Tiffany, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell us a little about yourself – your background, your influences, your goals...
I was born and raised in Switzerland to an Italian father and a Swiss mother. My earliest memories of drawing are actually my sister's little paper figures that she drew for us to play with. At the age of seven she drew little girls with little dresses for them. She cut them out and used them as toys for us to play with. It was better than playing with Barbie dolls because she was able to design everything herself. I absolutely loved it, but the passion for drawing didn't really catch on until I was roughly 12 years old. I remember watching the Sailor Moon series and thinking that I wanted to draw like that when I grew up.
In my teens I discovered that, not only did I like Anime style, but also Mangas from Japan. I liked them all. Doremi, Pokemon, Wedding Peach – you name it. If you asked my younger self what I wanted to be when I was 25, I would have said comic artist. As I grew older and my fascination for the obscure became more clear, I drifted away from Manga and started to love everything that was slightly eerie. I didn't have favorite artists. I didn't even know who Tim Burton was until people started comparing my art to his. There are several artists whom I admire, but no particular favorite.
I can't really pinpoint what my style consists of or who was a major influence. I'd say, it's a solid mix of everything I love. For my future? I have a bucket list of things I want to achieve as an artist. Not really one ultimate goal, but many smaller things. I'd love to make a living off of my art, but I am also realistic. I am currently working towards my education and think that's a solid goal to have. I'm happy with where I am for now, but I know there's always room for improvement.
Are you currently working as an artist, or is illustration simply a hobby? If so, what are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself as an artist in 10-15 years?
I recently quit my 9-to-5 office job and started being a full-time artist. It was a scary jump, but I don't regret it. I have never created as much artwork as I am doing right now with all this time and energy I have. As cliché is at sounds, my hobby became my profession. Many of my current projects develop slowly, but I think it's important to keep that uninterrupted flow going so I can focus on creating.
In 10 to 15 years, I most definitely want to help other artists grow, to build a strong community and lift other creative people up. I went through the struggle, so my biggest goal is to help others through it. I never knew where to start and it slowed me down, so I want to offer a platform where others can learn how to start. Just basic things like how to choose the right paper, how to ship artwork. Questions that I had when I started as an artist. I'd also love to have a clothing line where I empower the voiceless, the weak, the abused – something that makes people feel strong when they wear it.
One of the more fascinating aspects of your illustration is that you create female-inspired monsters. Why is that?
There's an interesting disconnect for me, between how society expects us to be as humans and how we actually perceive ourselves. My mother played a big role as my father left our family early. He wasn't there most of my childhood and I guess I never forgave him. I mean, I do draw men, but it leaves me with a feeling of sadness and disappointment whenever I draw them. It's something I am working through.
Most females have little interest in subjects like horror or visceral nudity. What attracts you to this darker subject matter?
The closeness to life. We all start out naked. The first thing a human being sees for most of its little life is breasts, and in my opinion, breasts are connected with so much shame and sexuality. Being a woman and often being reduced to a walking pair of tits and ass made me realize how animalistic humans still are, how dark most things actually are. We gloss over much of the darkness by trying to deny our instincts. We sugarcoat stuff. Death fascinates me just as much because it plays into the same category as denial. I can't grasp it. I still feel like some of the people who died in my life are going to come back tomorrow – as if they just went out for groceries. Watching a human body decay makes me feel alive. It's so finite. There's nothing romantic about it. We die, we rot, we disappear. It's simple, but that's how it is.
You seemed very enthusiastic about being the first female interview at RepDigest. How was this important to you as an artist?
As a woman I am very aware of my own strengths or lack thereof. I'm proud to show that there are women who aren't afraid of the darkness, who embrace it and work with it. Being the first one on RepDigest, to introduce a female perspective on art and fear is a great honor to me.
From a female perspective, what challenges do you face as an artist and how do you navigate topics like gender equality? What are your views on this topic?
