Q&A ILLUSTRATOR & DESIGNER | TATJANA BUISSON
“There’s something undeniably enlightening about being surrounded by green and colour and space.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I have so many different ideas of perfect happiness. I guess it’s because there are many things that make me happy and sometimes the experience catches me completely by surprise.
When I’m immersed in nature – there’s something undeniably enlightening about being surrounded by green and colour and space. I love hiking in beautiful natural areas with a backpack well stocked with water, snacks and a camera. It’s one of the reasons I love Cape Town so much. It’s so easy to get out and be immersed in a beautiful space in no time. Perfect happiness is getting to the top of a climb, sitting in a spot overlooking a vast expanse with friends, a sunset and ice cold G&Ts.
I love getting lost in new places locally and abroad. Taking photographs and exploring new food and flavours.
Another big one is the combination of design and music. Sitting in a light space with a pen and paper or my machine and listening to a beautiful tune on a great sound system. I can work for hours if I’m listening to good music and it makes me super happy.
Happiness is spending time with the people I love. Combine the friends with great food, music, nature and adventure and I’m on the verge of exploding with happiness.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel and live music. I currently spend most of my earnings on my little business but when I can save it’s for travel.
What is your favourite journey?
I have been on many journeys physically exploring new places and emotional journeys and all of them have been wonderful in some way or another but they’re all so different that it’s hard to say which is my favourite. If I had to pick one perhaps the three years I spent in Barcelona. It was my first experience of moving to a new place on my own and I loved the city. It was challenging in many ways and on the flip side, it was fantastic.
Barcelona is a city of celebration and lifestyle. I loved cycling around the city and discovering beautiful old quaint cafés and bars. Beautiful little squares where children played football and the oldies sat on benches watching while the parents met their friends at outside cafés, eating tapas and enjoying the sunshine.
The exposure to great music was one of the things that also really inspired me in Barcelona. I spent a fair portion of my earnings on live music performances and music festivals. It was almost overwhelming to have so many great musicians at my fingertips.
Every day something new and different made me feel grateful for living there. In my work, I was surrounded by super inspiring creative people who worked on and created beautiful things. I also learned a lot about myself and what was ultimately important to me: to be happy in the work I do. It might be obvious but I think sometimes we get things mixed up. We work in order to have the funds to do the things that we enjoy but since work is what we’re doing most of the time I understood that work also needed to be the thing I loved doing. It was there that I was inspired to start my own initiatives and it was there that I discovered the joys of postcards and great ice cream.
When and where were you happiest?
Again, there are so many experiences that would answer this question but one of them was a moment at the top of a mountain in southern Ecuador.
A volcano had recently erupted in a town called Baños and in the three days we had to spare there was only rain and cloud and although we hadn’t been able to see the volcano we had to leave the next day. On the last evening my ex and I hitched a ride to the top of a mountain with a local who agreed to come and fetch us in two hours. He was doubtful that the sky would clear but we were extremely optimistic.
We had a backpack stocked with a kikoi, crackers and a bottle of wine. As we were dropped off at the field overlooking spot where the volcano would have been visible as if in a dream, the mist cleared, the clouds moved away and in the sunset sky, the volcano became visible. It was just the two of us sitting on a kikoi in a wet field with a cow and a bottle of wine and a ridiculously beautiful view of an erupting volcano. It was unreal. The clouds and rain cleared for an hour and by the time it was dark and we’d had our magical opportunity to watch the lava spit from the volcano’s mouth and roll down the sides, the gentleman who had dropped us came to fetch us.
He was concerned that two hours were too long and that we would get cold and wet and he was right. His timing was perfect. Definitely one of my happiest moments.
What inspired postcard happiness?
When I was living in Barcelona Instagram didn’t exist and facebook was only starting to become a popular social network. I always had my little G9 on me and whenever I saw something that reminded me of someone I cared about I’d take a picture, print it and send it as a postcard. I loved sending postcards and quickly learned about postcrossing.com An online platform that facilitates postcard-sending from and to strangers around the world. I discovered that hundreds of thousands of people around the world were randomly sending each other postcards for the sake of sending and receiving postcards.
