To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including actor Da’Vine Joy Randolph and activist Emily Barker, return to the complete list here.
Tessa Forrest is the kind of person you meet and immediately feel connected to.
The 28-year-old graphic designer behind the popular Instagram art project Subliming.jpg has an ease and a warmth about her, which came across within the first five minutes we spent together. Of course, we weren’t physically together; we were on Zoom because we were still amid a pandemic, and the Brooklyn dweller spent the more frigid winter months in the back house of her boyfriend’s parents’ place in Ventura, California.
Forrest grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and has been an artist since she was little. Her grandmother was an artist, so creative expression was something she was always around. When Forrest was just 5 years old, she drew a self-portrait that left her mother “stunned.” (Sadly, the sketch has now been lost to the sands of time.) She started playing around on her family’s computer during middle school, so her parents bought her Photoshop. That’s when her love of graphic design really blossomed — playing around with the Adobe software to beef up her pre-Facebook social media accounts.
“I would make MySpace layouts and graphics for my friends and me,” Forrest said, laughing. “And LiveJournal icons.” (Hers is a genuinely millennial origin story.) But beyond earning some cred with her MySpace friends, Forrest found the practice of playing with shapes, colors, and typography to be calming. “It puts you in a trance,” she said.
And it’s precisely that therapeutic quality that led her to create Subliming.jpg. In this Instagram-based project, Forrest takes quotes and spiritual teachings and remakes them into bold, beautiful, typographical art. (“Do not fear mistakes, there are none,” reads one recent post with a textured beige block print. Lying atop a green background.) What began as a personal project in early 2016 to cope with a maelstrom of trauma — a breakup, a burgeoning eating disorder, and multiple family health crises that led Forrest to experience a “depth of emotion” she never had before — has since ballooned into something much bigger.