Spotlight: Terralynn Mikell, violin


When Terralynn Mikell decided to apply to VCUarts, she was only focused on violin playing as a career. Fast-forward four years, and she was named among 12 of the Most Talented Photographers in Richmond by The Hub. What happened? Instagram (where she has over 30,00 followers!) helped, but skill building and hustling was the key to building a great portfolio and reputation – all the while pursuing her music studies.  Terralynn had a flair for expressing herself very early on, but it’s taken many different forms. “My first artistic memory is from when I was very young, about 2 or 3 years old –…I walked up to the stage in my church, grabbed the microphone, and started singing.”  From there, she started singing in church and school choirs. When she was in the fourth grade, her elementary school orchestra in Maryland performed at an assembly. Her violin journey started because of a classy pair of boots (noticing the visual!).  “It was a really simple thing,” she recalled. “There was a girl with cool boots and she played the violin…and I thought I want to do that, too!” She started playing shortly thereafter and became very serious towards the end high school. Meanwhile, Terralynn took lots of pictures on her iPhone, just as a hobby and a way to relax.  When she came to VCU, something happened that would take her hobby into a more serious direction.

“It all started with the VCU Workshop – the media center in the library,” she recalls.

The Workshop provides hardware, software, spaces, and expertise to VCU students and faculty for creative work of all kinds. Instead of signing out books from this part of the library, students can sign out cameras, recording equipment, 3-D printers, studios and more. It’s a library for hands-on making and exploring emerging technologies. “All of a sudden I had access to high-end lens photography equipment, that changed everything. The staff there was so nice, they even showed me a few techniques along the way.” Friends who needed recital poster pictures started asking her to take photos. After posting some of her recital pictures, demand for her services grew, and photography turned into a real side-hustle. She got better and better, and more well known.

Terralynn’s goals of becoming a great violinist didn’t change, she just added another passion.  It turns out that when are really passionate about something, a critical mindset quickly accompanies that passion – that’s something that the process of being a musician and a photographer have in common. “At first, I wasn’t so critical of my own pictures, but now that I’ve grown, I’m a lot more judgmental about my own work. Now I notice the smallest flaw and it drives me absolutely crazy.”

Well, that critical eye has paid off. She has built up a large portfolio of gigs, including taking pictures for Ebony Magazine at Pharrell Williams’ Something in the Water Festival 2019. At the same time, she has been playing church and wedding gigs on violin. She credits her friends at VCU with supporting and inspiring her along the way. First of all, she was surrounded by other artists. The VCU School of the Arts is not only one of the best, (consistently ranking in the top 10 of Art and Design Schools by U.S. News and World Report), but also one the biggest with 3000 arts majors.

So what’s next for Terralynn? “First, I’m taking a little break, just to chill.” After 4 years of pulling double duty and graduating cum laude in May, that’s well deserved!  But, then, as in all creative disciplines, it’s back on the horse. “I want to do both – music and photography – who knows where it will all lead me.”  If you want to see some of her pictures, you can follow Terralynn’s work on Instagram @ terra.xoxo or visit her website