Lauren Harris (BSJ18 + IMC Certificate) is an associate animator at NBC News. She recently sat down to talk with Medill IMC about her education, career and viral illustrations for Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth. Find her art on Instagram, @loharris_art. Interviewer/editor: Katie Smith
Can you tell us about your time at Medill and what you learned?
I took some great classes at IMC. One class that really stuck with me was a PR class with Ernest [Duplessis]. … His advice was [that] you should defer to the experts.
And the expert might not be a bigwig expert. If you’re marketing to someone young, the expert could be a teenager… So for me, when I’m working in different teamwork situations, even if I technically am in a leadership position, I think it’s important to look at the people around me, regardless of what their title is and understand what they’re bringing to the table and what they are an expert in. [And then], create room in the team for them to step up and have their voice heard as the expert in the situation.
Can you take us through your career journey from graduation to landing a full-time job at NBC?
After I graduated in 2018, I ended up being a page in the NBC page program, which is a career development program, best known for its prominence in “30 Rock,” the show with Kenneth the Page.
[The page program] helped me come out of my shell, and it helped me learn how to present myself, speak up for myself and network. … I got to see “SNL” cast members and [rapper] Quest Love just trying to go get a drink of water and Lester Holt in line for a sandwich. All of that was so amazing to see it as a young person.
After the Page Program, I ended up moving into a position at NBC News, which was actually created for me. I am an associate animator on the digital team. Currently, I work across a variety of platforms in the NBC portfolio. I’ve had graphics published in Today and NBCNews.com, but I primarily [work for] NBC News Now, which is their 24-hour news streaming service and Stay Tuned, a Snapchat-based show for Gen Z-ers.
What does your job look like day-to-day?
Some days I’m just working on the show itself, making sure that we have all the graphics we need to explain a difficult topic. And then occasionally there’s the special project that comes in.
One recent project that I worked on was an animated video called “COVID Confessions.” Early on in the pandemic, I teamed up with a couple of other animators on the team to visualize and animate the written “confessions” of folks who shared their experiences during COVID lockdown with NBC News. It was up to us as the graphics team to sit down and tell those stories in a creative way. That was my first feature piece, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people.
How did you decide how and what you were going to communicate in terms of #BlackLivesMatter?
Regardless of whether or not I’m a journalist, like I’m still a Black woman, and the conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement relates to my personhood and my human rights. So, for me, one way to process was to draw and to kind of get my feelings out there. And when I was making the art that I made (only a couple of pieces were explicitly aligned with Black Lives Matter), I was doing it more so for my own personal coping. I was not creating [the art] with the intention of seeing it go viral.
I’ve seen so many people react so strongly. One of the pieces I made was called Justice. Someone made Oreo cookie fan art. They opened up the cookie and carved into the frosting to recreate my art. And I was like, “Wow.”
I felt kind of nervous when I started getting traction because I didn’t want to compromise my career in any way. My work colleagues and managers [are] super supportive of everything that’s going on with my work.
What was your Instagram presence like before your protest art went viral? How did you get started as an artist?
I was very into digital art in middle school. I bought my first Wacom tablet with my own money. I was so committed that before I had [the tablet] I was trying to draw with a mouse. And my dad got me a little Photoshop license. When I was younger, I was a part of DeviantArt.com, which is an online art community from like the early 2000s. Then when I went to college, [my art] just kind of fell off. I was just trying not to get distracted and fail out.
In January 2020, I decided I’m just going to buy an iPad and I’m going to draw. So then I made my little Instagram account because I realized that I tend to stick to things when I have the gratification of and being able to put it out there.
Then I was like, “Okay, now I want to step it up in February, and I want to challenge myself to draw every day.” So I just made up “29 Queens,” which was a project for Black History Month. I basically drew a picture of a different Black woman every day of February: entertainers, scientists, artists, politicians, whoever I found inspiring.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.