Tessa is the Senior Graphic Designer at ubiquitous activewear brand, Outdoor Voices. She moonlights as Curator of Feelings at Subliming.jpg, part design project, part public journal. She finds quotes that connect with her emotional state and then re-designs them in bold, punchy fonts and colors. Most of the quotes are positive or encouraging, urging you to "Visualize your highest self then show up as her" and reminding you that "The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit."
You may have seen her work reposted by an endless amount of people (and brands) on your feed - a way to voice feelings that are hard to hold still enough to get a good look at. Or, another way of crying "Aja-Aja!” (a Korean expression to boost morale).
Tessa is deeply thoughtful on who she is and where she wants to be. She speaks about her self-proclaimed emotional messiness with a deep respect for herself and a profound clarity that is older than her years (not that I would know, because we’re the same age!).
She has an innate sense of style that isn’t flashy, but which commands your attention. Who else can pair bike shorts with strappy heels and a cropped tank and look that good?
Williamsburg, Brooklyn. May 2019.
Edited for clarity.
JT: You mentioned in a previous interview that you were depressed at the agency you were working on, and that’s when you started Subliming.jpg. Was that a direct correlation or was it something you always wanted to start regardless?
TF: I think it was definitely depression. The work that I was creating felt so bad. It was very commercial. Everything was artificial, they had prime rib weekends - everything was so bad.
JT:You were doing commercial work and it wasn’t fulfilling you.
TF: It definitely didn’t fulfill me creatively. When you don’t have freelance clients, you don’t really know what the content of your work is going to be. I’ve always been obsessed with quotes because I don’t really read. Remember when I asked you for a list of books? I’m not a reader, and I know I should be. I’ve gone through phases before, but I think it’s because I’m such a visual person. I am emotional and I have always loved these bite sized quotes - when I had a Myspace, I’d have quotes all over it.
JT: I think there’s also a sense of comfort that comes from knowing that you aren’t alone, and being able to pull the words to describe your internal emotional state from someone who can describe it better than you can.
TF: Exactly. Yeah, that’s definitely not my expertise. If it’s a general quote and there’s no source I don’t attribute to anyone but if there is an author, I put them in the caption. A lot of people think I write the quotes and thank me for the writing.
JT: It feels like you wrote them because you curate them. Like an art gallery of feelings.
TF: That’s why I like quotes so much - that is the whole point, it’s not a unique feeling. You’re not alone, and you think you can be so complex and that nobody has ever felt this feeling before, but they have, which is really cool.
JT: It’s also really disturbing - nothing of myself is individual.
TF: At the same time, you do have your own unique perspective. Everyone does.
JT: When different people see the things you post they probably interact with it in a very personal and different way.
TF: We can all feel the same feelings and those quotes that reflect those feelings are relatable, but we all have our own completely unique experience that’s really intimate.
JT: You describe your method of choosing what quotes to design as “selfish” because they’re chosen based on what’s going on in your own world. When you connect that with the thousands of disparate people who are seeing this and processing it in their own way, there must be this great sense of community and connection.
TF: I make something out of the things I feel, and somebody may look at it and say, “This is exactly what I needed to see today.” Sometimes people DM me and tell me stories that come up, or ideas. What’s crazy is that I feel the same way too. The message feels so important when both myself and someone else is impacted by the same words on the same day for completely different reasons.
JT: You mentioned that you started this when you had a job that wasn’t fulfilling you creatively. I assume that your job now, as the Senior Graphic Designer for OV, does. How has that changed the dynamic for Subliming.jpg as a side project.
TF: It’s made it harder, I’m not going to lie. I think I’m generally a little happier now. I connect with more when I’m going through periods of change.
TF: When I first moved to New York, life felt so raw, I was having so many experiences and going through so many changes. I think that it’s the cliche that struggle fuels art. I now have a job that fulfills me creatively, I’ve learned to manage my emotions a lot better and I’m not as dramatic as I used to be. I have less ammo! It started as a daily thing to make something creative, and that’s why in the beginning they were so basic. They were supposed to take me five minutes because I wanted to do them everyday to exercise the muscle, and now I can go two weeks without posting, which is so bad.
