Jahfre Colbert is a socially-minded visual communicator, brand builder and recent Orlando transplant working in Rosemary District creative studio, Studio BCC. Coming from years spent organizing socially minded events and building an award winning brand, Jahfre brings his experience and creative hustle to the Rosemary District in an effort to build national brands and expand the creative offerings of our community.
Are you from Sarasota originally? If not, where are you from?
I was born in rural Avon Park, moved to Lakeland as a kid and grew up there. I moved to Orlando in 2009 for college and lived there until January of this year. I’ve only been in Sarasota for 8 months now.
Did you always plan to have a career in creative services?
Yes and no. I was always a visual artist and grew up in an extremely musical household. I was always drawing as a kid, wrote short stories, got into painting and took music lessons off and on. I went to college to study Fine Art and worked my way through the Art History and Philosophy programs before finally settling on a B.A. in Humanities. After I graduated I found myself making art again and learning the basics of graphic design out of necessity. I feel like I was destined to come back to art or something related.
What made you decide to stray away from the Humanities and get started in creative services?
Well, right before I graduated my best friend started this organization called Body//Talk. The idea was to cultivate a value-driven secular community via nightlife events. It started with underground parties that encouraged a sort of openness and communion. I became heavily involved. In time we became a movement, having events in bigger venues, gaining press mentions and winning awards. I naturally gravitated toward organizing volunteers and making our graphics. Later it really became clear that we were building a brand and I got serious about being the one to brand us and not looking to outside help. That’s how I learned graphic design, in order to brand the organization that I was a part of and loved.
Comparing where you started to now, how have you evolved as a creative?
Wow, so much. I mean, in the beginning my art making was this sensitive, brittle thing. It was actually painful in the beginning because what I saw in my head was beyond what I could make in the programs. Critique was especially difficult for me because I put so much of myself into my work, it was very personal. But as a freelancer so I started to get more and more clients and over the years I’ve gone from chiefly making work for myself to focusing on the goals of those clients. Though it’s important for a designer to have their own point of view, this is a fundamental and important shift in intention: from self-serving to client serving. This is an important part of the switch from art making to design.
What type of obstacles have you encountered in the creative industry that you had to overcome and how did you overcome them?
I guess one thing that is difficult is actually getting started. I started by doing my own thing and basically created my own demand. I grew my own brand and cut my teeth developing it. It was a very tough process not only because I was basically learning by myself for years, but like most people starting up, I wasn’t able to focus my attention solely on my craft. I had to have other jobs— so many. I worked on a food truck for a year, was a receptionist, worked in salons and served at taquerias. The whole time I was building my brand and doing freelance work as much as possible. Working in front of that screen for so long, learning everyday, I was determined. I tapped into the growing start-up culture in Orlando and found people in an adjacent hustle, trying to make their dreams happen. I was motivated and adaptable and have just in the last year been able to go full-time as a creative. And I would say I’m still overcoming. Nothing is promised and nothing is permanent.
When it comes to your creative style, how is your personal one different from your professional one?
I wrote an album that never got recorded a few years ago. It means a lot to me and one day I hope to record it— so one difference is that in the last few years I’ve made music for myself and visuals for others. But, I am actually trying to work on my personal visual style again. I’m a part of this project called Mailisms, which is a visual art project. For the project, you’re matched with a designer and are to correspond via email using only visuals that you make for each other. They can be messy sketches or polished works– the point is just to cultivate a running visual dialogue with another creative for the sake of practice. All of our “conversations” are going to be published pretty soon. I feel like it’s important to find time to create for myself. It’s important for my mental, spiritual and emotional well being.
What are a few projects you’ve worked on in the past that you’re most proud of?
Oh Body//Talk, for sure. My Mom’s business, Good Earth Pure Soaps, I’m helping her with that branding and am excited to improve her brand. There’s also an app called Friendish I was able to work on this year and I hope to continue developing that brand– the founder was actually just featured on Apple’s Planet of the Apps and NPR. I’ve also organized social justice panels related to race, gender and sexuality in Orlando. I don’t really do that kind of stuff anymore but I’m proud of those panels for personal reasons.
Tell us more about BodyTalk and why it means so much to you?
I honestly believe that Body//Talk will change the lives of many, many people. I believe in it as a social good, so I’m proud that I was a major part of it. I also hope that I can continue to help build Body//Talk into a national brand. I love that it was created through collaboration with myself and friends. I don’t know if I’ll ever create work that stands the test of time, but at the end of my days I think I will remember most the work that I enjoyed making and found moral beauty in. The visual branding for Body//Talk tells a huge part of my life, where my life has been and where I find my moral center. It’s in the faces of those people and what the movement represents. I’m grateful for being able to develop with the brand.
I know you are involved in an NPR campaign in Orlando. Can you tell me about that?
After Pulse there was a lot of coping and grieving and processing in Orlando. I had given a speech at a Body//Talk about the need to come together during that time. Shortly after that, I left my leadership position in the organization to explore creatively and professionally and started moderating those community panel discussions about race, gender and sexuality. Around that time I heard about a call for ambassadors for a new NPR campaign called Dare To Listen with the goal of promoting engaged listening and empathy in conversations about topics that divide our community. We did a portrait and video shoot and I was on digital billboards all around Orlando. I just recently recorded some voice bits for radio which just started coming out.
What are some of your major creative influences?
I’m all over the place. The Bauhaus School. European and American Abstract Expressionism. Byzantine art. I love everything the agency Buck does. I really love brands like Spotify, Instagram and Refinery29— their in house teams create the digital work that is really culturally impactful. I love conceptual artists like Iamamiwhoami and Arca. Locally, the curator and artist Vanessa Andrade really inspires me as well as Anna Cruz, an Orlando painter and friend.
What are your future aspirations and goals for your creative work?
I want to keep exploring creatively and really hone my skills. I have a lot of interests and I see them all merging somehow. I’ve never been one to settle on one discipline, I’m always looking to learn and explore more. Recently I’ve taken up new programs like Adobe Muse and am studying web design. At the studio, I see myself taking on more responsibility. I really want to build brands here that scale and go national. I’d like opportunities to travel and work around the world as well.
In what ways do you see the future of the Rosemary District and its creativity growing?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet the most unique and inspiring people in the Rosemary District. I think people around here are the catalyst for tremendous population growth in Sarasota and we are all getting ready for it. I’d like to see a unified visual identity for this area. I’d love to be a catalyst to make that happen. Creatively, I think there are some brave people here putting capital and resources into creative ideas. Brian Carlock is one of them, as are Howard Davis and Steve Bradley. Cool things are coming. I also want to see national brands launched out of this neighborhood. I’d like to help make that happen as well.