Kah’Milah Ledgester breathes life into award-winning art with Adobe Creative Cloud

Image of Kah’Milah Ledgester.

Kah’Milah Ledgester never backs away from a challenge. When the Florida A&M University (FAMU) senior was trying to decide between majoring in art and graphic design, she chose graphic design specifically because she was less familiar with digital design.

“I came from a really traditional art background, so it was a big change to start working in digital media,” says Ledgester. “But I feel like I needed that challenge to push myself forward as an artist.”

In this article:

  • Exploring creative skills
  • Winning over fans
  • Exploring new dreams

It was her openness to new challenges that allowed Ledgester to overcome her nerves and enter two high-profile competitions in her junior year — winning both Target’s HBCU 2021 Design Challenge and JCPenney’s Young, Black and Gifted challenge. Both winning designs were created using Adobe Creative Cloud apps, available to Ledgester and other FAMU students as part of FAMU’s participation in the Adobe Creative Campus program.

“It was exciting to take that chance and do something that scared me,” says Ledgester. “Adobe Creative Cloud has really helped me build confidence because it gives me so many tools to experiment with and develop my skills as a digital artist.”

Exploring creative skills

Ledgester hadn’t always intended to major in design. She entered FAMU as a biology student, inspired by teachers who communicated their love of science and discovery to her over the years. But during a first-year internship, she realized how much she missed engaging with her creative side.

“I’ve always been the student doodling in her notebook all day,” explains Ledgester. “In fact, it was other students in my internship who started asking me whether science was really the path I wanted. I took a drawing class, and it really opened my eyes to what I was capable of. And the more I put effort into it, the more it fed my creativity.”

As a graphic design major, Ledgester pushes herself to expand her toolbox and understand as much about the design process as she can: from teaching herself new creative apps to understanding business concepts such as marketing and communications.

“I love learning new things, so having access to Adobe Creative Cloud has been wonderful,” says Ledgester. “I started out learning apps like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fresco for when I’m on the go. Once you learn one app, it’s really easy to start picking up others because the toolboxes and interfaces are so similar. You don’t have to relearn everything.”

Image created by Kah’Milah Ledgester.

When one of her friends decided to start posting videos to YouTube, Ledgester volunteered to learn Adobe Premiere Pro to create an intro. She quickly learned to cut together clips and graphics, adding music and special effects to make something fun and catchy. Ledgester also taught herself to use Adobe XD to mockup user interfaces and websites — a skill that helps her as she studies for her Google UX Design Certification.

Ledgester uses what she learns in the classroom, in her personal art, and in her internship positions at FAMU. As the graphic and design intern for Career and Professional Development, she uses her design knowledge to create high-impact infographics, logos, and other marketing materials to communicate the department’s message with students across FAMU.

Winning over fans

Ledgester’s art has found fans outside of the FAMU community with wins in national design competitions. For Target's 2021 HBCU design contest, designers were tasked with creating an image representing excellence, especially within the Black community. Ledgester’s winning image features a Black woman with a purple afro, surrounded and partially covered by pieces of colorful cut fruit. Inspired by Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit,” Ledgester takes the pain and hurt from the song and flips it on its head to show another side of Black women: beautiful, vibrant, and colorful as tropical fruit.

Image created by Kah’Milah Ledgester.

“I was kind of scared because I wasn’t used to doing competitions, but I took a chance because I really wanted to do something to represent Black women in a very positive way,” says Ledgester. “Too many times Black women are told we’re undesirable, but I wanted to create something that shows we’re all different — and beautiful and remarkable, just like the fruit in the image.”

JCPenney's Young, Black and Gifted challenge competition asked participants to submit images that coincided with the theme of “Black Health and Wellness.” Ledgester submitted a design that features two upturned faces. A swirl of breath rises between them, with the words “Just Breathe” and “Remember to Exhale.” Ledgester’s design was chosen as one of three winners, featured on t-shirts sold during Black History Month.

Image created by Kah’Milah Ledgester.

“The design was meant to focus on mental health, and I immediately thought of the women in my family,” says Ledgester. “They’re such inspirations because they work so hard, but it’s equally important for people who work like that to take the time for themselves and stop and breathe. I do most of my illustrations with Fresco, which is great because I can work anywhere I’m inspired.”

While Ledgester was deeply honored by the recognition, it was the mentorship that she will remember the most. Fashion industry veterans met with the JCPenney winners to teach them about the industry, from understanding fabrics, working with vendors, understanding audiences, and marketing products.

Image on t-shirt created by Kah’Milah Ledgester.

“A secret part of me always wanted to work in fashion, but it always seemed out of reach,” explains Ledgester. “Now, winning these competitions and seeing my art on t-shirts sold in stores was like a dream come true for younger me.”

Exploring new dreams

Ledgester continues to push herself as an illustrator and designer. Her artwork continues to make waves, with another piece chosen as the Black Philanthropy Month poster for 2022. She plans to start her own design business to sell her prints and artwork, while taking on an apprenticeship to further her UX design skills.

“The fact that FAMU is an Adobe Creative Campus has been great for my artistic growth,” says Ledgester. “I love the virtual sessions where they bring in other designers and let them talk about their creative process. I always find something new to add to my creative toolset. The ability to access Adobe Creative Cloud anywhere, at any time, is also fantastic. I can experiment a lot more, do more revisions, and really push myself creatively. I’m excited to see what else I can accomplish through design.”

See more of Kah’Milah Ledgester’s work here.