Unicia R. Buster

Image of Unicia holding her handmade quilt (featuring colorful imagery of a woman and lion) against a blue backdrop. Photography by 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.

Image of Unicia R. Buster’s handmade doll with purple hair and spectacles.

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.

Image of Unicia braiding sewing a dolls hair into the scalp. Unicia face is not featured, only her hands and lower torso. Unicia is wearing denim and seating on an orange chair.
Portrait photography of Unicia.

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].

Outside of the Lines

interview excerpt Ja’Nai Tellis Frederick

photography Sarah Der

design Sarah Culclasure

illustration Raven Smith, Sarah Culclasure, and Sarah Der

Read the full interview in Vol. 3