Coloring Outside the Lines: Abstract Storytelling allows Black Women to Tell Their Stories

IMG_8521.jpegOn January 23, 2020, at L!ve Cafe in Oak Park, Illinois, several women came together to attend a workshop on abstract storytelling. Abstract storytelling is the art of telling a unique story through symbols, shapes, and colors. Sloane Crawford, the Event Coordinator at L!ve Cafe, states, “Black women, many times, are trying to get through the day and be there for our families, be there for our friends, and we rarely have a moment to open up and be vulnerable. In being honest and living in the fullness of that, we have the opportunity to change that experience into something better. What we have to say is valuable.”

The event began with each participant sharing their needs and wants for their business, as well as discussing what they could offer others as well. The purpose of this exercise was to give each participant the opportunity to be vulnerable. Between sips of wine and tea, participants were encouraged to paint their canvas to tell their stories based on their previous experiences. The facilitator discussed how various colors could represent feelings and urged participants to use multiple colors to bring their story to life on the canvas. Unlike typical painting events, where the artist may provide parameters around the art, the facilitator gives minimal guidance to allow each participant to tell their story in a way unique to their experience. After completing their artwork, participants shared parts of their story and observed the diversity represented in each piece, often commenting on the unique beauty of each piece.

The event ended with a question and answer session with the artist facilitator, Briana Janee’ Shields of Briana Janee’ Arts. A Chicago native, Briana was born and raised in the Austin neighborhood, where she explored various forms of art such as dance, drawing, and painting. As an artist, she strives to blend her love of her community, health, and social justice. She finds that her artwork allows her to express her emotions positively and to tell stories of the African-American experience that may not always be portrayed in media. She states, “As women, we sometimes don’t dream big enough. There are stigmas around how we should be and behave. We need to challenge that and not let those things hinder our passions and our motivations to making our dreams come to life without feeling guilty about it. Your dream does not have to stay small; you do have the power to make it happen.” As a freelance artist, Briana empowers individuals to make their dreams a reality through services such as workshops, graphic design, branding, and marketing, as well as illustrations. More information on her work can be found on her website at

Womenz Werk is a community-based experience that strives to create a space for black women entrepreneurs in Chicago to connect, collaborate, and support each other. Information on future Womenz Werk events, as well as other community-based events happening at L!ve Cafe, can be found at

-Chante Gamby, Contributing Writer


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