Tinuke Fagborun Discusses Illustrating Optimism

Artist, Illustrator, and Visual Storyteller Tinuke Fagborun is a prism of positive light, creating imagery for others to relate to and be uplifted by.

Through layers of rich, block colour and intricately shaped details, Tinuke has developed a fabric of timeless identities, depicting relatable global narratives within a cosmos of her own. Patterns, symbolism, and eye-catching profiles act as a gateway into Tinuke's striking world, collaborating with brands and projects that dance to the same tune. We asked Tinuke about the process she has developed as a freelancer to stay inspired, and what she hopes to encourage socially through her art practice.

I wish for my art to be a break from struggle. I want my work to make people happy. I want them to feel something positive

Words and Art by Tinuke Fagborun


Creative Encouragement

Art has forever been ‘my thing’; I’ve always drawn in the multiple sketchbooks and notebooks I’ve collected and every Christmas I would get sets of paint. Some of my earliest memories are being in art class at school and this love of creative pursuits continues to be a constant in my life.

I’m very lucky that both my parents saw and supported my passion for drawing from an early age; this is not always the case in regards to creative pursuits in a 1st Gen African household. Whether I got a pass because I’m the last born or because both my parents dabbled in the creative arts through poetry and storytelling, I’m not sure, but I know they never discouraged me from pursuing that dream I’ve always had of becoming an artist.

I try not to put too much pressure on myself to follow some formula or style of drawing, I don’t want to feel like I can’t experiment or be explorative with my craft

Style Development

I never ever considered or thought about having a distinct style until I started my Illustration Degree - then it felt everyone was talking about the need to have one. The way I see it now though is that whatever I create will look and feel like me and by proxy represent ‘my style’. I try not to put too much pressure on myself to follow some formula or style of drawing, I don’t want to feel like I can’t experiment or be explorative with my craft. But saying that, there are certain elements and recurrences in my illustrations that subconsciously weave into my work, like stars, plants, and I love colour and pattern.

Artist Inspirations

Yinka Shonibare’s work opened my eyes to the possibilities of exploring your own culture and narrative and infusing it into art. When an A-level Art Teacher brought his work to my attention at school, it was a defining moment in my art journey. I had never felt represented in art like that before, Shonibare’s work felt familiar to me without me having ever seen it before. His use of Ankara print brought about a sense of nostalgia and home, and it illustrated to me that I could explore my own narrative and identity in my work that wasn’t whitewashed.

I found as time goes on I’m really drawn to work that is quite removed from my own practice. I like to look at a piece and not know how the artist created it, I enjoy knowing it’s not something I could replicate, like the intricate and skill heavy Quilted art of Bisa Butler and the expressive abstract of Picasso. But the common theme that inspires me within work is a bold use of strong rich colour. I’m particularly drawn to works that deal with identity and representation like the sculptures of P J Harper.

Diversity and representation is super important to me … I believe it stems from growing up acutely aware of my otherness and not feeling like I saw art that communicated that feeling

Depiction of People

Diversity and representation is super important to me and is something that I strive to explore in my own work. I believe it stems from growing up and being so acutely aware of my otherness and not feeling like I saw art that communicated that feeling. I love art and the practical creative aspect but I never really felt connected to the art history, I couldn’t see a place for me in it. I strive to create work that people who feel othered (because of some part of themselves that they cannot and do not want to change) can relate to in some way.

Personal Journey

Before I made the leap to become a Freelancer I’d had various internships that felt like they were in the peripheries of this art world that I wanted to be a part of but had no idea of how to break the barriers to entry. After Uni I applied for multiple Graphic Design internships and Design Jobs but like many graduates I didn’t get a nibble. I think I speak to the old adage of ‘it’s not what you know is who you know’; hearing it ring true, I knew no one.

There is a concerning lack of diversity in the art world and the barriers to entry feel impenetrable but I made the decision that if no one wanted to hire me I’ll work for myself. It was very much on a trial basis to see if it could work for me and if there would even be any interest in what I have to offer. Slowly I started to get commissions and around the six month mark I joined RIOT SOUP (a Collective of Black and Brown Women Artists, based in London). Life as a freelancer is lonely and it very much felt like me on my own trying to make it. Whereas now I feel I have a community, a support system, a sisterhood that accepts me and my work.

My advice to anyone out there is to showcase the work that aligns with what your dream future clients do; by staying true to you, the work will come.