to devour those how-to-craft guides. On this particular occasion, I discovered a beaded necklace and bracelet book. From that moment forward, I was always crafting, beading, needle-pointing, and drawing. 

In middle school, I received a Visual Arts Center of Richmond scholarship. That experience introduced me to stained glass, ceramics, painting, and fabrics. For me, diaries were meant for drawings, not words. It was a release—an ideation method for other art mediums, such as quilting. While I took five drawing classes as a part of my Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornell University and Master of Arts from George Mason, I did not take my drawing seriously until the coloring book, Coloring Curls

What spurred the creation of Coloring Curls?

In summer 2015, Noah Scalin’s Skull-A-Day gave me the idea to start an afro-a-day project. His idea is to expand one’s creativity by crafting something daily, utilizing everyday materials. Through this process, the coloring book concept emerged.

At that time, I was an art specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital and noticed that while my patients were ethnically diverse, the coloring books distributed for rehabilitation, recovery, stress and anxiety betterment were not. So, I made coloring pages representative of them. They loved them, and [the book] eventually found its way to Amazon.

What inspires you to make?

Every person that I meet. The majority of my work has people in it. I categorize myself as a people artist. I capture personalities, characteristics, and traits. 


Why is hair a frequent motif in your work?

Hair is my thing. Growing up, I always had issues with my hair. In my community, we were essentially shamed into chemically and physically straightening it. Natural hair, especially more coarse textures, was deemed less desirable, unclean, and unkempt. The [physically] damaging effects [of over-processed hair] led me to embrace my natural hair, initially with braids. However, I was told to take them out for my high school graduation. My voluminous hair did not fit under the graduation cap. It was a struggle. I went natural, but in the 1990’s, that was not the norm. 


In my drawing, photography, and dolls, I started exploring hair and comparing its texture to earthy elements like wool, beans, flowers, bamboo, etc. I want hair to be associated with nature. African American hair is just as beautiful as anything else. I want women to be comfortable with themselves regardless of how they choose to style [their hair].


What do you wish you would have known fifteen years ago?

Part of it is just maturing, but I wish I would have had more dedication to finishing a project, and would not have allowed bumps to derail the process. I hit an obstacle with my book, Finding Your Picasso, and put it down. Creating something little everyday pushed me. With the internet and social media, you have encouraging community feedback like never before. {[That feedback] pushed me to self-publish, after not hearing anything from a publisher. Be dedicated and keep going, no matter what. I wish I would have known that when I was younger. 


Where do want to take your work?

I strive to be more impactful, and so I want to move into more political and social art. Yet, I also want to teach math. I love math, science, and art.