Tessa Forrest’s works are bold, both in color and in their message.
Working under the moniker Subliming, she reimagines motivational quotes inspired by anything from Tumblr to storefront chalkboard signs. Her signature clean style, bold typeface and retro color palette has garnered her the attention of Refinery29, Girlboss and Teen Vogue, among others. We caught up with the New York-based graphic designer to talk typography, the power of positivity and getting her start with LiveJournal (yes, a real throwback).
Tell us a little bit about how you got started? Did you study graphic design in school?
I’ve been playing around with graphic design since I was about 11-12. My family has always been a weird blend of tech and arts. My dad loves Apple computers, we’ve had them since their origin and my mom’s side comes from a fine art background. So naturally in middle school my dad got me Photoshop Elements to play with during summers and after school. I started off making Livejournal layouts and icons (lol if anyone remembers that site!!! OG tumblr), and Myspace art for my friends. I continued to play around with that in different ways throughout high school, but I studied Creative Advertising in college. I didn’t start officially doing graphic design again until my junior year when I started interning at agencies.
Your color palette is so recognizable—where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from all over, but primarily 60’s, 70’s and 80’s concert posters and album covers. That’s really where I see the most eye catching color combinations.
“Inspirational quotes” on the internet often feel stale and empty, but there’s something about your fresh take that really gives them energy and meaning. When did you first get started working with this sort of text and what inspires you to continue?
That’s so nice, thank you! I’ve always been big into quotes in general — I don’t have the attention span to read a ton, so reading quotes from authors and spiritual gurus has always been a way to cheer myself up and feel more connected with myself in bite sized bits. When I started my account, I was going through a rough time and working at an agency where I wasn’t producing work that I was proud of or inspired by. I had seen a few pieces of design sort of similar to mine floating around the internet, and I had always really been captivated by them, so I wanted to produce my own take on it. I thought of @subliming.jpg as more of a daily brain dump for exercising new techniques, playing around with fun color palettes and inspiring myself by the quotes. I never expected so many people to be positively impacted by it, but that’s definitely what inspires me to continue.
Where do you find the text that you feature? Do you find that you’re often speaking to yourself?
All over — random Instagram accounts, friends, tumblr, books, stalking quote websites, sometimes chalkboard signs outside of shops! In all honesty, every post speaks to myself. I get a lot of requests, and 9/10 times I can’t fulfill it because it’s something I have to be feeling and relate to. Otherwise, the art just doesn’t come out right. If you want to know how I am personally feeling, check the account, haha.
Your work is inherently positive—do you feel that this is something you’re “called” to do as an artist/person with a large social platform?
Yes and no. I didn’t start this with a large social platform (obviously), so I never felt an obligation or responsibility. But generally as a person in society, yes. Sharing a positive or empathetic message to let someone else know they aren’t alone in their emotions is a great gift to be able to share. I’m honored I get to do that with so many people.
Do you consider your art to be a form of activism?
I did just make my first politically related post, but aside from that — yes. The media has become more open to shedding a light on mental health related issues, but there’s still a ways to go. Having the ability to be openly vulnerable about my emotions to a large group of people, and giving my followers the art to repost or purchase those same messages to spread their vulnerability is a form of activism against a perfectionist society. I don’t think we should be afraid of our emotions, and spreading these messages helps to de-stigmatize that concept.
Do you ever experiment with creating your own typefaces? If so, could you tell us a little bit about that process?
I’ve actually never created my own typeface, but I do love to tinker with existing ones that I purchase or find on the internet!
Where do you see your work heading in the next few years? What are some of your goals?
I’d love to get more into publications, as well as more into a fine art sphere. I also really want to work with musicians and more clothing labels. I started on social media as a quick daily inspirational art post, but I think my skills as a graphic designer and my interest in typography have evolved since then. I want to step it up.
Tell us a bit about your relationship to social media. How do you use it to share/promote your artwork without going insane?
It’s funny, I have the original post on my personal Instagram in my archive somewhere when I told my friends about my new design account and I remember being so laissez-faire about the whole thing. I never had high expectations or blew up my posts with hashtags (although if you do that, that’s cool too). I really created every post from my heart, and I think that’s what drew people to it. Because of that, I’ve never really had to work too hard at promoting or anything of the sort. I basically just make sure my grid color combinations look bomb, so that when you do stumble across my page you immediately want to follow it. Haha!
Finally, I ask this a lot, but what creative medium outside of art do you gain the most inspiration from (i.e. dance, music, film etc)?
I would say music and film. It’s almost impossible for me to design a post without listening to music. It just gets me in the mood. Visually, though, I do get inspired by intro credits and things of that nature from old films. Always lots of great type.