Today we're introducing "The Tribe connects", a new content series where members of the Tribe interview each other, engaging in a conversation about, well, everything: their projects, life, what challenges them, what moves them, and so on. The first article features Dilruba Tayfun and Jesús Sánchez. Read along to get to know them and discover their perspectives on inspiration, the creative spirit, their personal and professional path, and more.
Dilly: Okay, I’ll start, I have my first question for you: How are you really? But what I really wanna know is how’s your spirit, where’s your spirit at?
Jesus: You know I think there are so many aspects to a person, right? You have your personal life, your professional life, your family life, your emotional life, all sorts of stuff. I can tell you that I am in a better state now than two years ago, and it had nothing to do with the pandemic. Professionally, I am extremely satisfied. I am in a very good place, I am content and happy in the company that I work for right now, called Lightheart Entertainment, they have been great to me. Artistically, I… am on my way, it’s still a journey. I think you never stop and it’s never enough. But I’m learning to cope with that, to be okay with the fact that I’m moving at my own pace. I’m not that stressed anymore about reaching a certain place, I’m on the way and I’m moving forward. The rest of my life is actually quite fine, it has ups and downs but all in all I can say I’m in a good place now and that’s good to realize.
Dilly: Can I ask for an elaboration on one segment of this? When you say that you’re on your way in regards to where your spirit is artistically, do you mean you have a certain idea about it? What does it mean to be on your way?
Jesus: I don’t know if I know the actual destination, I just know that I’m improving. It’s not moving as fast as I would like because I’ve been busy with work and life. A lot of things happened this summer. I don’t know exactly where I want to be, I don’t have a specific shaped destination, it’s all more blurry but at least I’m moving forward. I think maybe not having an objective or a goal has been one of the things that has dragged me back in the past, but while I was stressed about it before, now I’m just trying to enjoy the ride. It’s a nice state of mind.
Jesus: So I have many questions but some of them are grouped into different topics, ranging from your upbringing, through your journey as an artist, to your deep connection to the natural world, so keeping this mind let’s start with your roots *wink wink*. Talk to me about this relationship with nature, with foliage, with plants and mushrooms? Is it related to your childhood in any way? What I mean is, what do you think shaped you in your life to become the artist you are today?
Dilly: When I think back, I have a lot that goes to show why I’m here right now. Especially in my upbringing in Turkey, I can take you to one very vivid moment from my childhood. I used to spend a lot of time with my grandparents in the summers playing outside on the street with neighborhood children. One thing I loved to do is touch pots of soil and any plants right outside the apartment - I would grab the soil there and create dishes. Like make little wraps or whatever using plant leaves, and put the mud and soil in there. Then I would find sprinkles of seeds and create a whole makeshift restaurant. Im taking you to that very visual moment because working with ingredients has come through a whole line of talented women that raised me. My great grandmother was a chef in a school - like a primary school, she would work with fucking huge pots and pans and be found stirring meals with her entire arm, very clean hands. And my grandma is talented, she’s still with us. She sows, stitches, knits, makes her own yoghurt, you just have people that have this immaculate way of using materials, converting and transforming them and seeing what makes a good ingredient. I definitely think that maybe i took on through my roots, motherly roots, a way of seeing or spotting something that is going to be good to use. I see that on day 1 of coming here during this trip, my mother is a chef, and we took off to the market and i just watched her picking tomatoes and she was like not this one, that one, that one, grabbing an ingredient being like we’re going to work together. It’s not that I’ve grown up on a really wild environment or anything, it’s been more a way of relating to ingredients and environments and being about to spot something and then there’s a relationship there. A way of seeing has come through my roots.
Dilly: Okay so I’m feeling like we’re taking on a whole different approach but I think it’s complimentary: describe something you recall really paying attention to, maybe in the past couple of days, to the point that you could viscerally feel your body react to something, or that you could really feel yourself paying strong attention, feeling so hyper focused? Take us to that.
Jesus: Last weekend I was on vacation and I went to the beach here in Portugal, to the southwest coast called Costa Vicentina, one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a little bit like my happy place, you know? One of the special things about having the Atlantic in comparison to other seas is how wild the current is, the waves are very strong, they hit you. And one of the things I love the most is “fighting” against the sea, like, crashing against the waves, trying to move them away; and I know that’s impossible, to fight against it, but I do it to feel the waves hit my body and the strength of it. It’s such a grand feeling. I love the Mediterranean, it’s warm and nice, you can go into the water, but the Atlantic, feeling how cold and strong it is, reminds us how nature is so powerful and how we are just tiny fragile things.
