SPECTRUM: Tynesha Foreman

 

SPECTRUM is an interview series by Lilian Darmono with members of the motion design and animation communities who have interesting and unusual perspective to offer.


Name: Tynesha Foreman
Describes herself as:  “Black-Lady-Animator that makes weird, crazy shit.” 
Born/raised: Virginia Beach, USA
Current Location: Washington, DC, USA
Age: 23

For our inaugural issue of Spectrum, I talked to Tynesha Foreman, a a 23-year old graduate from the MICA Animation program, who’s currently a motion designer with The Atlantic, having completed an internship with Slanted Studios of New York.

I (Lilian) am a colored woman from a lower socio economic upbringing. This makes me a minority, not only thanks to my gender and race, but also because my chosen career in motion design comes with substantial financial cost right from the start. Last I checked, even the most basic equipment and software can set you back by at least a couple of thousand US dollars.

Barriers to entry like this mean when I scan the scene looking for people I can really relate to, more often than not I come up empty-handed.

A kindred spirit?

So I won’t lie – I was quite excited to speak with someone like Tynesha, because of the number of things we both have in common. And I discovered, to my delight, that there are a lot of things I can learn from someone like her.

There are not many black female animators/designers out there. On this note, Tynesha observed:

I don’t believe there’s a direct influence from my race/gender on the style of my work, though it leaks into its content from time to time.

However, I think that my gender may have played a part in the absurd and often grotesque nature of my work. Primarily the “a girl doesn’t usually do that sort of thing” aspect. When hearing these things throughout my developmental years, I always wondered why and then challenged that statement by making more strange things.

Born and raised in Virginia by a predominantly matriarchal extended family, Tynesha also comes from a modest financial background. She grew up in a neighborhood where she had to “learn the distinction between firecrackers and gunshots.”

On money

Because of her limited means, she’s had to hunt for scholarships opportunities constantly. She explains:

“When I was in school, I felt like [taking a] break was working constantly, and work was when you would go home on vacation and have to work at the loan stuff and keeping up with scholarships.”

Even those who were there to help sometimes could say damaging things. Tynesha related how her confidence took a hit when her counsellor advised her to aim for community college, because even with the grants, she wasn’t going to able to afford the education she wanted. So she looked for whoever would give her the most scholarship money, and went with them.

When she finally made it to college, she marvelled at how easy it was for friends to “just pay for things out of their own pocket”  while attending a school that costs roughly a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tynesha’s Self Portrait : “...my gender may have played a part in the absurd and often grotesque nature of my work. Primarily the "a girl doesn't usually do that sort of thing" aspect.”

Tynesha’s Self Portrait : “…my gender may have played a part in the absurd and often grotesque nature of my work. Primarily the ‘a girl doesn’t usually do that sort of thing’ aspect.”

So her path so far hasn’t been a stroll in the park. I can relate to that. However, the biggest inspiration for me was finding out how much better Tynesha handled it all.

On beginnings and backgrounds

For starters, take the scenario of having to compete with peers who have more of a “leg up” into the industry, either because their parents were already creative professionals or the family just had more money. I remembered being intimidated, but Tynesha’s attitude was quite the opposite:

At first it was insecurity, and then it turned into insight. Everybody has a different start, it doesn’t matter. I guess it was because I still felt I could hold my own with those folks.

I definitely was more inexperienced in other areas where they weren’t, but I still could hold my own with what I thought I was lacking. I still could learn. I still could do research. Even though I might not be as instinctual, [I could] still be part of that community without feeling like I have something less.

And what about now that she’s out of the university bubble, getting exposed to the big, bad cruel world, filled with tales of design superstardom? Surely the stories of those who have come from better circumstances would stand out more to people like us?

Again she proved me wrong. She described her observation of the scene as “comforting”:

“I’m seeing a lot of really cool humble beginnings. People are like, ‘I didn’t know how to do this, I just grabbed this, and this is what [I’ve done] for a long time.’ It’s really uplifting.”

