Welcome to our brand new series, Hello Denver, My Name is… where we profile different people in Denver you probably don’t know, but should. Get ready to meet painters, dancers, comedians, musicians, designers and just generally fascinating people that help make Denver awesome.
In a time when we are eager to define ourselves and others, it is somehow thrilling to encounter enigmatic people like Latasha Dunston. As a model, Dunston has participated in New York Fashion Week and recently returned to Denver after walking on the runway in Qatar. As an illustrator and owner of Jitterbug Art Studio, she has been commissioned to create murals, logos and personal portraits in her signature watercolor style. Dunston transcends lines of expression with talents in both the tangible and abstract. Her strokes of creativity guide both her style and her career. Having moved to the Mile High city merely a year ago, she is already on our radar, and she should be on yours too.
Denver, meet Latasha.
303 Magazine: Describe what you were like as a kid.
Latasha Dunston: Simply put, creative. I have always been a creative child. I loved to make all types of things: birthday cards, little purses made from miss matched socks, doodles on paper, cakes, scarves, paintings, hair braiding, even makeup! I really just loved creating things. That is definitely my core trait and what my life is centered around now.
303: What age did you start dressing yourself?
LD: I did not know the answer to this question so it led to a pleasant phone call with my grandmother, who raised me. Apparently, I started to dress myself when I was about four years old. I was determined to show my independence even though I put my shirt on backwards all the time. I had a natural talent of matching colors in my clothes and I loved to play dress-up and get her to take my picture.
303: When did you become interested in art and fashion?
LD: Both of these interests started at a very early age. I say as far back as elementary school. In the second grade, we painted self-portraits and I remember mine looked nothing like me and had different sized arms, but other than that was a decent painting of a random girl! I also remember volunteering to paint a huge banner for the Frederick Douglas assembly in the third grade. I was very proud of that moment because everyone sitting in the auditorium could see my art at the same time which I thought was very cool.
I really started to get into fashion when America’s Next Top Model came on TV in 2003, because Tyra Banks … duh. Representation matters, y’all.
303: Describe the moment when you realized women of color were not prominently featured as part of pop culture.
LD: Growing up in Baltimore City I was immersed in black culture so all of my idols at the time were people of color. All of my immediate media information was from and about people of color. Even on the local news one of the main news anchors was a black man and is still on air today. So it wasn’t until I moved away from my home and went to college, with a way more diverse crowd, did I realize how insignificant my “pop culture” icons were to other people. When I met a grown man who didn’t know who Erykah Badu was I was completely floored. On the other hand, my knowledge of classic rock is just as poor. I personally struggle with pop culture because I grew up in a different realm of pop culture and to me it is just as relevant. I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
303: Describe the moment in your life when you first embraced your individuality.
LD: I have always been a little different than my peers. I was lucky enough to grow up with a grandmother who instilled a lot of pride in me and made me feel confident in myself and my interests. Though the moment I truly embraced myself wasn’t until I made the decision to cut off all my hair and regrow it naturally in spring 2013, embracing my naturally kinky crazy hair instead of frying it straight all the time to please a standard of beauty that was not my own.
303: Describe your experience as a woman of color in the fashion world.
LD: It has been really interesting for me. I have modeled on a few different levels — except supermodel status but maybe someday — in my time and the one thing that I can say is consistent across the board is the lack of education makeup and hair artists have for our darker skin color and curly texture of hair. I find more often than not the hair stylists have never worked with an afro and have no idea how to style it or even where to begin. Or the makeup artist has very little experience matching brown skin tones and makes you look like a corpse or sunburnt! Now, this is not every single experience but has happened a majority of the time for me. Even when I have modeled overseas and in professional shows, I see the same problem. Always bring your own foundation, ladies, just to be safe.
303: Describe the relationship between art and fashion.
LD: Some would say I dress like an artist which I don’t really understand but I take it as a compliment anyway. The two worlds are definitely connected and feed off each other. Even while in university I worked in the fashion department as a model and as an illustration major, I saw a lot of overlap in our curriculums especially in the basics and sources of inspiration. Fashion uses color to tell stories and shapes and lines to convey mood just like I would in my illustrations on paper.
303: What is at the top of your Denver bucket list?
LD: I really want to paint some murals here. It would be such an honor to add my name to the list of artist that have come through this city. I love that Denver is so excepting of street art and I want to get in on that action.
303: Describe your style in a short phrase or motto.
LD: My style is a mixture of simple pieces and bold prints. It is unique to me and I try not to be influenced too heavily by what is popular at the time. This is because in the last couple of years I have been trying to minimize my fast fashion contribution. I try to only shop handmade or second hand.
303: If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
LD: A simple tank, a high-waisted, knee-length skirt, comfortable sandals and statement jewelry. If it gets cold I’ll throw tights and a cropped sweater into the mix.
303: What can we expect from you in 2018?
LD: The one main thing you can expect from me this year is a lot more engagement in my online community. I have been working hard on my artist account @jitterbug_art, and now I am going to focus on my personal brand and sharing more fashion, lifestyle and wellness in addition to art and travel on my blog. I will be coming out of my shell more. My goal is to be an inspiration for other young black girls to follow their dreams. I want to be the representation that I did not have. That is what motivates me to keep going to sharing my passions.
303: This last question comes from our last interviewee, Sam Slade: Would you rather keep moving forward with your career or go back in time and pick an alternate path?
LD: I would keep moving of course! I recently made a joke with someone that I’ve been an artist for more than 20 years! Which is technically true because I can trace my artwork back to kindergarten! It is what I have always loved and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m really just getting started!
All photography by Bridget Burnett.