Dionna “Didi” Williams creates some of the most remarkable images I see on instagram. Her abstract collage pieces are extremely colorful and eye-catching. I am always astounded – not just by the quality but also the quantity – of her work. Oftentimes, she posts multiple pieces a day and each one is as compelling as the last.
At first glance, her work appears to be “glitch art” or “data blending”. However, she makes her pieces using Photoshop by collaging photographs, illustrations and other elements. Whether these elements are recognizable as figures of pop culture or if they are abstracted beyond recognition, Didi leaves the viewer to interpret each piece. As someone who personally struggles to think or create in terms of true chaos – true abstraction – I really admire Didi.
This tribute fuses stained glass, cartoons, art nouveau, and glitch art. The lettering is inspired by typography on the 1862 stained glass window “King Arthur and Sir Lancelot” by textile designer William Morris. Given Didi’s layered textures I created spirals inspired by Gustav Klimt’s 1907 “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”. For a modern touch, I did a version of Didi’s cartoon avatar, using glitch art for texturing.
Dionna “Didi” Williams: in her own words
Where did you grow up? And where do you live now?
I’m a Georgia Peach. I grew up in Metro Atlanta within the suburbs and now I live in South Georgia in the Savannah Metropolitan Area.
Were you always artistic?
Yes, I’ve been drawing since I was seven. My biggest inspirations were the childhood cartoons that I used to watch with my dad. The four that really inspired me were Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Pinky and the Brain. My art style was actually inspired by Craig McCracken, Genndy Tartakovsky, and Rob Renzetti’s art styles that I grew up with. As for graphic design, I knew I wanted to go into that field since I was 13 and I was exposed to that world of digital art since I was 8 by my paternal grandmother and father.
Can you talk about your education background? Where have you studied?
I started taking graphic design classes in high school during my junior and senior year. I went to a magnet high school so I was able to take three classes there before I moved on to college. I attended Georgia Southern University for my Bachelor’s in Graphic Design and graduated two years ago.
What excites you about graphic design?
It’s hard to explain sometimes what really excites me about graphic design. I mean I’ve always been fascinated with the design of objects and signs and such. And I think I have a good eye for detail. I was told from family members that I used to look at road signs and billboards and talk about how I liked the fonts they used and how they looked from when I was little. Honestly, I think I was just destined to become a graphic designer.
Can you talk a little about the graphic design work you’ve done?
I work for a little art center in the small town I’ve lived in for 6 years now, so I mostly design marketing materials for shows and galleries. I make logos for performances we put on, posters, brochures, and banners. Recently, I’ve enjoyed making stylized posters for different musical acts that we bring to the center. Posters are my favorite to make.
When did you start doing illustrations?
My illustrations, abstract work, and collage work are all digitally made via Photoshop. I started making digital art illustrations when I was 15 during the time that I started my first high school graphic design class. I started out making Disney Princess fan art and then branched out to doing other fan art from other beloved childhood franchises.
You occasionally redraw drawings you created 8 or more years ago. What is it like to see this older work?
Honestly, I hate looking at my old work even though my mom and grandmother love keeping my old artwork that I usually left around their houses. But it is nice to see how much I’ve improved in the last 16 years since I started drawing. It’s really eye-opening and reminds me that I’m still growing and learning and that the artistic journey goes on throughout life. I’m really proud to be able to finally be able to draw some of my childhood cartoon characters that I struggled to for so long.
Where does the user name ilianamystery come from?
I always liked the name Iliana. I think it’s a really pretty name. As for the Mystery part, I just added it because I thought it sounded good. It rolled off of my tongue when I came up with it.
Let’s talk about your abstract pieces. When doing portraits, there’s a clear goal of depicting a specific person. When you start an abstract piece what’s your goal? Do you already know what it’s going to look like: what colors or elements you will use? Or is it more improvisational?
I’m all about aesthetic, so my goal with abstract pieces is to get a certain aesthetic to show. I’m a very colorful person, so many of my pieces are going be full of bright colors. That being said, I never know what colors or elements I’m going to use. I’m a huge fan of experimenting and throwing things unto the wall and seeing what sticks. I just keep layering and layering until I get a result that I think looks best.
In addition to the quality of your work, I really admire the sheer quantity of it. Every time I get on Instagram I see you posting a new batch of pieces. What drives you to keep creating?
Honestly, I really enjoy creating these pieces. I stated before that I have anxiety, so making these collages and abstract pieces help me stay focused and help ease that anxious energy that I have. Plus I like to keep busy and making these always keeps me busy.
Do you ever get creative slumps?
Yes, all of the time. But I don’t think that creative slumps are necessarily bad. I usually make much better art after coming from a creative slump. Slumps come and go but I trend to roll with the punches that it brings.
You have also done portraits of cartoon characters like the Power Puff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Animaniacs (among others). What inspires you about these and other characters of pop culture?
It reminds me of a simpler time in my life. My dad and I always bonded watching those shows, so it makes me feel safe and fuzzy inside whenever I watch them again. But more recently, watching those shows has been a much different experience because of something that happened both in April and July of 2019. You see, I had the amazing opportunity to meet Rob Paulsen, the voice actor for Yakko and Pinky, at two different conventions and it was an experience that I still hold dear to this day. I jokingly call him my “TV Dad” because I was always watching TV as a child and he voiced a character in like every show I watched growing up and I really enjoyed meeting him. He was such a nice guy. At the second convention, I was even able to give him a drawing I made of him and some of the characters he played and he loved it. Best moment ever in my 23rd year of life.
