Illustrator Tomekah George on setting up a studio that promotes black artists
Like many of us, Sheffield-based illustrator Tomekah George had grand plans before the events of the last few years got in the way. Now though, she is prepared to re-launch Yout Studio, a shop that mentors and promotes artists from BIPOC and marginalised backgrounds.
Yout Studio is the culmination of Tomekah's dream to pursue a creative career and ties in well with her own journey as an artist. Having studied an art course initially at UWE in Bristol, she decided to switch to illustration during her second year as she felt her work was a bit out of place. "It was definitely the right decision," she tells Creative Boom.
"The programme allowed me to grow as an Illustrator whilst also experimenting with animation, children's illustration, 3D work and digital art." So if anyone knows how to support artists who are still finding their way, it's Tomekah.
If her art style of colourful and textural layers is familiar to you, it might be because Tomekah's work has graced the likes of Buzzfeed, VICE and Penguin Books, to name but a few. "It sounds a bit cheesy, but I tend to find a lot of inspiration from my surroundings," she reveals. "I try to look at everything from a creative perspective whilst taking notes, merging topics, humour, imagery and things that simply make me happy."
It's an admirable creative approach. And it has led to a recent collaboration where she created the illustrated cover for Badform: The Caribbean Literature Issue. Along the way, she worked with highly inspiring women, including Mireille Harper and Amy Mae Baxter. "They gave me so much space to create a design that worked with the brief and felt personal in questioning my own Caribbean background and exploring ways of visualising this experience. I love the cover and enjoy having the magazine as part of my collection."
This representation and support are so important to Tomekah that she's paying the goodwill forward with Yout Studio. The idea for a platform that supports marginalised artists started in 2018 when she was still studying at university, albeit in a slightly different form. "At that point, I wanted it to be a magazine promoting fairer art practices," she explains. "Unfortunately, life happened, and it slowly fizzled out."
But in June 2020, Tomekah says that large portions of the illustration community were committed to change due to the BLM movement. "It was an incredibly overwhelming time. However, I was fortunate to receive so much kindness from other illustrators in portfolio reviews, resources, and mentorship schemes, which gave me a massive confidence boost that pushed me to continue creating. I feel very privileged to have had support during 2020, which was such an unpredictable year. It inspired me to re-launch Yout Studio as a print shop that mentors and promotes the work of Black artists."
Having been mentored by US illustrator and art director Cath Virginia during the last year, Tomekah has an appreciation for this kind of support which she wants to share via Yout Studio. "The relaxed nature of the mentorship gave me space to ask questions without fear or anxiety," she says. "I'm also part of several illustration communities on Slack which are supportive, friendly, educative and help me stay sane whilst working alone."
Setting up Yout Studio has been a full-on learning process that has thrown Tomekah into the deep end, though. "In late 2020, I started using my work for Yout Studio, which allowed me to iron out the best process for prints and gain stockists before taking on other artists," she says. "Currently, I'm taking a little break and using this time to receive advice from similar programs in preparation for the full launch of Yout Studio in 2022.
"I hope to at least make a small difference and offer other Illustrators support by sharing knowledge, stockists, mentorships and resources."
Besides Yout Studio, Tomekah has also been busy creating prints with Room Fifty. "They were a dream client for a long time. I was building the courage to reach out as they work with so many artists I look up to. Our collaboration has been perfect, to say the least. I love their ethos, charity partnerships and genuine passion for the illustration industry."
As if that wasn't enough, Tomekah is also working on other projects, including a children's book, animated projects and handmade ceramics. And don't forget, if you like Tomekah's art and want to support the fantastic work she is doing with Yout Studio, show your support by shopping at her online store.