Paola Parsons’ 50 days of Voting illustration campaign combines smart, voting-positive messages with beautiful images.
In late September, a simple yet powerful illustration popped up in our Instagram scroll.
The letters V O T E in red blue, yellow, and pink on a black background with a heart in place of the letter O.
The image was created by Santa Cruz-based illustrator, letterer, and former copywriter Paola Parsons in honor of her brother’s 25th birthday. “I wished him a happy birthday and jokingly said that he should give himself the gift of double-checking his voter registration.” To Parsons’ dismay, her brother hadn’t registered.
This fired up Parsons’ ongoing “50 Days of Voting” – an illustration campaign celebrating the urgency of voting. While the campaign hasn’t gone full-viral (yet), it’s caught the eyes of celebrities and influencers like Jennifer Grey and Kate Hudson, who shared her images on Instagram.
With less than two weeks until the US Presidential election, we caught up with Parsons to learn more about the project, her ongoing activism, and her penchant for marrying great copy with great design.
The Luupe: What sparked the idea for 50 days of voting?
Paola Parsons: I’m pretty invested in this election and politics in general. A couple of weeks ago, I heard somewhere that we were close to 50 days away from Election Day, and something kind of ignited in me. It felt so close all of a sudden and I felt an urgency to share get out the vote messaging. 50 days sounded profound. Like the last leg of a race, where the runners begin to pick up the pace and eventually sprint to the finish line. It felt like crunch time and I wanted to be a part of it.
The Luupe: What kind of response have you seen to the project so far? Have there been any particularly inspiring/ motivating/ surprising responses you’d like to share?
Parsons: For the most part, I’ve had a very positive response. The whole purpose of this project was to encourage voting so I wanted to create shareable content that would reach a large group of people. I share what’s on my mind or quotes that I find inspiring. I didn’t expect so much of my messages to resonate with so many but it seems I’m not alone in my concerns and hopes for our country.
I don’t think anything I’ve created has gone particularly viral, but my artwork is definitely being shared by more people than I ever expected. Even some celebrities! I freaked out a bit when I saw that Kate Hudson and Jennifer Grey had tagged me and shared my work. I think the most surprising part of this project has been the connections I’ve made. Some have been work-related like new commissions and collaborations, or even this interview, for example. Others have been Instagram friendships with people who share their thoughts with me and start on-going dialogues. Especially during these strange times, it’s nice to have human connections….even virtual ones.
The Luupe: Can you talk a bit about your creative process? What comes first the copy or the illustration? Has it been challenging to commit to an illustration a day?
Parsons: I was a copywriter for over 12 years so words and messaging definitely come to me quicker than visuals. I started my illustration journey by doodling words. I have a fascination with lettering and typography. I keep an ongoing list of quotes, song lyrics, sound bytes that occur in my daily life outside of this project so I began doing the same thing with vote-centric messages. But I don’t always adhere to my lists. Some of my most shared posts have been artwork that I throw together in minutes after being inspired on the spot.
It has definitely been challenging to commit to an illustration a day- and frankly, I have not been able to. Maybe I should change the hashtag to #50ishdaysofvoting. I’m a working mom who currently homeschools so life is B-A-N-A-N-A-S right now. This project is important to me and I’m doing my best to adhere to my self-imposed rules but I’m also a big fan of cutting myself slack so I won’t let it stress me out.
The Luupe: Knowing your experience as a copywriter, we immediately jump to the power this might have towards the political art and activist work you’re doing. Do approach this work in the same way you approach writing for brands?
Parsons: Yes and no. Having been a copywriter for a long while, my brain is wired to think conceptually. I never thought that part of my life would come in handy in my new career trajectory but it’s pretty awesome to have that skill. Having worked in advertising and branding, I see this project as a campaign and each illustration I share is like a mini-pitch. I get to see the feedback in realtime and I start to understand what type of messaging and art my audience responds to, which is really interesting from a marketing standpoint.
From the perspective of an artist, however, I’m just making art that I like and want to share. I don’t think too hard or long on each day’s illustration, it’s really whatever is on my mind. I think the illustrations that I spend the least time fretting over always seem to be my strongest. It’s when I try too hard that the message feels a bit more diluted.
The Luupe: How did your collaboration with Kris Nations come about?
Parsons: Yes, Kris Nations reached out to me to recreate an illustration, that I made shortly after the death of George Floyd, into a pendant for a necklace. The pendant reads “Black Lives Matter Now & Forever” and $100 of every sale is being donated to City of Dreams in San Fransisco.
The Luupe: Are you collaborating with any other designers/ brands/ organizations for 50 Days..?
Parsons: I also recently collaborated with the documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, which examines the history of voter suppression and the activists who are fighting for voter rights. I was one of 50 artists who created artwork to promote voting and the film. I’m also collaborating with a couple of social media campaigns that are supporting the Biden/Harris ticket. I’ve had dozens of small brands and individuals reach out to me for commissions and collaborations in the last two or so months, but my bandwidth only goes so far, so I’ve only been able to say yes to a few.
The Luupe: OK, so the “what’s next” can be an annoying question, but given the 50 days time frame… any ideas brewing for future projects? Where do you see things going once the 50 days is up?
Parsons: I was actually just thinking about this a couple of days ago. I will definitely need a break from activism and politics. Maybe I’ll draw unicorns and rainbows for a month or something. I just need a palate cleanser. It’s really heavy on the soul to focus so much on what, for me at least, feels like a dire time in the world. There’s so much desperation surrounding this election. It really feels like we’ve reached a tipping point in our country and I do hope that my art made some semblance of a difference. Even if it was just nice to look at.
But a little pause from thinking about this type of stuff will be my first goal. I think I’ve always been political, I’ve always focused on having a message in my work and I will always come back to this type of art for as long as I live. But in between, I am focused on building my brand and letting myself evolve in whatever direction feels right. I have my heart set on landing a surface pattern licensing in 2021 so that means I better start creating some surface patterns. I think I’ll start there.