Joburg illustrator Tshwanelo Modise shares stories behind the sketches of her heroes

As a child, illustrator and designer Tshwanelo Modise used to doodle on her jeans with a marker. Now, as a young adult, you’ll find her filming strangers (with their consent, of course), which she later references in her animation work.

Tshwanelo grew up in Rustenburg and came to Johannesburg to study film, and focused on animation and visual effects because she “got to play make-believe”. She loves the weird and the fantastical. “After studying, I worked in advertising as an art director, designer and multimedia designer. I’m basically a unicorn,” she says. “I liked it. It let me explore different mediums and gave me the space to figure out exactly what I want and where I want to go.”

Her recent body of work, The Fine Line, is a collection of portraits depicting her personal muses and heroes. Tshwanelo describes her illustrations as “laid-back and lighthearted with overtones of minimalism”. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We chat to Tshwanelo.

Mama Africa – Young Wodaabe Warrior

Tell us more about the inspiration behind The Fine Line.
I recently went back home and looked through my childhood colouring books. What seemed chaotic back then now looks like all the fun; it’s got character. I decided to go back to illustrating like no one was watching. Colouring outside of the lines has given me a refreshing sense of freedom. For once, I don’t have to be perfect.

Growing up, were you encouraged to pursue creativity?
I grew up watching my uncle create beautiful, abstract charcoal art. That was so cool to me. So I followed in his footsteps and went in search of my own kind of cool.

Which are your top 3 personal favourite pieces and who do they depict?

Esther Mahlangu

Queen, queen, queen. Esther Mahlangu is a bold and admirable representation of what it means to be an African female artist.

Sho Madjozi

Sho Madjozi has the type of “yaaas honey!” attitude I want to see in the world. She screams girl power, and I love it!

Sandile Mkhize

My good friend, Sandile Mkhize, was in a motorbike accident, which left him paralysed, but he never lost heart. Here’s to a guy who’s heroic and badass in equal measure.

You’re also an art director and designer. Tell us more about this.
I work in advertising, which means I’ve drank enough coffee to flood an Olympic pool. I’ve never felt the need to choose between art direction and design — they’re sisters, and who separates sisters? In art, there’s no right and wrong, and the most important tool for the job is a colourful imagination. Follow Tshwanelo

Winter Still Lingers – Anelisa Mangcu
Yaaas HOney – Lesego Legobane / Thick Leeyonce
A Desert and a Flame – Bonang Matheba
Braided beauty – Jo-Anne Winkler
Fierce Fire – Nomzamo Mbatha
Oh, Please – Willow Smith

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