I would say my biggest struggle is to be heard. I am bold and daring around people I feel comfortable with, but I'd say it has less to do with my gender and more to do with my personality and fears. I don't identify as a feminist because I believe that we aren't born to be equal. There are distinct differences in body and mind between men and women – it's a good thing – but that doesn't mean I am a supporter of unfair treatment. If you get treated unfairly as a man or a woman, you have to stand up for yourself. If you want a higher salary, you have to justify why. If you don't dare to ask for more, that is on you... This world isn't kind. Nobody is going to just hand you what you feel you deserve. Basically, the only person who will be there for you at all times is yourself. It has nothing to do with gender.
Have you ever been doubted or marginalized as an artist? Do you believe it is because of the subject matter, or the simple fact that artists are generally misunderstood?
I recently spoke with a gallerist and he said my style was too cute. He said that he had seen too much of it before and wouldn't display it unless I created on a bigger scale and in a more contemporary style. I appreciated the feedback, but I decided for myself that at the end of the day I am drawing to satisfy my own emotional needs. If making one million little dots makes me happy, I'll do that. If drawing boobs gives me pleasure, I'll do that. I guess there is this thing going on in the art industry where if you don't have a big message behind your art, it is worthless. I believe every artist should be able to create for creations sake without having any deeper messages behind it, without having to explain anything.
I notice many of your female characters have ample curves and cleavage. Does this content attract unwanted or inappropriate attention on social media? Does this make you feel uncomfortable as a female artist, as if you can't freely express yourself?
Not as of yet. My audience is strongly defined by men. 60% males, 40% females in the ages between 20 to 40. Occasionally I get the opposite – potential customers that see my style and motifs, yet they request hyper-realistic portraits or family drawings. They are very disappointed when I refuse to do it, but I am not a hyper-realist, nor am I a happy little flower artist. I am a surrealist, a cartoonist. I love to play with colors and shading. As well, my mood towards my own creations changes frequently.
I currently do a lot of black-and-white line art and dot work, which is very fulfilling. Maybe tomorrow I'll go back to drawing colorful monsters. I never know, but I consider myself to be versatile. There is no rule in the grand scheme of our existence that dictates that we must be similar to how we were yesterday. Hell, you could do a 180 on your personality every day, but in order to appeal to a broader market, we have to be somewhat consistent as artists. For me, that means to create and to change daily, as contradictory as that sounds. It's the only constant thing in my journey.
Many artists are inspired by music. Does this play a role in your creative process?
Yes, I love music. I need it like air. The trend in past years was to dislike mainstream music – so called "bad music". I don't believe there is any bad music. If listening makes you happy, go for it. I listen to everything. Andrew Huang is one of my all-time favorites, since I feel highly connected to his style of working. He doesn't stick to a particular genre. He doesn't stick to traditional lines of how and when to release something. He creates and inspires all in a fluid state of genres and melodies. I truly love it.
At what age did you realize illustration was what you wanted to do?
I realized it very early, by the age of 15 when I got into Mangas, but I was also very aware of the fact that I wasn't ready yet. I didn't draw as well as I wanted to, so it took me 10 years to get where I wanted to be as an artist.
What brings you the most satisfaction as an artist?
When people love my creations as much as I love creating them. Looking at an art piece and knowing it is finished. All too often I look at a piece and I never quite feel like Okay, this is it. I want to show this to the world. Many of my creations are never seen by others, or they are only seen by a small handful of people – all because they simply don't feel finished.
Who are some of your primary influences as an artist?
My main inspiration is my desire to create. It's like an itch I can't scratch. Sometimes I stay up all night until I am satisfied with a drawing. I can't narrow it down to a single favorite artist, there are just too many that I admire. Calli Fink, Jennifer Healy, Marta Adán and Goto Atsuko are definitely in my top 20 though.
Featured here are a few of your top illustrations. Why are these images special to you?
They remind me of what I am capable of, my creative stamina and what I am proud of. There isn't much to say about them. I try to let my drawings speak for themselves.
What is your thought process while creating illustrations like this? Are there any secrets or subliminal messages you are trying to exorcise?
I try to think about what I am about to feel prior to starting. When I begin drawing, I empty my mind and fill my eardrums with music. I run on the autism spectrum, so constant dotting motions, stippling and scribbling are a form of stimming for me. It calms me, like therapy.
