We had a chat with illustrator and actor from London, Tessie Orange-Turner, about all things art and creation. Her journey as an artist, which we all agree is a BIG word, what inspires her and what she would love to see more of in the world. We talked about why it is so important to provide inclusive spaces for less well known artists to showcase their work on social media and how Tessie plans to do this through her new platform ART GIRL CLUB (@artgirlclubber). And of course we talked about the trademark ‘hairy legs’ in her work and why she loves to draw women.
When did you first start exploring art and using it as a means of self expression, and have you always considered yourself an artist?
I’ve always been into art. I was always the ‘art girl’ in school, doodling everywhere.
My biological father is actually an artist, so I grew up painting with him, which has had a big influence on my life. My whole family is incredibly creative, my dad is a photographer and my mum always had art up in the house, and encouraged us all to draw and paint. I guess I’ve used art as a means of expressing myself from the beginning, as a kid whenever I was bored or wanted something to do, it would always be drawing. Professionally I’ve been doing Illustration for two years now, so not long! I always wanted to do it but I didn’t think I was good enough, I suppose.
You see things in museums, when you go on school trips and things, like pieces in the National Portrait Gallery or huge renaissance art works that are so realistic and beautifully well done, almost like a photograph, and you can’t help but think ‘oh I could never do that’ but I think it’s all about finding your own style. It really does help, when I’m feeling shit, I draw something and I feel better. When I’m happy I draw something and I feel even better.
Calling myself an artist I still struggle with, whenever someone says that I’m an artist, I cringe a little bit, for some reason, I think that’s sort of the self-deprecating British thing we all have going on. I’m alright with calling myself an Illustrator but calling myself and artist feels quite grand and out of reach. For people to see me and refer to me as an artist is lovely, but I’m still coming to terms with it. Right now, Illustrator feels safe.
"A lot of the women and people that I draw are what I deem as sort of unconventionally beautiful, which I think is really important".
"I think as women, we are always judged and crucified on how we choose to express and present ourselves in the world".
"I guess I draw women because that's what I am and what the people closest to me in my life are, and it's such a huge thing to explore".
Your art is incredibly female-centric and depicts a lot of womanly figures at the centre of it, why is this important to you?
I think fundamentally it’s because I am a woman and it’s what I relate to. A lot of the women and people that I draw are what I deem as sort of unconventionally beautiful, which I think is really important. I think as women, we are always judged and crucified on how we choose to express and present ourselves in the world.
People always say that my ‘trademark’ is the hairy legs, which I think now is a bit more accepted, but theres still a long way to go, so what I try and do is shine a positive light on the things that are seen by society as unfeminine or unwomanly or not beautiful, like hairy legs and armpits, which seems like such a trivial thing but when do you see that in the mainstream?
Also, I like to explore the different facets of womanhood, whether it be celebrating ourselves, hating ourselves which I know a lot of us struggle with. All the triumphs and success that we choose to celebrate, as well as the low times. I guess I draw women because that’s what I am and what the people closest to me in my life are, and it’s such a huge thing to explore.
Why Turning Orange?
Turning Orange comes from a play on my surename Orange-Turner which I thought was quite fun and had arty vibes.
What other mediums inspire your work, are there any particular musicians you like to listen too, or TV shows that you watch and how do they influence your work?
I am a huge lover of cartoons, I always was as a kid, and I still fucking love cartoons and animated movies. My favourite film of all time is Belleville Rendez-Vous, the Triplets of Belleville, directed by Sylvain Chomet, which is an animated movie with hardly any dialogue. It’s stunning, it’s quite dark and it’s a beautiful, beautiful film.
Ralph Bakshi as well is another incredible animator and director whose films I love to watch. I think i have been inspired a lot by cartoons - my work is quite cartoony. I used to read a lot of graphic novels and comic books when I was younger, and thats what I see inside my head and is probably all that I am capable of drawing, which I think I’ve managed to flip on it’s head and use as my own illustration style.
"I want to give people the chance to see their work and love their work".