Around the same time, a friend of mine was diagnosed as bipolar. She was suffering heavily through her depression while psychiatrists were trying to find her chemical match. As I was living so far away I felt helpless and started sending her occasional postcards to remind her that she wasn’t alone and that I was thinking of her.
Years later when I had moved back to Cape Town and my friend was doing much better I met with her mother and she told me that my postcards had had a big impact on her daughter when she had been struggling with her depression. I had no idea that postcards could make much of a difference at all and this got me thinking that perhaps there was a way to connect the hundreds of thousands of people who love sending postcards to the hundreds of thousands of people who could benefit from receiving kind words on a postcard.
I decided to launch the project with my father, Jean Claude. He had suffered a severe stroke a year earlier and I was extremely proud of him for his determination to recover. He worked so hard to stay positive and never allowed himself to fall into any kind of victim mentality event hough he was experiencing very challenging circumstances.
He didn’t know about the project but slowly started receiving the loveliest postcards from strangers around the world. Their words were sincere and filled with love and kindness. He once called me in tears over a heartful and kind postcard he had received. They were incredibly heart-warming and sincere.
I’ve kept the project going since then and somehow by word of mouth more and more people know about it and therefore more people suggest people to add to the project and more and more people send postcards. I know the project needs to grow and the website certainly needs a fresh lick of paint but at the moment I’m doing what I can. I would love to link up schools with organisations that care for people who are unwell. It would be wonderful to scale it up and have more people benefit from the kindness of the people who send the postcards.
Who would you most like to receive a postcard from?
I’ve never thought about that. Maybe from the TED organisers.
What is your most treasured possession?
I’m not sure. I’ve been working hard at non-attachment and my vagabond lifestyle hasn’t allowed me to accumulate much but I think I’d be sad to lose my Brompton bicycle. It was a Christmas gift from one of the advertising agencies I worked for in Barcelona and it’s a wonderful little machine. I love cycling around Cape Town with it.
How do you combine travelling with working?
It’s challenging since my little business requires me to address sales and online orders on a daily basis. It was easier when I had a real job and I was paid to be on holiday. I certainly wouldn’t manage without the help of my lovely mother, Claudia. Since I’ve been working from France for the past three months I forward all the online orders and stock-takes to her and she dispatches my products for me. For the rest, I travel to places where there’s always access to the internet so that I can manage my admin and I illustrate from anywhere. At the moment I work on my business three days a week and part-time for a cycle tour operator two days a week which enables me to stay afloat in France with the European cost of living.
In a nutshell, travel is always combined with work but it’s great to have the freedom to work when I want to. If there’s an opportunity to do or see something I grab it and pick up my work in the evenings or early mornings.
What inspires your illustrations?
Mostly things that I love. The cards with words are all cards I would want to give to friends. So if it says “oh life” it’s because I’ve wanted that card to give to someone. I often illustrate birthday cards for friends myself and I figured maybe others could use them too. The cards that have no words are inspired by things I love or things I see. Mostly nature and I guess the things I see online.
Who are your favourite photographers and why?
I’m a fan of Chris Burkard, James Kydd and Eric Kimberlin mostly because they take photographs of nature that make me want to travel. One of my favourite things is the annual ‘Wildlife Photography of the Year’ exhibition.
What is your favourite work of art?
Gustav Klimt’s ‘Death and Life’
What book is on your bedside table?
Ironically I’m reading “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.
What sites do you look at for creative inspiration?
I keep an eye on Swiss-Miss, Colossal, TED, Pinterest… I often lose myself on the web and stumble upon some fun creatives doing interesting things that inspire me.
Tatjana is an illustrator and graphic designer and founder of the project Postcard Happiness. To read more about her and the wonderful work that Postcard Happiness does, please take a look here: http://www.postcardhappiness.com