After those experiences, I started to reflect on how he talked about being thankful for the experiences that life gives you and being humble during his panels and it really resonated with me. I just hope I’ll be able to stay humble and thankful throughout the rest of my life in the same way. So yeah, after all of that, I think I enjoy Animaniacs and those other shows a lot more now.
Do you think you view these cartoons in the same way you did as a child? If not, what’s changed?
No, I don’t think that I view them in the same way. The main thing is that now that I’m an adult, I notice all of the adult jokes that went right over my head in the past. Honestly, I feel like I appreciate these cartoons more for their art style, innovations when it comes to the history of animation, and all of the work that goes into making the actual cartoon. This all started when I was a teenager and during this time, I began to notice and pay attention to the names in the end credits of those cartoons and that’s what sparked my interest in what actually happens behind the scenes of these shows. Now that I’m older, I feel like I appreciate the animators, show creators, directors, producers, and voice actors more.
A majority of the shows you are inspired by only have a handful of black characters who are in recurring, sidekick or even simply background character roles (if they exist at all). Do you think there’s a good way to fix this?
I think we’re already fixing that in media in all honesty. There are way more black characters in new cartoons and shows than when I was a kid. There was no Princess Tiana when I was growing up. I only had Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan, but I love all three of them. That was actually the reason why so many of my characters then and now are black…usually black women. Representation is important so I liked to write black girls and women that were not stereotypes, but were more like me and my fellow black friends. Regardless, I still love those childhood cartoons and I’m not mad that they didn’t have the diversity that I put in my own stories.
A recent trend in Hollywood is to change the race or even gender of pre-existing pop culture characters so there is more female or minority representation. As someone who has crafted her own characters from pre-existing media, what are your thoughts? Is it better to create new characters or reboot old ones?
I’m not opposed to rebooting old characters. I think Nick Fury is a good example of an old character that was race bent but was received positively (mostly because Samuel L. Jackson plays him so well in the the MCU). That being said, I prefer creating new characters. Character creation is really fun for me and I’ve created over 1,000 different characters (some that are OCs for childhood cartoons and others that are for organic stories that I wrote myself). My absolute favorite part of character creation is giving the character a unique name.
In addition to pre-existing characters, you’ve generated portraits of whole new characters within the universes of your childhood cartoons. What inspires you to create these “fan-fiction” figures?
I just enjoy writing and making fan-fiction. My first ever fanfiction character was a mermaid named Diane Nicole and she was an OC for SpongeBob. My second was a Hispanic girl named Diana Francesca Ramirez and she was an OC for The Emperor’s New School and both were made when I was in middle school. Middle School was when I started writing fan fiction to cope with some of the craziness that comes with adolescence. But my first ever fanfiction that I wrote in completion was called “Intergalactic Troubles” and featured my first ever PPG OC character, Diamond, who was an alien that ended up in Townsville. My most in depth fan-fiction universe would have to be the one that I made for Sym-Bionic Titan. Since the show was cancelled early, I created a whole universe to fill in the gaps of the show and it’s honestly something that I’m proud of even now. I still refer to my Sym-Bionic Titan Fan Universe every now and then.
Can you tell me who the character Alice is and how she relates to you of all the characters you’ve created over the years?
Alice was a character I made that symbolized me as a college student and young black woman. She has been put on hiatus though since I’m trying to figure out what to do with her. I still like her as a character, but I’ve been putting more focus on another character I made in college named Salem-Rose. She has become a symbol of me being a working adult woman while also being black.
When you post fan-fic or original character portraits you often include bios of each character in the captions. Do you create the character’s story first then the art? Or the other way around?
Thank you for asking this! I love answering questions about my fan fiction characters! I always write the character’s story first. It helps me visualize the character better if I write down all of the characteristics first. I work really hard on making those bios and coming up with those backstories, so thank you for noticing.
I aspire to create art that inspires others and makes people happy.
1 Why do you create?
The creation of art nourishes my soul. Ever since I was thirteen, art has been therapeutic for me and my anxiety. But I don’t create just to sustain me, I also create to make others happy. When I was in high school and college, I used to make art for the teachers and professors that inspired me as end of the semester gifts. And seeing the looks on their faces when I would present it to them, it would always make me feel both full and happy. I’m a very empathetic and compassionate person so I like creating art for others and seeing them smile when I do. It just makes my whole day.
2 When life gets you down what inspires you to get back up?
When life gets me down, I usually fall back on all of the love and support and advice I get from my super supportive family. I’ve always been very close to my parents and brother and both sets of my grandparents. I call my mother and brother for advice every day and I love my family so much for helping me see my potential ever since I was a kid. I also fall back on my childhood cartoons that I still love and watch to this day, as well as my very diverse music taste.
3 Jackson Pollock once said, “the modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.” What do you want to express through your abstract pieces?
In one word, I think my abstract pieces express emotion. Many of my abstract pieces convey that. But I’m not the type of artist to force my viewers to see the abstractions in the same way I do. If you find happiness in viewing an abstract that was supposed to display sadness, I won’t stop you from seeing it that way.
In my mind, as long as the abstraction makes you feel some type of emotion, I feel like I got my point across.
4 Do you think it’s possible to grow up into an adult and still have the imagination of a child?
Yes, definitely. I think I’m the perfect example of that. I’m a pretty responsible adult, but I still watch my childhood cartoons and have a pretty wild, child-like imagination. If anything, my imagination has only gotten wilder and stronger as I got older. But yeah, there’s nothing wrong with still having child-like wonder and imagination when you’re an adult.
Many thanks to my inspiration and aspiration, @ilianamystery.
I’m John Lhotka, wishing you a nice day, and all that jazz.