Meet Tanna Monroe: Beautonomy Intern and Artist
Tanna Monroe is a local artist, founder of Blank Canvas London, and our fantastic intern. She’s 27, and grew up in Brixton close to our Camberwell office. Tanna has been helping out at Beautonomy whilst she begins to grow her art business, and so we thought we’d catch up with her to hear more about what she does.
Tell us about your business: what inspired you to start Blank Canvas London?
When I started making art, I wasn’t intending on starting a business. I went through a heartbreak, so I was using art as a therapy mechanism in the beginning. I was also in a job that I really hated at the time, and so I just used to doodle all day. Because I was making a lot of art, one day I thought about it and realised that I could really make something of it if I were to concentrate on it. The final straw was that my aunt asked me to paint her a picture, and after that I decided to really take it seriously and see what I could do with it.
I didn’t really know what it meant to say I was starting a business, or what I was getting into: I just thought, ok, I’ll paint some pieces and say they’re for sale.
What kind of art do you make, what’s it all about?
My favorite muses are black women. The majority of the time I tend to focus on their curves, and the beauty that transcends through their bodies. When I started I always knew my work was going to be heavily about black love of some sort. But, as I’ve progressed on my journey, my style has changed somewhat, and I am much clearer about my niche & the message I want to portray to the world.
To begin with, my art was so erotic. It was very in your face, and, as a Christian woman it made me feel somewhat uncomfortable to think that I could be opening myself up to others discrediting my faith and ultimately my love for God. So, I have had to grow, which I’ve done by just trusting the process. But, even though I am more conscious about the erotic fantasy art I now create, I have no regrets because if I hadn’t dabbled in erotic art, I wouldn’t be the painter I am today. It’s a process, an evolutionary process.
Since evolving as an artist, you’ve been exploring different themes, one being the Black Lives Matter Movement. Can you talk a bit more about that?
I’ve done a piece called ‘Enough is Enough’. The piece is of a black man screaming out with all his power to say, that’s it, enough is enough. As a black woman in a black community, you get to see the struggles, and the trauma, that the black men face in our community.
For example, from a young age, black men are told to not cry. They need to be the men of the household. In their minds, they’re made to think that they can’t break down. When you see George Floyd, he was literally crying out for his life. I’m very sensitive, so when I saw that, and how desperate he was, it really affected me.
I just want to support the black community, represent the black community in a positive light, and show what the black community is really about. We’re so beautiful inside and out and people need to see that. I feel we’re in a generation that are now willing to have this conversation about racism, and do something about it. So I’m hoping that with my platform, I can help to give black people a voice. Not only that but I want to give black people something they can look at and resonate with. The black community is so underrepresented, that I want to represent them, to enable people to respect our culture, and love our culture.
Would you say the Black Lives Matter movement has been effective, will it achieve enough?
Like how we were saying making art is a process and you evolve, I think this is a process as well. This isn’t something new that we’ve been fighting for, and it’s not going to be finished overnight. But, the fact that we are making progress in the right direction is always going to be positive. What I’m seeing is that a lot of black people are going out there now and doing it for themselves, which is great. They’re thinking: ‘if I don’t have a platform, or a voice, I’m going to make one, and go out there and make it for myself’. And, by doing this, they’re opening doors for themselves, as well as leaving the door open for their community.
I never thought I would be an artist: there was no one around me telling me that art was even a real career path. Working here at Beautonomy, I’ve learnt that people in the white community are always told, not only by their parents, but by society, that they can do all these things. Not to say my parents don’t support me, but my mother taught me to be realistic with things. There’s bills to be paid, we have to pay the rent. If I didn’t have the willpower to say that this can be done, and it needs to be done, I probably would have given up.
I hope that people will look at me and go ‘she’s the girl next door, and she’s running her own business, why can’t I do that?’. I know if my next door neighbour had done the same thing, I would look at her and go, if she can do it, I can do it! It’s not only about opening the door for yourself, but about opening the door for other people. I want to show the black community it’s possible.
You’ve touched briefly on working here. How did your internship start here, tell us the story.
I started doing my art back in October 2016. Last year on my vision board, I put that I needed a team, I needed a mentor, but I had no idea how I was going to get those things. At the time I wanted to leave the job I was in, and I put in my calendar that I was going to quit in August. When I had applied for that job I told myself it was the last job I was going to apply for, and that once I left, I was going to start my business properly. So, I was getting all my finances and my plan in place to resign, but in the end I ended up being made redundant before I was ready.
The redundancy threw me off a bit, I wasn’t ready to start my art business yet, but I decided to trust in God, and accept it as a sign that I needed to leave that job. So, I left the job in September, and ended up getting a job in Sainsbury’s by the end of December. Through working at Sainsbury’s, I met a lovely lady who helped me get on to a business mentoring course with Santander, which was amazing.
I also ended up seeing my old form tutor from school when I was working there, who also used to be my graphics teacher. We got speaking about my logo, because he obviously does graphics, so I took his number. But, because I was so busy, I never called him.
But, he came back and said ‘why haven’t you called me! There’s a lady that wants to help you. She runs a company and wants to give back to someone in the community’. Eventually, I called him to discuss it, and get a bit more information, but I still wasn’t really clear on what he was saying, I didn’t really understand that the opportunity was even for me. It was a bit confusing because although Kiemu (the Beautonomy Boss!) knew she wanted to help someone, she didn’t really know how, so it was hard for my old teacher to explain what was being offered.
But, once we met, and Kiemu told me who she was and what she was looking for, and I told her about me and what I needed, it was a perfect match. I was able to say exactly what my goals were, and from that she was able to create a plan on how she could help me. Being here has been amazing, I’ve learnt so much, and everyone has helped me in so many different ways.
And now I’m so close to launching which is very exciting!
You’ve been so amazing by just going out there and starting your business. Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to do the same and doesn’t know where to begin?
Number one, if you have a dream, and you believe in it, go for it. The second thing is that research is your best friend. Because I had no idea what to research, it was a long learning curve. The most important thing that I learnt was to research people that are similar to your brand. Look at the elements that people similar to you have and see what you think would work for you, and what wouldn’t. From that you can make a blueprint of what you want your brand to look like.
The last thing would be to remind people that there is actually a lot of help out there. I feel like now I’ve been brought into the inside, it’s a completely different world. Finding the right mentor, teacher, or program that will help you is so important. For example, The Prince’s Trust I know has been so helpful to so many people. Join groups, network with people, put yourself in the position to be helped. And don’t give up!