Dilly: Yeah, that it will just take you in and that’s it. It has all that consuming power and that's amazing.
Jesus: Exactly, and I come from a small coastal town in Mexico and the sea there it’s in a gulf so it’s very calm. I’ve always had this connection to water but after being in Portugal for 11 years in front of the actual ocean, I’ve come to appreciate how majestic the sea really is.
Jesus: I’ve been reading a little bit about you, so you seem to be a child of dichotomies, you were raised in the east, became an adult in the west, and we can see in your work this effort to mix the digital with the natural, of being a fine artist but also a designer working in commercial companies. What about being a human bridge makes you tick so much?
Dilly: I’ll go back to that phrase when we were both at Creator’s Circle, and Andre was saying, this is all about relationships. We just exist through relationships, you know, how we relate to everything. Because of this instinct - that we may just have 2 mins together, there’s an instinct to find mutual ground, rather than fight something. Let’s level because our differences could be complementary. It’s like color theory. We don’t know how long we’ll be here for. Growing up in different environments and moving around with my parents 3 times; at 7 we moved to Romania, at 11 to Amsterdam, and then I moved to London for Uni...I feel like I exist through my relationships with people and places and things. But I refer to growing up in different countries because, well - so I would make best friends, and then suddenly I’m moving again. I think that shaped my approach of relating to people and natural objects today. We may have 2 minutes…I don’t know if we’ll see each other again, let’s cut to the chase and find our similarities, capacities. I made a friend in Barcelona on the bus just before I flew back to Amsterdam, we spent two hours on the beach drawing together.
Dilly: This is one of my go-to questions: What’s an album that speaks to you right now and why? Music albums are huge for me, I just cut to the chase and get to the feels.
Jesus: Okay I think I’m going to fail this question because I don’t really listen to albums anymore? I listen to separate songs or playlists.
Dilly: Is there a playlist or a song then?
Jesus: I can tell you that lately I’ve been listening to a lot of songs in spanish. Something that I didn’t used to do before, because like 10 years ago I felt like “I was a child of the world”, you know? I was so international and what not. But a couple of years ago, I started to kinda miss my roots a little bit, my native country Mexico, my language. I’ve been here in Portugal speaking both portuguese and english and I rarely speak spanish on a daily basis. And for the past two years I’ve been listening to a lot of music from Latin America, from Mexico and also from Spain, and I think it’s because I do miss the language. I’vee been listening to old mexican songs, the classic ballads that really make you feel. The ones that really touch your heart and it’s nice to feel in your own language I guess. Even when I work, I have those songs in my ears. I’m painting little monsters but feeling all the feelings. I’m one of those people that sings when they paint. If I have headphones when I’m drawing I’m dancing and moving in my chair and singing.
Dilly: I’m looking forward to hearing that music, also because that resonates with me. I speak Turkish only with my family and some friends but on a daily basis I’m kinda like 65% English speaking and 20% Turkish and the remainder is Dutch, but in my ears I’ll have a good mix of Turkish songs, English songs, and all these other languages. Probably because of the lyricism that comes through, there is such a vast difference in how you can deliver something in Turkish and that happens with every language.
Jesus: For sure, I just feel that in Spanish it feels more heartfelt in a way. I think sometimes music in English can feel… I don’t want to say artificial because you have every kind of genre in English, but maybe it can feel a bit produced. But it’s been nice to feel a little bit more Mexican now that I’ve been away for so long.
Jesus: I think at this point your Togather project has been extremely well documented by THU, so I wanted to talk about something that happened recently. You just left your old job at TomTom and I wanted to ask what exactly you were doing there? You wrote that you learned about the whys and hows of storytelling there, and this is not a dig but, how did you learn about that at TomTom of all places?
Dilly: I was a Sr graphic designer at TomTom, and spent nearly 4 years there. I haven’t posted a lot on social media about my career. I was lucky to cross paths with a junior graphic design position in-house, at the time I was actually in the midst of building a visual development portfolio, taking courses in Schoolism about color and light. I hopped on board without a doubt. How I learned about storytelling was through the brand, and the work we delivered at the in-house creative agency, in presentations, campaigns, website visuals, event branding assets. A brand that was at the forefront of consumer electronics, in mapmaking, especially when it first got digital. There’s a huge story here because they were pioneers, selling gadgets that was useful to people, helping people get places or the first time without physical maps. Can you imagine making that transition for the first time? Suddenly a digital rectangle says take a left in 200m, it’s a revolution. They have a story that they need to deliver to this day, because the world needed that at the time, and a good story doesn’t stay static, it evolves, adapts to its environment, and sticks around. TomTom has to find ways to address the changes in products, new collaborations, visions. That you tell through the brand team, and marketing, it’s through the storytelling you get your clients. It’s when you can convince the world why you’re still around, that brings in the new clients and creates new opportunities. I spent my first 2 years mostly working on pitch decks, presentations. As designers we had to understand the ins and outs of TT’s story so we can help the presenter present a solution, from overview to product to how the brand is different from others. You need to understand brand history but also who the target audience is, understand developer needs, and what the product is really about. It’s again, about the relationships too, and the language your audience is speaking, so you can angle the story and make it work in any scenario. The sheer question, is TomTom still around? is a conversation starter, a hook to a historical innovation story.
