From Ads to LGBTQ+ Kids' Books, This Illustrator Has Drawn It All

How art scene creative turned ad artist Cheryl Thuesday embraced more personal work

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Some people know their calling from a very early age. In fact, as illustrator Cheryl Thuesday puts it, she “really can’t remember when I wasn’t passionate about art.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Thuesday said her family supported her passion with art supplies and museum visits. She went on to hone her skills and found her love of illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

While that beginning was direct enough, Thuesday’s career journey into marketing took a nontraditional route.

After graduation, she headed to Washington, D.C. Naturally falling into the city’s grassroots art scene through friends and other creatives in her circle, Thuesday earned a reputation for her eye-catching flyers and posters promoting spoken word poetry shows and gallery exhibits, eventually going on to showcase her own work at some of the same venues.

She got her foot in the door of the brand business when a friend reached out about freelance opportunities at thelab production company. That turned into working with brands including Hennessy and Wild Turkey, laying the foundation for her marketing career. Her work has since appeared in The New York Times, and her clients include Adobe as well as WeTransfer’s WePresent. At the latter company, she illustrated a series exploring the history of Black folklore.

That project took her in a new direction, one that was more personal. Thuesday, who is a lesbian, found herself wanting to teach the world, especially the next generation, about these stories and beyond. In August, her illustrations gave life to a children’s nonfiction picture book by Sarah Prager called Kind Like Marsha: Learning From LGBTQ+ Leaders.

Kind Like Marsha was a big step for Thuesday, bringing her into a place where she was able to illustrate in a more individualized way compared to client work. “For a long time, I wasn’t comfortable exploring this aspect of my life in my work,” she said. “But eventually, it became necessary to showcase our community during this bleak time of LGBTQ+ folks enduring bans and homophobia.

“I didn’t see this coming—going from campaigns to editorial to children’s books,” Thuesday said. And with the political climate getting more hostile for LGBTQ+ communities, “it’s important to share those stories, not to just adults but to our kids also.”

Big mistake

Early in her career, Thuesday overcommitted on a project. “I told this company that I can do it in a certain time frame, and there was no way I would be able to do it,” she recalled.

Lesson learned

While climbing the career ladder requires a certain amount of faking it till you make it, “You have to know your own boundaries,” she advised.

How she got the gig

The publisher contacted Thuesday to gauge her interest in illustrating Kind Like Marsha after seeing and liking her previous work for NPR, Adobe Education and personal pieces in her portfolio.

Pro tip

It’s not about selling yourself all the time. “Just be organic,” she said. “Once they see you’re trying to push your stuff, they’re not [interested]. They want to know that you’re there for them, too.”

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This story first appeared in the Sept. 26, 2022, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.