Tess Smith-Roberts

Our love story with Tess goes back a long way. We still had our studio in Barcelona when she contacted us to be with us for a while, working on screen printing projects. She collaborated with SOLO on issue 3, with several illustrations and a t-shirt design. A few years later, Tess is a world-famous illustrator with over 200,000 followers on Instagram and has worked on multiple continents for dozens of clients. We are very happy to publish this interview with her today. And we have been moved by some of the things she has told us. Keep reading!

Tess' design for the first Read Coffee, Drink Mags collection back in 2018

Live drawing illustrations included in SOLO 3
Illustration from 'Agent Cooper's Secret', as part of the short stories inspired in film coffee scenes.
You can check them in our IG profile here.

SOLO       We love seeing how your career has evolved so dramatically. You collaborated with SOLO on number 3 and now you have nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram, you have dozens of clients and exhibitions behind you and even several awards. What would you say has brought you here?

TESS        You know what - I think my year abroad and my time spent in Barcelona, especially at SOLO/Barba with Albert & Bea really shaped my illustration practise. I don't think it would be the same without my experiences there. I had so much more time to carve out my illustration style, so I was just drawing all the time. Bea & Albert also gave me lovely projects to work on for SOLO when I was there, as well as great screen print projects. So I really thought about my work, how to work, and how to approach a project, in new and exciting ways. I made a screen printed concertina book about a party, and that drawing style really stuck to me. I also began sharing all my work I made there online a lot, where it gained a lot of attention. It kinda snowballed then, I kept gaining lots of instagram followers which was kinda weird, but helped my work get noticed/out there, which then led onto illustration jobs. So yeah, I feel like Barcelona is really where it all began for me, and it really brought me to where I am today.


“You know what - I think my year abroad and my time spent in Barcelona, especially at SOLO/Barba with Albert & Bea really shaped my illustration practise. I don't think it would be the same without my experiences there”.


SOLO       In these times, we need to be reminded that life is also about happiness, fun, simplicity and colour. Your illustrations help us remember the best of being here and now. How do you stay inspired in a world that seems increasingly complicated?

TESS        Food inspires me a lot... if I don't know what to draw I just draw what I ate, or what I'd like to eat haha. Also food has so many great colours! I guess day to day life too (I like drawing mundane things like brushing teeth for example, and making it fun and colourful), peoples dating stories, anything I find funny... they all inspire me. I guess when it comes to my work I try to focus on the good, happy, stuff going on in the world! 

SOLO       For SOLO you made some illustrations of different people drinking coffee in Barcelona, as well as a t-shirt. What relationship do you have with coffee?

TESS        Yes it was so fun drawing coffee related things with SOLO! I have a complicated relationship with coffee... I do love it now though. I used to drink multiple cups a day and then realised it made me feel weird, so I cut it out completely for like 18 months or something. I then went traveling last year, and had Vietnamese, Colombian, Mexican coffee.... etc. And really enjoyed going to coffee shops in the different cities/places I visited. So I got a bit addicted again. Now I have one a day, and if I have a second one it has to be decaf otherwise I feel a bit strange! But yes, totally back to loving coffee now. I can't start my day without it. 


SOLO       You have lived in London, Barcelona, Hamburg and travelled to many other cities. Do you have a favourite coffee shop or a coffee anecdote that you can tell us?

TESS        I actually can't pick a favourite coffee shop... but my favourite place for coffee shops is South Korea... there's just so many good ones!? Like every cafe you go to is amazing. Sometimes super cute like Cafe Skon or Oh!Range, or sometimes really cool like JamJam or Cafe Onion. Just thinking about it now is making me want to go back... 

Also I went to a coffee farm in Colombia this year - we got to follow the whole process of them making it and it really made me think of SOLO when I was there, as I remember I drew a comic about how coffee is made for them, from bean to cup! Which I think was based on an article that had someone writing about a coffee farm in Colombia.


“My favourite place for coffee shops is South Korea... there's just so many good ones!”


SOLO       Only 1 in 4 designers in the European Union are women, according to a recent Women in Design study published by the EUIPO - European Union Intellectual Property Office. How do you perceive equality within your field, illustration?

TESS        I think I'm actually in a bit of a bubble here with illustration & women! Most of my friends who are illustrators or animators, are women. My illustration agency, Snyder, is also women owned and ran/ At university, my class was also predominantly women. But I am not surprised at that statistic at all... 

Thanks, Tess, for your kind words, it’s always a pleasure to chat with you.

Don’t forget to check out her latest graphic novel - The story follows serial dater Olive’s quest for companionship, as she navigates the terrible world of app-based dating and all the weirdos she matches with, with some dates submitted by Tess’s Instagram followers, some inspired by previous submissions and, of course, some fan favourites from her popular dating comics series on Instagram.