For more on the rest of the Culture Shifters, including actor Da’Vine Joy Randolph and activist Emily Barker, return to the full list here.
Tessa Forrest is the kind of person you meet and immediately feel connected to.
The 28-year-old graphic designer behind the popular Instagram art project Subliming.jpg has an ease and warmth about her, which came through in the first five minutes we spent together. Of course, we weren’t physically together, we were on Zoom, as we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and the Brooklyn resident has spent the coldest winter months in the backhouse of her boyfriend’s parents’ house in Ventura, California. .
Forrest grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and has been an artist since she was little. Her grandmother was an artist, so creative expression was something she was always present. When Forrest was only 5 years old, she drew a self-portrait that left her mother “in awe”. (Sadly, the sketch has now been lost in the sand of time.) In college, she started playing on her family’s computer, so her parents bought her Photoshop. That’s when his love of graphics really blossomed – playing with Adobe software to bolster his pre-Facebook social media accounts.
“I would create MySpace layouts and graphics for myself and my friends,” Forrest said with a laugh. “And the LiveJournal icons.” (Hers is a truly thousand-year-old origin story.) But beyond gaining some credibility with his MySpace friends, Forrest found the practice of playing with shapes, colors, and typography to be calming. “It puts you in a trance,” she said.
And it’s exactly this therapeutic quality that led her to create Subliming.jpg, an Instagram-based project where Forrest takes spiritual quotes and teachings and turns them into bold and beautiful typographic art. (“Don’t be afraid of mistakes, there aren’t any,” a recent article read with a beige textured block set against a green background.) What started as a personal project in early 2016 to do in the face of a whirlwind of trauma – a breakup, a burgeoning eating disorder and multiple family health crises that led Forrest to experience a “depth of emotion” she had never had before – has since exploded into something. something much bigger.
“Community is one of the most vital things, but I was extremely codependent,” said Forrest, speaking of the long-term relationship that left her on tough ground in the end. “Reading the teachings on independence was very helpful.”
As she read, she began to make visual representations of the lessons she learned along the way, with each new post having its own aesthetic personality. She shared a Bryant McGill quote on a sunset gradient, a Rumi’s teaching in simple sans serif letters on a sea foam background, a Quote from Pema Chödrön loop back and forth on an Instagram square like a snake. (Now the teachings are coming from everywhere: books, Instagram posts, random posting.) And it turned out that Forrest’s public vulnerability really resonated with a lot of people. The Subliming.jpg account has over 500,000 subscribers, including Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves and Ariana Grande.
Forrest is still in awe of the community she has built; she is almost surprised at how her own pain can speak to others. “I’m showing my soul,” she said, “as the others give me a message and say, ‘Thank you very much, that’s exactly what I needed to read’, that’s the best feeling. that I can ever feel. ”
In 2017, when Subliming.jpg was just starting to attract a modest audience, Forrest got a full-time job with trendy sportswear brand Outdoor Voices. At the start, she was really able to cut her teeth professionally and still feels grateful to the founder of the brand, Tyler Haney, and his former colleagues for taking a chance on her. When she started working at Outdoor Voices, it was “global”.
“It was your world, in a way,” Forrest said.
And then at the end of 2019, there was an implosion. The entire Forrest team was fired on Halloween. Leaving Outdoor Voices gave Forrest time to reflect on his relationship at work and allowed him to focus seriously on Subliming.jpg and other projects.
“[Outdoor Voices] wasn’t a perfect place to work, and I would say towards the end there I lost a lot of magic, ”said Forrest. She also learned an important lesson: “A business is just a business. You don’t have to be mortally brand loyal. “
It’s a dilemma many millennials found themselves in. We entered the labor market at a time of great precariousness, then continued to develop our careers in a context increasingly placed on the economy of concerts and the fetishization of the “hustle”. Forrest has managed to switch from his day job, but still worries about what it means to be too dependent on a platform like Instagram.
On the one hand, social media platforms have unquestionably made it easier for artists to bypass traditional gatekeepers and connect with consumers. On the other hand, what if Instagram becomes outdated? Do spiritual teachings no longer have the same weight once they have been tied in a small knot on social media? And what does spending all day on Instagram mean for the creator’s sanity?
“This has been my biggest trip this year,” Forrest said. “I think it’s absolutely amazing that this type of content has taken hold. But it feels trivialized and a bit oversaturated, in that it’s Instagram based. I just don’t want it to become a trend and go downhill. “
It’s a messy thing to have your identity and art tied to a platform over which you ultimately have little control. Forrest knows there are no easy answers to these questions, so she’s trying to branch out while continuing to use Instagram to create content that feels meaningful.
She’s not sure exactly what her next creative chapter will look like, but she does know that it will be “less a matter of bonding.” [pain] in a nice bow and makes a nice spiritual message.
“It’s more about what I can do with the pain,” she says. “There is no single quote that will resolve your grief or your trauma. I’m trying to figure out how to share this. “