Dilly: What are some processes, techniques, methods or ways of thinking that are currently getting you out of bed, or keeping you up at night, thinking in the shower, something that has been tinkering in your brain, however you interpret that question?
Jesus: That’s tough. I will say that, in a way, I am kind of limited as an artist. I’m not a multidisciplinary artist. I stayed on my “lane”, making digital art, characters, and working on video games. What makes me think a lot is that I really would like to branch out into other things. I really would like to go back to work with traditional media. Go back to watercolors, try gouache. To do more sketching on actual paper, not only Photoshop or Procreate. Those processes can be really helpful but also on the other hand I am extremely afraid. Traditional media seems so definitive, while on digital you can always go back, undo undo undo, Ctrl+Z, and that creates a very strong safety net. I feel like if I fail it can be saved and on traditional media that’s hard, and I’m aware that’s part of the rush of it, that high you get when something is so final. When I was studying in Madrid I did a lot of watercolors and acrylics. I used to work with my hands a lot but once I transitioned into digital the fear got into me. And I know it’s up to me to pick up my shit and do some work, but that fear of failing is so hard to shake it off. Fixing or owning my mistakes is something that I really would like to have the balls to do. And every week I’m like “this is the week when I’m going to start some sketches and I will fill one page a day of my sketchbook but then I go back to Photoshop and Ctrl+Z.
Dilly: Thanks for sharing that, it’s interesting.
Jesus: At THU I’ve met other artists that feel a little bit the same, you know? Going back to traditional can be gruesome to some people and I am definitely one of them. That’s one of the reasons I admire people like you, you know? You have a lot of fearlessness in your art, you’re painting and you’re making mistakes but you are okay with those mistakes, you embrace them. You and other countless people that I know that work traditionally, like Iga Oliwiak, she creates a lot of plein airs and all of them are beautiful because she has a lot of practice, but even the ones that don’t come out that well, she embraces them and that’s beautiful and so inspiring.
Dilly: I feel like I always appreciate an accountability partner, someone to share that with to make you feel like you’re not alone in fucking up. Like getting together with someone, fuck up with someone so it doesn’t get that daunting.
Jesus: Finding your community for sure. And that’s what THU has taught me, you know? Before THU I didn’t have that many artist friends, I was surrounded by developers so I felt a little bit alone in my struggles, but after THU I was like, man there are people that feel exactly like me, with the same problems.
Dilly: Yeah, find people so we can fuck it up together and be like “that’s okay”.
Jesus: As an artist you have been collaborating with different studios and working with different clients for quite some time now, but now that you are out of your office job and running full-time your own studio, what has changed? Do you approach things differently now that you’re on your own?
Dilly: So far a lot of collaborative, non self-led projects have come through my friendships. Theatremakers, writer friends of mine. I’m blessed with that. So even if one doesn’t come into fruition now, because I keep meeting with them - there’s potential for new routes in the future. It keeps me collaborating with my friends. I’m going to experience more now the pitching side, it’s a new approach. Besides STL by THU, I wasn’t really putting out word or applying competitions/calls. I’ll be on the other side of that now, doing more active reachout. To creators, clients - pitching the Togather experience, and getting collaborators on board again. I’ll need to be putting myself out to find spaces to share my work, and find funding for my projects.
Jesus: Piggyback riding on that answer, with Togather you entered into an entrepreneurial role, but do you feel you also entered into a leadership role? What does it mean to be a leader, to be a human bridge like we talked before, not only with different concepts but also with people?
Dilly: Yes, and the only way I can keep leading a project like this is, if i can talk about my ideas as easy as drinking water. Because it is coming naturally, and it is the stuff I do want to talk about, I can address where it’s at and where it’s going. I’m back to team-building at the moment, because this is not a one man band, and it’s not built or made for that. I’m trying to figure out what the needs of the project are so I can be reaching out again clearly, with an objective, and divide the roles.
Dilly: How would you describe your creative practice?
