A Black woman in blue lipstick and eye shadow smiles.
Sybil Taylor. Photo by Annemarie Cuccia.

Sybil Taylor is still surprised she’s an artist. The 55-year-old native Washingtonian has been at Street Sense for 14 years, selling papers during bouts of homelessness. But she didn’t begin creating visual art until this summer, when a piece she drew to celebrate Pride Month gave her the confidence to display her love of nature in the pages of Street Sense. Now a practiced illustrator of flowers, bumblebees and fish, Taylor has added artist to her list of accomplishments. She is a vendor, writer, video subject, and joy-bringer. 

Taylor’s artwork will be available for purchase at Street Sense’s Artshow on Sept. 29. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


 

You’ve been here for a long time. What was it like when you came in 2008? 

 

Well, my first day must have been in September, 2008. My job had ended, so I started panhandling on the street. And I was like “Oh God, I really need a job.” So, one of the vendors told me about Street Sense. They hired me the same day I interviewed, gave me a badge and free newspapers. 

My first time selling papers I was over by McPherson Square and by Metro Center, and I didn’t really do good at all. But I found a spot at Farragut West and 20th and K St NW and I’ve been doing well up there. I know we all get frustrated, but I got my customers and I make friends with everybody. I love coming to Street Sense. When I come here, it makes me feel good. 

When did you start writing for the paper? Was it also in 2008? 

 

It was a little later. When I first came here I didn’t know how to write, or what to write. But if you look online, you’ll see the very first thing I wrote for this job. Our website has articles I wrote where I talked about my experience with homelessness. 

I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve never had to sleep on the street, but I’ve been in a homeless situation before. I was staying with somebody and she skipped town and I got locked out of the house. And my boyfriend Daniel, he also had a situation, so we made it some kind of way. 

When people look at me they are like “I can’t believe you actually lived in that situation.” They don’t know me and him used to go to the homeless truck when it was 20 degrees outside, and I’ll never forget that, I’ll never forget coming in to Street Sense trying to keep warm because we had nowhere to go. 

I mean, can you imagine being in the cold and standing in line to wait for something to eat? That is what we were depending on. It’s hard to believe. But I’m much better now, I’m not stressed out anymore. I was stressed out before, yes I was, I was highly stressed out.

If anybody else is going through the same thing and they need support, they can read some of my stories or they can see me outside selling my paper and they can always talk to me. 

Maria Lares, our manager of artistic workshops, started new art workshops this year. What did going to your first art class feel like? 

 

I didn’t know I was an artist until I started going to Maria’s classes. I started doing pictures of nature, animals, flowers, you name it. 

To tell you the truth, when I first went to her class I was kind of nervous, cause I was like I might mess up, I don’t know how to do it. She told us you can pick any topic that you want. So, I said let me do something about Pride, cause that’s when Pride was coming up. I drew two people, just off my mind, and I did a little story about it. I used markers at first, because I didn’t know she had other things. She liked it and they went and published it, and I was really shocked that they published my art. And I started coming more regularly, and doing more art. 

A drawing of fish in the sea.

Taylor’s fish portrait.

Where do you get inspiration for your art? 

 

It just comes to my mind. It’s been so hot, so I thought let me just draw some ice cream and popsicles. Whatever came, I just put it on the paper and I just started coloring it with pink and purple. That’s what made people notice it, I think. 

The one with the fish, I didn’t know I had the talent to draw fish or different sea animals like that. But it just came to my mind. I just sat down and thought, let me think of a fish in my mind and draw him and draw the fins and the eyes. I thought I was going to mess up but I just started getting more creative.

Is there anything you try to communicate through your art? 

 

Well, most of it has meaning. Like the ice cream, I just want people to enjoy the summer while it lasts. You know, so they could feel relaxed, feel cool. Some things just make people happy. You have to do something to lift people’s spirits up, everybody’s not going to have a good day. 


 

You can see and purchase Sybil Taylor’s artwork at Street Sense’s Artshow on September 29. Purchase your ticket today at http://bit.ly/Artshow2022

Annemarie Cuccia covers D.C. government and public affairs through a partnership between Street Sense Media and The DC Line. This joint position was made possible by The Nash Foundation and individual contributors.