Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Howdy! I’m Tory Van Wey, an illustrator, artist, and gardener. I originally hail from Palo Alto, California (Silicon Valley to the rest of the world), but am currently based out of San Francisco’s Mission District where I live, do business, tend gardens, and make art.
How did you get started doing what you do?
As cliche as it sounds, I have to file myself into the category of having “always been into art.” In school I would excel at anything creative or hands on, while leaving the more theoretical subjects woefully lacking, so art became a bit of a hedge for my less than stellar academic and social performance. I couldn’t will myself to pay attention in Geometry, but I could always feel confident and surrounded by likeminded folks in the art room. So… I rolled with it.
I studied Art and Design in college and suddenly school became a pleasurable experience, but my pragmatic side told me to focus on graphic design instead of fine art, even though I always felt like a bit of an imposter in the graphic design world. In a lot of ways I credit my schooling in design for making me the kind of artist I am today; obsessed with composition, balance, and boundary.
After the emotional spin cycle of young adulthood, and years of mentally throwing every career at the wall to see what stuck, I discovered that I had never really left the art room, and, more importantly, I didn’t want to leave the art room. After that it was a lot of small steps towards embracing the title of “artist,” and starting the journey of making it a career.
How would you describe your style?
My work precariously straddles the chasm between art and graphic design and I am forever trying to keep the pendulum from swinging too far in one direction or the other because I like it best right in the middle. The common threads through my work are finely detailed linework, organic patterns, and natural elements coupled with brightly contrasting colors, everyday objects, and balanced graphic composition. I also like to get a little cheeky and incorporate humor or lightness into my pieces. Art can be so damned serious.
How have your surroundings influenced your work?
Apart from working as an illustrator, I also work as a gardener, and as much as I try to compartmentalize my two identities, they are quite intimately linked. I find my mind wandering back to the old writing adage “write what you know,” and, to be honest, what I know these days are not the typical creative muses of heartbreak, or longing, but mulch, seedlings, fog, ferns, patterns, and vines. In that way I am drawing what I know everyday, and while heartbreak and longing make some cameos in my work, it’s really abundance, organic life, and balance that take center stage.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Ha! I would tell myself to chill out about trying to find the perfect socially responsible career. That in the long run you will come back to what it is you are supposed to be doing with your life, and that you don’t have to save the world to justify your existence. Just make it better in your own way.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
A piece of advice that has stuck with me lately was actually not given to me, but to my boyfriend as a kid. When the topic of careers came up his father said “find something you love to do, and then find the people willing to pay you to do it.”
It’s easy to tell people “follow your bliss,” and leave it at that, but the truth is that leaves out half of the equation. Not everyone is going to want what you’re selling but chances are someone will and the most important part of your job is to find them.
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Get in touch with people that inspire you and whose careers make you jealous, no matter how untouchable they seem to be. Tell them that they inspire you and buy them a cup of coffee if they are local. Convert that jealousy into sincere support. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you want to be where they are one day, they may just help you get there.
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I would love to start licensing my work for use on high quality, sustainable products, gain more ground in the editorial illustration community, and have a solo gallery show.
What’s your dream project?
To design an ornately illustrated typographic poster series or art book. There are very few things that make my eyes go googlier than a beautiful typographic series. I also have an idea for a higher quality art centric women’s apparel line so any fashion designers that want to collaborate, get in touch!