I notice you often work with ballpoint pens. What other methods or techniques do you use to create the final appearance of each of your illustrations?
I have been very keen of ballpoint pens for an incredibly long time. If I remember correctly, I started off my earliest eerie scribbles with a black ballpoint BIC. I recently started shifting my tools and broadening my spectrum – ink pens, gel pens, copics... I gently edit my drawings before I post them, but try to keep it as close to the original as possible. I'd like to learn how to use an iPad Pro with Procreate. It seems like the perfect tool for illustrators. I am very keen on developing my style, to see how I can include digital art in my ever-changing process.
Do you ever work when you're pissed off? If so, does this have an adverse effect on your work or subject matter?
I basically work on drawings 24/7, so occasionally yes – I can't avoid being pissed when I create. It surely does make my pieces more vibrant, ha-ha.
What fascinates you as an artist? Do you have a specific genre that you prefer studying, like modern, classical or expressionist?
I'm not really interested in a specific art form. Maybe tattoo art. I love tattoos. I enjoy getting them and would love to learn how to tattoo myself. Pointillism is also interesting to me right now. I don't like poetry nor literature as my autism affects my ability to understand long text paragraphs. I love traditional media. I tried liquid mediums before, but dislike it to the point of absolute frustration.
The art world is very competitive. What seems to be the best method you have discovered to promote your services? Do you find it difficult to gain traction?
The amount of time I spend networking and self-promoting on social media is ridiculous. But then again, I love it. It's what I love doing the most: interacting with other artists and creators. Meeting others broadens my horizon, helps me to leave my comfort zone, which is what I try to do as much as possible. One of my most favorite quotes is "Life starts at the end of your comfort zone". I believe this is true. So the best way to promote my art is definitely through social media, next to mouth-to-mouth propaganda.
What are your fears as a professional illustrator? What are some things that you feel could be improved collectively in the art industry?
I don't have any fears regarding art nor as an illustrator. There is nothing to be scared of. The art industry could improve by stop selling itself short or by being so snobby. My aunt is a famous photographer in the Swiss Indie art scene. When I was younger I was upset about her not giving me a little "Vitamin C". It's what we call help through influential and meaningful business connections via someone who's already established in the scene. I used to get so upset about it and I was holding a grudge against my aunt for the longest time. Nowadays, I understand why she didn't help me out. She made it all by herself and she wanted me to succeed by myself too. It was a good decision.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators who lack confidence?
Surround yourself with the right people. Stop being scared. There is nothing to be scared of. You are only limiting yourself. Have a plan. Work towards it every day. Never question your decisions. If it was a bad one, deal with it. Make the best out of it. Create daily. And most importantly – laugh, eat, sleep and exercise. My biggest secret to being productive is getting enough sleep. In a completely insane world like ours, sanity is the only thing we have to stay healthy, and nothing helps us to achieve that like a good night's sleep.
Outside of illustration, I understand you speak multiple languages and have an interest in traveling. Tell us a little about that.
Born in Switzerland, I speak German and a Swiss German dialect from the Zurich region. There's this common misconception about Switzerland that we all speak four languages, which simply isn't true. I had to learn French at school but forgot most of it, as I never considered it to be a pretty language. My father is Italian so I understand some Italian, but I eventually learned Spanish at the age of 25 instead of Italian. I also speak English like a native. I watched many English cartoons as a child and picked it up really fast. Now I am studying Korean since I am currently living in Seoul. It's an amazing language, very literal.
What are some other fascinating things about Tiffany Tara the audience might not understand or know about? Feel free to elaborate...
I love asking people about their guilty pleasure foods and giving them a shot. Once I encountered a young man at a bar who dunked his salt pretzel into his Red Bull. I just HAD to try it. Now it's one of my favorite snacks ever since. It sounds disgusting, but there's just something about it. Another thing is that I don't make New Year's resolutions. Instead I give myself a task every year. 2016 was to learn writing with my left hand. 2017 was learning how to solve a Rubik's Cube. 2018 was learning the sign language alphabet. For 2019, I don't have one yet, but I think having an exhibition in Korea is something I'd like to achieve, but that's more of a resolution I guess, ha-ha.