"Black Princesses with Big Hair"

“People write to me that they show their daughters my work to show that there are black princesses with big hair,” is the opening to our newest “Founders like Me” series, featuring Debra Cartwright. With auburn and brown natural curls falling nearly shoulder-length, the NYC-based illustrator embodies the very types of subjects that prance gracefully across her paintings. Brown and black-skinned mothers and their daughters, both sporting Afros, murals of Muslim women holding hands with Black Lives Matter supporters, or a wistful pastel painting of woman on the move in New York City are all the subjects of Debra’s artwork--now featured in the likes of Barnes and Noble, and used for brands like Harper Collins.

We caught up with Debra for a brief moment this March, when we filmed her for SHE’s promotional short-video, called literally “Black Princesses with Big Hair”.

In-between shooting Debra and some fellow rock-star founders (namely, Lindsey Day, Co-founder of CRWN Magazine and Rana Abdelhamid, founder of the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment), we got a Cliffs Notes-style run-down on how the stylish, enviably talented, and fearless painter stays busy.

Debra cites her job at People Magazine, where she constantly engages with visual images across media, as a major source of inspiration. The crux of her focus lies in the fact that the media is saturated with white women, leaving out the variation of skin tones and hair textures in women of color across America. In turn, Debra uses her talent as an opportunity to showcase women of color in a new light: with the grace, elegance, and strength that they warrant. She does this alongside a few watercolors concerning social commentary on race relations. Her work is truly art with a conscious: it demonstrates a refined aesthetic, but it also aids in her goal to uplift black women.

A woman on the move, Debra finishes creates small digital artwork everyday in a maximum of forty-five minutes, but spends a bit longer on her watercolors at two to three hours. The results-- delicate colors, bold facial structures, glowing, natural hair--is mesmerizing. (See for yourself by visiting Debra’s Etsy shop).

One of the most challenging adversities facing female entrepreneurs can be lack of support. Given this, some of Debra’s best advice is to be selective about who we share our ambitions with. Even family and friends, she says, can misinterpret the startup process. Though their advice may come from place of wanting to help, they often inadvertently discourage or on the contrary, are unrealistic about potential obstacles, the painter explains. Debra insists that the best place to look for support and guidance is directly in a particular industry.

Women are often taught to not question authority, to not break the status quo, but Debra’s success has been chiefly driven by her ambition, passion for her craft, and confidence. The strength she sees in black women paired with her own sense of self-awareness makes for art that is not only inspired, but inspiring.


Watch Debra’s “Black Princesses with Big Hair” video clip, presented by storyofshe.org on our YouTube Channel: STORYOFSHE Admin.

Alana Brownfeatured