On role models

We also discussed the undeniable power of having a role model that comes from our demographic. In her case, this took the form of Sidney Clifton, a recruiter from Bento Box Animation Studio who came to speak at her college.

image01

Screenshot from Tynesha’s thesis animation


She described the “lightning bolt” moment of seeing a strong, successful, career-driven black woman stand up in front of an audience. “It made it real for me,” she recalled. It turned what was merely a dream into something tangible. (I could only imagine how much more magnified this impact would have been if Sidney had been an animator, like Tynesha).

On success (and how to achieve it)

Her definition of success?

“For me, it’s doing what I like to do, feeling like the learning never stops, that I’m in an environment that I can grow. I can pay my bills, and I can push myself creatively or experience new things in the world of animation. That’s when I feel successful.”

What’s her advice on how to get there?

“If you like to do it, find anyway to be involved. No matter what someone thinks you are, make it so they can’t ignore your work.”

Thinking back to her school days, she said, “It was here in which I truly saw that my specific demographic (black female) would play a part in my odds of getting a higher education. I knew that no matter what school I got into, I’d make the system behind it realize that potential has no specific demographic.”

Giving someone a chance can mean more than you think.

But she also cautions young people to strike a balance. She understands the urge for young people to make an impression early in their career: “Sometimes overachieving does get you that bump up,” she said. But at the same time, she thinks it’s important to “be healthy, and value yourself so they will value your work.”

As for the rest of us who are in positions of power as far as recruiting is concerned, be it at a workplace or schools, her message is simple:

“Giving someone a chance can mean more than you think. We’re never sure what someone’s experiences were and how their identity affects that, but a chance means a lot.”


Special thanks to Ave Carillo for her editorial assistance.

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About the author

Lilian Darmono

/ www.liliandarmono.com
Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lilian moved to Singapore and eventually Australia for her studies, eventually graduating from Swinburne NID in Prahran, Melbourne. She then worked in print design before deciding to switch to the field of Motion Design in late 2003. Her obsessions include travelling, illustrating, and cats. She is currently in the London leg of her 'Mograph Tour Around The World', and calls Melbourne home.

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  • Kham

    It’s amazing how similar of a story I share with you, Tynesha. This was a great article!

  • pjay1977

    I’m really stoked that motionographer did this feature. And go MICA! (my alma mater)

  • GuestyK

    Great new series – interesting and inspiring. Look forward to the next profiles!

  • James Price

    Lillian this series is so great! Tynesha’s story is really interesting. She totally deserves props for not letting any obstacles stand in her way.

    • liliandarmono

      Oh hey James, thank you :)

  • Kris Merc

    Hella dope.

  • triollo

    Wow. Great article. In a field with almost no gender, racial, or economic diversity, reading this story is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully we can learn to embrace people and ideas from outside of the common mould of mograph.

  • The background here is interesting, in Europe higher education is very accessible, even the poorest can go to university.

    That she was advised to be economically realistic with where she studies to me seems strange, though great she went against it. It makes you wonder how much talent from all manner of backgrounds is slipping by un-noticed, due to costs and being unwilling to pursue something ‘out of reach’.

    On the contrast the accessibility in Europe means we do have an over-supply of art school graduates, in turn this is likely responsible for the low salaries associated with a lot of creative jobs in the UK particularly.

    The economics of motion design!

    • liliandarmono

      “It makes you wonder how much talent from all manner of backgrounds is slipping by un-noticed, due to costs and being unwilling to pursue something ‘out of reach’.”

      Too many sadly. I hope this will change in the future.

  • Aaliyah Brent

    I can relate to this article in some many way. Being a black woman & trying to make in the industry. This story was really inspiring, because i don’t see many black women in this field. Although i am currently in school for animation it make me want to strive harder when you know it can actually be done. This some tangible for me to say “hey, she did it and so can I”. Thank you for sharing your story.