Unlock your phone, open Instagram, and swipe right. You’ll now see a clear and highly attractive image of your double-chin. Don’t be alarmed. Your front-view camera is only doing its job. Now click on the white ‘happy face,’ right there at the bottom right. You’ll find a wide selection of cat-ears, googly-eyes, dog-tongues, fall leaves, shooting stars, and floating hearts. Choose one, and give your smartphone a wide grin. Nod your head to try on different sunglasses. And remember—there’s nothing better than a fluffy, whisker-loving, double-chinned kitty cat.
On her personal website, UTM alumna Lianne Tokey, graphic designer and web developer, shares that she received her Fine Art degree from the University of Toronto in 1998 and has since then worked “for numerous Fortune 500 companies.” Her work has been published in magazines such as Wedding Bells Magazine, Modern Luxury Media (DC Magazine), and Uppercase Magazine. Her creations have been used by millions of people within the first few months of launching. One of her most popular effects, “Dollface,” was featured in Cosmopolitan (Spain) Magazine as “the new essential filter for all your selfies.” Her personal Instagram page @liannetokey features a myriad of vibrant, digital creations.
One post catches my eye as I scroll through her feed. “Champion” in delicate cursive blares at me in bright, neon magenta. The word is surrounded in swirls and bubbles of turquoise, indigo, and mustard yellow. A black and white stripped ribbon twists and curls under and around the word. Her caption reads: “We are the Champions!!! OMG Raptors, what a strong finish! Thanks for giving us something to cheer on … we are beyond proud of you guys!” Several hashtags that follow include #wethenorthforever and #congratsraptors.
How do you create art that is both true to yourself, and relevant to the people? As an Instagram effects creator, but also wife and mother of two, Tokey joins The Medium for an insider interview on her perspective of art, society, social media, and positivity.
Like most young children born in North America, Tokey’s early days were filled with crayons, markers, and paint brushes. “Dragons and rainbows and horses, and things like that. Things that I could take from my environment and try to replicate or try to put my own type of twist on. And so, I always knew I would be doing something creative,” she shares.
But only a few young artists grow up continuing to develop their craft. Whereas her classmates might have ditched the pencil crayons early on, Tokey dove deeper by entering art contests. She met entry deadlines and won art contests while her fellow classmates were joining sports teams.
Tokey recalls submitting a winter scene when she was nine years old through which she won a full ski set as a prize. This encouraged her to continue pursuing the arts. When she went to post-secondary school at Erindale College, naturally, she entered the joint Art and Art History program.
“The program gave me the opportunity to try so many different approaches to creating art and in that, I was able to find what really resonated with me,” Tokey stated in a former U of T interview. “I focused on those things that were bringing me a lot of joy and helping me to build on me creativity.”
School wasn’t the only factor which inspired her. On a trip with her mother to Vatican City, she recalls standing under the famous painting The Last Judgement by Michelangelo. Tokey remarks that when “[she] was able to see these works in real life,” she realized that “art doesn’t exist on its own. It’s actually usually a conversation about what’s happening in the culture at the time. And that was something [she] hadn’t even thought about as an artist.” This opened up a whole new perspective to young Tokey.
As she creates digital art for millions of consumers in the fast-paced society today, Tokey experiences the connection between society’s culture and the art she creates daily. The filters and Facebook frames that she creates and the posts she shares follow trends that go “viral.” Her viral “Dollface” effect, featured in Cosmopolitan, was originally created in response to Youtuber and makeup star, James Charles, when he challenged his millions of viewers to recreate the ‘Bratz face.’ In other cases, such as with her “Bell Let’s Talk” speech bubble filter, the digital art follows important topics within society such as mental health.
Do artists always create in response to society? Perhaps the question can be found more so in how they respond. “The art we make is sometimes different than what is accepted socially,” says Tokey.
She shares the example of how even though digital artists like to create complex filters with different shades of color and geometric designs, the most popular filters usually end up being the ones that involve simple hearts floating around the head. This could be demonstrated by the Snapchat Dog Filter released in February 2016, which blew up to the point where Vice published an interview titled, “We Asked a Psychiatrist Why We’re so Obsessed with the Dog Filter” on May 13, 2016. Women’s magazine Allure follows with an article on May 18 titled, “There’s a Reason Why You Love the Dog Filter on Snapchat.” The filter itself is an effect that places a dog’s nose, ears, and tongue over the user’s face while they take a selfie. Like Tokey says, sometimes “simpler is better.”
No matter what Tokey creates, she maintains that it is important to be a positive force. With a fourteen-year-old daughter, Tokey is especially aware of the negative impacts of social media. She expresses that there is nothing wrong with sharing exciting moments or a selfie, but challenges users to think about “[whether] there is a purpose [and] what the message is behind [the post].” Tokey provides practical advice to maintain self-awareness when using social media. “Take time to share a part of your message. Question yourself, try to see if you can share a part of your story along with the picture,” she advises.
While working with Instagram, Tokey currently spends about three days a week speaking and educating other artists within her industry alongside monitoring trends. Amidst the busyness, she shares that her secret to staying clear-headed, creative, and positive, begins early in the morning. “Stay physically active. I love to go on runs. And do something creative each day, such as trying something new while cooking,” she recommends.
Her advice to students is to “be curious and work for what you want to achieve. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not where you want to be. If you see something that catches your interest, ask ‘how do I do that?’ And if you don’t know, Google it.”