Jesus: I would say I’m very simple in my creative practice, but it’s something that has evolved and improved in the past couple of years. I used to be way more strict with how I used to work, restricting myself a lot to the same process all the time, sketches, inking, coloring, shading and detailing. Nowadays I vary a lot in how I approach a piece. With my portraits there are times when I start blocking directly with colors and I go, or I create first the grayscale focusing on the contrast and then I add color and adjust as necessary. Sometimes I just like to focus on the lines and not on the shapes, especially when I’m doing something more on the stylized side. I tend to get bored easily so I like to switch it up so I can keep those creative muscles running. Now, when it’s more work (or client) oriented, I like to work closely with my team (or again, client) by sharing the process with them, showing sketches, color and shape variations. I like to be in a very collaborative environment and you know, sometimes I fear that I may come across as indecisive, but I like to ask for other people’s opinions because everyone can have a good idea or give critical feedback or note something that passed me by. And in any case I think it’s always nice to make everyone feel involved. And one of the things that I love the most to do is research. Find those good references, try to soak myself in what I’m creating by learning as much as I can about it. I’m not always very good at translating those inspirations into my actual work, but I do enjoy researching.
Jesus: Changing subjects: everytime I see you, you’re always carrying your wooden paintbox full of tools, utensils and all sorts of leaves and twigs. Where does that box come from and what are the essentials that are always there no matter what?
Dilly: This Windsor & Nexton paintbox is from London I believe around 2016, bought at an artshop together with my artist friend Michelle Ku. We were living together at the time and spent the evening leaving marks on each others boxes. I’ve carried it with me everywhere since and it contains many other friends’ stickers, handwriting and drawings, and has also since transformed from paintbox, to … twigbox. The essentials are my handcarved “Everything hug” logo stamp, and inkpad, always 1-2 monkey puzzle pieces, some seacrusts and at least one fuzzball. These songwriters I always take with me, so i can get to tell people on my travels, about the work we do together. Also because they are delightful to talk about, and look quite unique.
Dilly: Do you have a defining moment in your upbringing or an influence that you would say tipped your path into art and storytelling?
Jesus: I hate to give such a cliché answer in the community, but I also was one of those kids who always drew and painted his whole life. As much as my mother tried to put me into sports, there was nothing that made me as happy and fulfilled as taking my painting classes. I come from what used to be a very small town in México where people have “normal jobs”, so in college I went to Graphic Design because it was like the perfect mix between what I was good at: computers and drawing (spoiler alert: to my shock, it was neither of those two things). But also it was a little bit of the path that was set for me, what I had in hand. In retrospect I could’ve potentially gone to study in Mexico City or in the US but back then it was just not on my radar. Every single decision, whether taken by me or by the circumstances, has put me here so I don’t really have a lot of regrets. Perhaps later in my life there are three defining moments where I actually did something proactive about this whole artistic journey. The first one was when, after getting my bachelor’s degree, I decided to cross the Atlantic and go to Madrid to study animation and illustration. That’s when I decided to do something that I actually wanted to explore and be on my own, trying to figure out who I was as both an artist and a person, as I was far away from my family. The second one was when I got a job offer from Portugal, from a little indie browser game development studio, Planetarium Games (RIP). My first actual job in-house. I was so happy for that validation that I decided, for the second time, to cross the Atlantic and go to a country where I didn’t speak the language, nor did I know anyone, so I could start and develop my craft, professionally. The third one was without a doubt, attending my first THU in 2018. I spent years stagnating as an artist and I didn’t realize how important it was to surround myself with other artists, how vital it is to create community with people in the same journey as you. And while it took a while for me to make a change, I can’t express how much I improved my skills just by being with people that were so much better than me. Because simply put, I wanted to be like them, so I’m still on that neverending journey.
Jesus: Finally, and following one of your instagram posts, what do YOU see in fuzzballs?
Dilly: I’m thrilled you asked. I see boundless beauty and life after death. These fuzzy remains that fit in the palm of your hand, fill my dreams. Sometimes perfectly round, othertimes more oval and look like it’s not had a haircut in years, they are the leafy crumbs of endangered species Neptune Grass native to the mediterranean. In their ripped, torn deaths, dead leaves roll up ashore into a ball form, only to continue serving their community after death as they clean and filter the seas they came from, leaving it better than they found it. Close up to one, you can clearly see they contain little microplastics. Neptune grass is considered to be “a secret weapon in the battle against climate change” by Kew Gardens. In 2006, a colony of neptune grass stretching over 8km and thought to be over 100,000 years old, was found off the coast of Ibiza. It is thought to be both the oldest and largest living organism on Earth. I don’t think it’s that weird that I dream about them.