JT: What is the purpose of having for you now? What is the potential for it?
TF: I think I’m figuring that out. For me, there is a period of time where I was taking too many freelance jobs and was freaking out. I wasn’t even posting on Subliming anymore. It’s turned into this amazing brand that I’m so grateful for - I get an income from it. But it’s not going to be successful if I don’t return to the income-less core of it, the real purpose of it, which was the emotional fulfillment. It means that I have to dig deep. I think now that I’m in a relationship, you do a little less soul searching, you’re a little more distracted. I think I have to make a choice and the effort and turn into myself to find the ammo.
JT: I think there’s an idea that you have to be the best and it has to be a financial and social success. For me, Ghost Vintage is never going to make me real money. It’s meant to be something that gives me joy and allows me to connect with other people. At some point in your career you need to find something that counterbalances your paid full-time job.
TF: It’s so true. That’s been the difficulty. Some people ask me to go full time and quit my job, that I can get an income by being freelance. You guys, I don’t know if that’s exactly what I want. I’m good. I make a full time income, and I have insurance, and I work with people and I do like the structure of a job. Sometimes I don’t of course, there are other times where I do like the flexibility. I just want it to stay what it is - as long as I’m pacing it correctly, it can organically over time become this big thing that could be great, but I don’t want my sights set on building an empire and creating this brand for myself. I feel like it makes it less organic.
JT: When you have security and an income, and a structure, you have the space to do Subliming. It’s your wife, not your mistress.
TF: Exactly! It would feel so different.
I’m interested in that whole trend of becoming an entrepreneur - that has suddenly become the #1/#2 career choice outside of being an influencer. There’s so much pressure - how come there are still women who do it on the side without needing to go all the way with it?
TF: I agree, you see someone, they start a side project and it becomes successful and then they just only do that.
JT: It also, I think, discourages people who are looking for that side thing that is a hobby because the stakes are too high. If you want to be public about it you have to make it a thing. I hear these stories of older women who want to learn how to paint and just do it. Jonathan Van Ness trying to ice skate as a full grown man without any Olympics aspirations. He’s just learning because he’s just trying to learn.
TF: It’s so true. Everyone expects it to turn into something. I don’t want it. I’m fine. I can’t even manage myself at the moment, I’m a mess.
JT: To change tracks a little, on Instagram we’ve spoken about body image and self perception and the idea that Instagram makes us forget what we actually look like and instead fixate on what we think we should look like.
TF: That’s the thing - we only see other people looking good all the time. I love @celebface on Instagram. The one where they do Instagram photos vs. a real and unedited background photo that someone else took. I’ve had to literally research about identity and the way we associate our looks with our identity so heavily.
We’re at this stage where we’re becoming aware of our changing faces and bodies. When I’m 22, I didn’t think about my body and how it was about to change. I just turned 26 and I know that’s so young, but things have changed and you have to come to grips with the fact we’re not going to be the youngest people forever and you just look like what you look like.
I’m attracted to my boyfriend, but at the same time if he doesn’t look so great, it doesn’t matter. Once you get to know someone, you’re not analyzing their appearance.
JT: But we obsess it over a daily basis.
TF: That’s what I also like about Subliming, there’s so much on my feed that makes me feel bad about myself. I think using the platform for something else has been behind its success.
I’m at a point where I’ve unfollowed every model unless I genuinely love their content as a person and what they post. I’m following therapists, I’m following this neuroscientist - she’s a therapist but also focuses a lot on retraining the pathways of the brain. I follow a lot of food doctors. I think Instagram can be such an impactful tool if used in the right way. I still use it too much and go on the Explore page. But at the root of it, no one should spend literally any second of their lives feeling bad about themselves. Nobody should put themselves down, everyone should consider themselves their very best friend. I think putting out that content will hopefully help other people exercise that muscle to think that way. It helps.