Welcome To The Community That Celebrates Everyday Life and Creativity! Interview With Tess Smith-Roberts & Zena Kay (Still Here Still Life)
Every Sunday, a group of illustrators around the world probably start their routine the same way — checking out the latest prompt from Still Here Still Life’s Instagram, then throwing themselves into illustrating their own take.
A weekly still life drawing challenge run by Tess Smith-Roberts and Zena Kay, Still Here Still Life offers a unique way of bringing creatives of different fields together. In the midst of uncertainty and minimal contact, artists are staying creative and connected, thanks to this full-of-beans community.
How did Tess and Zena kickstart this idea? A shared love for food and colours drew these two budding talents together. Here, the two friends discuss how they met, the ideas behind the popular creative account and their favourite places to eat out in London.
AWW: We were so happy to see a lot of amazing and positive projects flourishing during lockdown, Still Here Still Life definitely stood out! What inspired you two to create a weekly challenge that brought together artists, cooks, photographers and other creatives?
Zena Kay & Tess Smith-Roberts: Still Life started as a way to keep ourselves and friends creative through lockdown, as we were a bit tired of Zoom calls. Little did we know that it would expand to what it is!
Our aim for Still Here is to encourage creativity around the world no matter where you might be based, and see the beauty in the everyday items!
AWW: We’ve worked with Tess in Issue 2 and loved the work she contributed for our Health and Fitness Section! We are very curious: How did you two get to know each other?
Zena: I met Tess in our interview for the Illustration/Animation course at Kingston University, a lifetime ago! Of course I was totally amazed at how talented she was and still is! I think we both soon realised whilst our illustration practice is very different, there are also lots of similarities. We both love colour, drawing fruits and making people smile. It’s such a lovely contrast, both having individual ideas but bringing them together to celebrate the art.
Tess: Yes, we met in our interview for the university. Which seems like ages ago now!! I was and still am amazed at how wonderful Zena is as a person and an illustrator! Yes I agree, our practices are very different but the common ground we share is a huge love for food and colour!
Illustrations by Zena Kay
AWW: Of all the weekly challenges, which prompt and submission work is your favourite?
Zena: This question is super hard! I love so many if not all of them, mainly because the submissions are always so different! But I think Week 1 was a favourite because that’s where it all started. Week 14 and 26 were my personal favourites too as working with @Platetalks is always delicious.
All the submissions are amazing and so diverse, though my personal favourite has to be Maggie Margaret (@maggiemargaret_designs). I LOVE HER WORK! I am so happy I found her through Still Here, she’s inspired my own work so much. If I ever struggle with inspiration, I do head over to Still Here to get some.
Tess : So hard to pick a favourite as we collaborate with so many wonderful photographers! But if I had to pick one it would be Week 14. Found via @thegourmand, and collaboration between photographer Kelsey McClellan (@kelseymcclellan) and set designer Michelle Maguire (@pandahandler). It’s a very brown-toned breakfast scene, one of my faves to draw myself and to see what others came up with too.
Submission wise, again it’s so hard to pick as there are so many lovely illustrations we see everyday. But I would say @byluciapham, @byjae_, and @laurenmartin_studio are my favourites! They consistently bring bright and lovely work to Still Here and I love it!
AWW: It’s so calming to see an online community that features colourful food! What does food mean to you personally? Can you share one of your all-time guilty pleasures or favourite restaurant in London?
Zena: What is better than sitting around the table, alone or with friends and family, while eating a huge bowl of delicious food. The act of eating plays a huge role in my illustration practice, such as the passing of the plates or the salt and pepper.
My guilty pleasure food is home-cooked Indian. Me and my friends and family eat it quite often, so I don't know if I treat it as a guilty pleasure, haha. When I go down to London, the top one is definitely Gordons Wine Bar and their cheese boards!
Tess: Food means everything! I am constantly thinking about what my next meal or snack will be. My guilty pleasure is chocolate, I think I have an addiction. Favourite restaurant is a tough one! But probably Mr. Bao in Peckham. The most delicious bao buns ever!!
AWW: Running an Instagram community is never an easy task! What’s the most satisfying part about Still Here Still Life? Can you share one of the most heartwarming messages you’ve received from followers?
Zena & Tess: The most satisfying part of Still Here is seeing the amazing responses each week through artwork, and seeing how many different people from around the world take part. It’s pretty mind-blowing! We’re afraid we have too many messages to share one, our inbox is always swamped!
Illustration by Tess Smith-Roberts
AWW: It’s very impressive to see how Still Here Still Life has reached a total of 175k Instagram followers (and growing!) in such a short period of time! What’s next?
Zena & Tess: We are currently working on a book! Its pre-order is on now, and will be ready by the end of summer.
Illustration by Zena Kay
Illustration by Tess Smith-Roberts
To find out more about Still Here Still Life, please visit | @stillherestilllife
To find out more about Tess Smith-Roberts and Zena Kay, please visit the artists’ IG accounts | @tesssmithroberts and @zenaokay
All images provided by Still Here Still Life, Tess Smith-Roberts and Zena Kay.