Where is your favourite place to create art?
In my bedroom. It’s my little cave. I don’t have a desk, it’s quite a small room, so I create most of my stuff on my bed, in my room. My room is full of art, some of mine and some of my friends, I’ve got my dad’s art work up, my friend Naomi who does embroidery, my friend Henrietta’s work - I’ve just tried to create this little cave full of things that inspire me. It’s a very safe place for me.
You have recently developed a new Instagram platform called ART GIRL CLUB (@artgirlclubber), what made you want to create this online space for artists?
Yes, we are launching next week. What I want to do is shine a light on female and non-binary artists who are under represented without a huge following, I suppose. Social media has played a massive part in my professional art career, I got my first editorial job from social media, and have since gotten many other jobs from it. I also do all my commissioning on there, so I’m really lucky. Of course Instagram is a massive shit show, or at least it can be, but it can be very beneficial for artists.
There are so many artists that I follow that I feel deserve to be working and deserve to be more known, so what I want to do is spotlight those artists. I am focusing at the moment on artists who have less that 5,000 followers, so that they can gain more of a following and perhaps get work from it. I want to give people the chance to see their work and love their work, because there are so many undercover people who have everything; they have all the ideas and all the imagination and they're making incredible art, but they haven’t been seen or got the platform for it, so thats what I want to do. We’ll see if it works. I think everyone deserves a chance and of course it’s easy to get an illustrator who is very well known with 20,000+ followers to do your next campaign but there are people who are just as talented but haven’t got that ‘clout’. I want to spotlight the artists who are lesser known.
"I think art really does make you feel less alone".
How do you think art, including but not exclusively yours, has had an impact on the world today?
What I enjoy, and I can only speak from my experience, but what I love is when I get messages from people saying “thank you so much for this piece, it really reminds me of myself and something that I’ve gone through and I can really relate to it”. I think that’s just really important for people who may be going through similar things to you, that they can see something that makes them feel a little less alone, I suppose. Even if it’s just a little message you get in the morning, it makes your day to know that you’re not alone. I think art really does make you feel less alone. It makes you feel like there are people out there who are going through similar things to you, and look similar ways to you. That’s why we put art in our homes and all around us…and they're inspiring and they’re thoughtful and sensitive and yeah it has a huge impact on the world and people.
You’re also an actor, how do you use these two types of creative outlets in a different ways? Are there certain creative fulfilments that drawing can achieve that acting can’t, and vice versa?
I think with illustration it’s all me, it’s all what I want to put down on a page, it’s all about how I want to express what I’m feeling, where as with acting it’s somebody else’s works generally and somebody else is directing you and somebody else is putting on your costume and saying you should wear your hair like this, which is great and fun and I love it but there is a much bigger freedom for me I think, in illustration. I guess the thing with acting is that it isn’t you, it’s somebody else, it’s another character, it’s another character’s words and escaping from yourself sometimes is an absolute God send, so I guess they're completely different but the same, in the sense that your exploring different sides to you. I feel very lucky that I can make a living off both.
"We need to remember that we are all just really fragile little beings floating alone and we should help each other out as much as we can".
What do you want to see more of in the world?
I want to see more kindness, more empathy. I think we as humans are capable of both but we get so self indulgent and boiled up in our own minds, we sometimes forget to be kind, or to be empathic. I can be having the worst day ever and I go to the shop and see a little boy carrying an old lady’s bag and it just fills my heart with absolute joy and glee. We need more of that in the world, and I know that we’re capable of it, but I’ve also seen the complete opposite of it, which is fucking horrible. I was on Twitter yesterday reading some comments about.. I can’t remember exactly what it was now, but there was so much hate and destain and lack of empathy for people.
I think what we need to do is just take a moment to remember that we are all humans and we’re all capable of loving and learning and understanding things, changing ourselves for the better and educating ourselves. As opposed to somebody saying something and being shut down or ‘cancelled’ which is unhealthy and damaging. We need to remember that we are all just really fragile little beings floating along and we should help each other out as much as we can.