Tori Swanson is a Vancouver-based artist known for creating nude portrait sketches. Her artwork is inspired by movement, the human body, and community. She offers 1:1 private portrait sessions through her Talk to Me Naked and Intuitive Reading series, workshops, and runs her online store. Her intention is to make art more affordable and to empower others by celebrating their diversity and uniqueness. She’s the catalyst that enables others to be at peace with their own bodies and celebrate their divine femininity through self-respect, love, and vulnerability.
Q: How has your art evolved overtime?
A: I studied fine arts at Langara college back in 2009 and lots has changed since then. A few years back, I was living in New York and that’s when my eating disorder kicked into high gear, I had been ignoring it for far too long. When I was there I fell to my knees one too many times and I decided it was time to get help. That was the first time I felt like I lost my identity and I was going on a career path that was so far away from what I had originally set out to do with my art.
Things took a change, when I started painting as an outlet for my own anxiety. I would lock myself in my room and paint until I was tired and exhausted.
People started to gravitate towards the nudes a bit more and it eventually grew organically. That being said, it did take a lot of putting myself out there and hosting my own art shows over six years.
My portraits have taken on an entirely different spin [from where they began]. I’m starting to offer more intuitive work, using Tarot. My mediumship ability is growing stronger and I’m starting to deliver messages to my clients throughout their readings. If my clients are looking for colour, I’m offering aura readings too. I find the readings set an intention as to why we’re both here and what the client is currently experiencing or celebrating. I get to take that energy and inscribe it into the lines of the portraiture so it’s uniquely theirs. I pick up a lot of energy when someone is being vulnerable and I’m doing their portrait. So the portrait experience is also about healing, plus my clients get to walk away with their own piece of art.
More recently as I quit my job at Hootsuite as a Business Value Consultant, I knew that I had to focus on my art exclusively. I took a week off to be with my family and reflect upon what I really wanted in life. My current state was just keeping me disconnected spiritually and further away from my passion. I just had that knowing [that everyone talks about] that it was time to trust myself and take that leap.
Q: During your sessions, when women are being so vulnerable, by being naked, do you notice a shift in their energy once they have been seen by you in that vulnerability?
A: There was one women who showed up and she was terrified. She said “I kind of booked this on a whim, I am so nervous, I have my period and I’m not feeling great” and worked through it. I told her how she signed up for a reason, she has whatever choice she wants, but think about why she was here. We set it up so she was super comfortable. The second she sat down and took a breath out, she said “this is a lot easier than I thought it would be”. Some women get into crazy poses and flaunt it and some women sit there naturally, but no matter what the outcome is for them they always leave glowing.
The more and more I do this work, the more I realize how our fears hold us back from our dreams. Even the simplicity of being seen and interpreting your body as art is hard. We're fearful of being vulnerable, of being judged for who we are and what we look like. We are born looking a certain way, and it's completely out of our control. Our physical appearance is pointless in the grand scheme of things. We're here to develop our souls. Our bodies are a magnificent vehicle to carry our beings through this life experience, but it's not the end all be all.
Q: When was the moment you decided to move forward, with doing nude portraits exclusively?
A: At first I was very focused on money, money, money and still am today, now that this is my full time career, it’s definitely hard, but when I get more in touch with the meaning of why I do the work I do now then it just feels natural to me. I get to be in touch with women and their stories and be a part of why they wanted to get their nude portrait done, and I’m often helping them move through something bigger.
I like that I can offer my clients an experience [where they leave feeling powerful and confident in their own bodies]. I got really attached knowing I was contributing to this and witnessing their transformation. It’s been transformative experience for myself as well because before I started drawing nude portraits, I was always super nervous in the lead up before drawing someone. There’s just so much vulnerability and intense energy that I’m holding for that person. It’s also been a challenge aligning myself to be in a full-time creative role, especially when it’s a weekday and I don’t have any bookings or anything and so I’ll take the day off, so I’m not use to that.
Q: What made you decide to take this on full time? And how does it feel?
A: It’s funny actually, I’ve always carried a lot of anxiety and so when I was away [in New York] and having to be on a schedule and I was spending money frivolously, I was so unhappy with not having enough time for my passion and feeling so burnt out from my day-to-day, when my buddy Jamie gave me the biggest pep talk where he told me to just go for it and to take a chance on myself. The second I said I was going to go full-time on my art, my anxiety became almost non-existent. I’m sure it will come back in different ways, but I stopped spending money frivolously and I feel much more fulfilled. I’m loving my life in Vancouver.
Q: How do you get the word out about what you do?
A: I’m fortunate with my network, having worked at Lululemon and then Hootsuite and having done my art for some time I’ve been luckily enough have drawn some pretty affluent people. I think it’s just putting yourself out there and talking about it on social media. A lot of my sales are from social media, like Instagram for example. Also referrals are huge. Word of mouth has been massive for exposure!
Q: What other avenues do you share your work besides portraits?
A: Greeting cards, I do a lot of stuff online, like collaborations, and I have drawn for brands like Bailey Nelson. I’m doing some cards for Spud and I would love to get into merchandise eventually, like bathing suits or tote bags. And, I’m going to get into murals.
Q: What is your end goal?
A: Good question! I think it will transform a lot in the next few years. The next thing I want to do is murals and if you ask me about 10 years from now, I want go international. I’d love to have shows in Amsterdam and Italy. I haven't thought of how it will transform to get there yet, but I feel that I will be doing some work with emerging artists.
Q: Do you have any tools that you find are helpful for staying grounded in between your work and personal life?
A: I meditate daily, pull [oracle] cards daily for myself, I clear my house with scents like smudging and sprays. These have been new for me, but so helpful.
Q: What advice do you have for the wimmin in our community who are starting their own business?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is that vulnerability is beautiful. Whether that means being true to yourself, being naked in front of an artist, or pursuing your passion, if you are doing what you feel like is in line with your path and who you are, the opportunities will be endless. Keep faith with your passion and what you feel [ignites you] inside because that’s what’s going to guide you to success.
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