Name: Jessica Tracey
Art Form: Illustrator
Website: Click here
The Project: Illustrations that tackle social issues
B: What’s your project?
J: An illustrated children’s book called “Lemontine”. It’s the story of a sister relationship told from the youngest sister’s perspective on how her older sister doesn’t spend as much time with her now she’s in a relationship. The point of it is to not directly and verbally state that the older sister is in a gay relationship but for children to understand that from my illustrations.
B: What’s the message behind Lemontine?
J: Wanting to normalise same sex relationships for children as they grow up by not making them the centre of a story. Approaching female to female relationships in a way that I feel is fairly represented. By that, I mean without pushing a stereotype on kids to explain “these people exist!!!” but to do it as though we’re already in a world where it’s widely understood and accepted.
B: What kickstarted the idea behind it?
J: I was inspired to do it by my sister. When you watch traditional media or television, the representation is either stereotyped or sidelined. Gay representation in film and telly is often a caricature instead of a complex character that has the same issues as a straight lead character. How are people supposed to be normalised to something that’s over-the-top or inaccurate? It’s this kind of overcompensation in media that encouraged me to make Lemontine. The one positive now is that adult and teenage tv is getting better at addressing these misrepresentation problems but children still don’t have that support because people still fundamentally think they’re teaching their kids to be gay. If your parents don’t show you something, how are you supposed to know it exists? This can lead to all sorts of social problems later on in life such as lack of acceptance. On the flip-side, if kids have access to phones, they almost have too much information but not in the right tone for them since it isn’t directed at them. Lemontine is my compromise. I often wonder, what would my sister’s perception of gay relationships be if she didn’t have me as a sister!
This project also makes me think about my sex education, I learned about straight sex at school. Gay sex wasn’t even covered briefly. Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of a dental dam. A dental dam is what’s used during female oral intercourse to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. I’m 21, almost 22 and I’ve only JUST learned. I could tell you all about condoms, I’ve been educated to each end of the earth on condoms but nothing on dental dams. It’s absurd, it’s about being safe, not brainwashing children to be a sexuality other than the one they are.
It’s a shame but I often feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot by wanting to make these controversial cartoons. The reason I keep doing them is that they shouldn’t be controversial. Will I be turned away from a job because adults had a bad reaction to illustrations I made to safely educate their children? I’ll be typecast, one way or another. It makes me want to go into schools and gives the sex ed talk myself.
B: Who is it for?
J: For this project, it’s between the ages of 7 and 12 but for the most part, I like working with any age, it just depends on the project. I often feel pushed to do work for children. I wrote my dissertation on “can cute food packaging be successful in the UK”? When I went round Waitrose, I took photographs of cute food and it’s exclusively for seasonal packaging (Easter/Christmas/holidays) because that’s geared towards making children happy, animal food or young children’s food. Nowhere on adult food packaging was cute used as a stylistic choice. It’s not revered to be cute. In our culture, if you enjoy cute things as an adult, it raises sinister questions. There’s a worry there’s something in you that could be associated with paedophilia. As a result, people won’t seek me out to draw something serious for adults and I think that says something negative about our culture. If you look at Japan, they have “cute” cartoons for kids and they have Hentai, a type of cartoon porn. Both genres of media are completely different in tone and audience but there’s still an understanding of “cute” not necessarily meaning something perverse or abhorrent if you enjoy it in adult life. It’s not even the “cuteness” of Hentai that is being sexualised, it’s still the sexual acts that the characters are performing as the pornographic element of it but to even animate it using that style of drawing is so taboo here, it can’t even be used on food packaging, let alone in a sexual context.
The Inspiration: Making a difference through art
B: How do you normally generate ideas?
J: I normally make a Pinterest board and look back over my Instagram for artists that I follow that link to the social issue I’m raising. I steal colour palettes from adverts or food packaging. It’s nice though to have gotten to a point in my practice where I don’t need a tonne of outside inspiration since I’ve found my style.
B: How do you tackle creative block?
J: I’m a very slow worker. To be honest, for me, the only way I can get over it is reinvigorating my interest in the topic. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll watch a cartoon, read a good book or even just see other people’s work on Instagram, any of these things gets me excited about the topic again. It doesn’t even have to show me what to do or be relevant to what I’m exploring but it’ll make me want to pick up the pen. I’m really into “space” right now because of this book that I read called “A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers. It coincidentally had a lesbian romance in it, not even the reason I picked up the book – I stood for half an hour in Waterstones looking for a book with a female protagonist because it’s just so male dominated.
B: What’s the hardest part about being an illustrator?
J: Being an illustrator can be so disheartening because even though my studies allow me to pick and choose my themes, it always has to be commercialised, it always has to be good, I’ll always have to appease my tutors in some way and it can take the fun out of it. Not feeling like you can draw something simply because you want to because all of a sudden, drawing has this full list of criteria that your adult-brain has to adhere to.
B: How and what kind of impact are you making with what you do?
J: The feedback I got from the animation I made that explained Crohn’s disease has been the biggest deal to me. I’ve got Crohn’s disease so some days I can feel really nauseous, I can get tired really easily and my joints can ache. It goes beyond the initial bowel inflammation, your entire body is affected in some way. One day, I got so frustrated with not being able to discuss my disease with people without the need for a massive heart to heart that I finished an educational animation in about a day. I emailed the animation to the official Crohn’s and Colitis disease page, they loved it and shared it. The best part was all the comments and reblogs I got from sufferers. I’m quite a passive person on social media so to see somebody has taken a second to share it and talk about it really made me feel like I did a good job. Because my housemate Cora has seen me on my bad days, she cried when my Lemontine book got printed and came back to me. That, for me, really told me “hell yeah, I got up and got on with this disease every day and here’s what I’ve got to show for it at the end”. Both of those instances have really boosted my confidence.
Being A Female Creative: Making a difference through art
B: How would you describe the experience of being a female illustrator?
J: I feel a lot of responsibility to create work that tackles issues that affect women, more so than anything else. Not just because I identify as a female but because who else will? I feel a kinship with other female illustrators because if I see something really good done by another female illustrator, I’m like “yes!”. As a community, illustration is a good place for women. Tuesday Bassen – she makes badges, has her own clothes range. She’s an illustrator and business women, I follow her on Instagram. It’s very female positive and what she embodies is reflective of what the illustration community is like. It’s much more open to contribution from other females, a lot of women supporting women. It’s not only in demand but people aren’t questioning why it’s there. Other industries could take a leaf out of the illustrator guidebook.
B: Where are you at right now?
J: Just graduated my final year of illustration. I’ll be moving back home and participating in craft fairs to bring in some money and get my name out there. Being an illustrator is a tricky one, you’ve got a while to go before people know who you are. I’m focusing on making small projects that I can go to other companies with so that I can get recognised that way too. Do things that I love that happen to get a lot of exposure. The end goal is to contribute frequently to a children’s magazine. I’d love to work for A Mighty Girl, it’s a website that educates teens and children about successful women. I’d love to work for a company that shares the same ideals as me like that, not just creating to make ends meet or for a big payout.
B: Any future projects we should keep an eye out for?
J: I recently watched a TED Talk about “hymen myth busting” and that’s got me pretty fired up to make something. I just want to educate people about the female body, videos like that make me feel like “everybody needs to know what I’ve just learnt!”. It frustrates me when people say “well it doesn’t matter” because more often than not, the people saying that don’t have a hymen. I’m not sure whether it’s going to be an animation or a little book but I’m going to make it. That TED talk left me feeling like “people need to know!”.
Written by Brittany Sutcliffe.
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