Our last That Girl of 2015!
We’re ending 2015 on a high, with a That Girl who has scribbled and sketched her way around all the hottest events in town this year. Not only has she worked with coveted designer brands like Fendi, Club Monaco and Agent Provacateur, but she’s also known for her intimate, life-like portrait commissions which make beautiful personal gifts. That’s right, we’re talking about Tanya Bennett – better known as Pirate!
Pirate is one of Hong Kong’s most promising creative talents and this year she’s taken the city by storm – and not just with her awesome illustrating! We chat to Pirate about how she got to where she is now, her passion for the outdoors, exciting plans for the future and how you can turn your passion into a successful career.
Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
I grew up in Bournemouth, a beautiful seaside town in the UK. I studied in Scotland, in a quaint little place called Galashiels, and then moved out to Asia a few weeks after graduating.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I’m on Lamma Island and it’s the only place I’ve ever lived in Hong Kong that truly feels like a home. My strategy has been to fill the house with as much as I possibly can, particularly with art and mementos from my travels. I’m a hoarder, which is a terrible trait for anyone living in a HK apartment!
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I love the transformative ability of fashion, how it allows you to change not only your physical appearance, but also how you feel. What I wear depends on which events I am working, if I am in the studio, or out socialising. I predominantly mix vintage finds with high street staples.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I’m a big fan of Maple, it’s a rummage-and-hope-for-the-best type store, but I have pulled out some beauties over the years.
I also frequent Me & Gee in the lanes in Central every time I walk past and have so many incredible vintage pieces that cost very little (I also have a huge bag of ‘future craft projects’ from there too, that one day I’ll get around to completing).
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
If I’m in the studio, then my nails get horribly neglected, but having well manicured nails are essential for events as my hands are photographed so frequently whilst I illustrate. I go to Nails88 in Sheung Wan, such amazing value and lots of great colours.
Dolma is my guru for all things beauty related, she was one of the first people I met in Hong Kong and I’ve been a loyal Dolma disciple ever since.
Bright lipsticks are my favourite make up item and Bobbi Brown’s ‘Bright Poppy’ and Chanel’s ‘Pirate’ are my most used.
Describe your perfect weekend in Hong Kong.
After a delightful evening of wine and banter with mates, I would wake up miraculously without a hangover and wander into the village to have a leisurely breakfast consisting of many, many carbs. Then, I would head over to Sai Kung or Lantau with my running buddies and spend hours running up and down mountains in perfect weather conditions. We would end up at a delightful noodle shack consuming many calories and hard-earned beers, before heading home on the sunset ferry to Lamma to binge watch a TV series, surrounded by cats and lots of snacks!
You’ve recently taken part in the Oxfam Trailwalker, completing the 100km McLehose Trail within 48 hours (wow!). What do you love most about trail-walking/hiking and what’s your next big challenge?
Haha – this is the best question, as runners LOVE to talk about running! For me, it’s a love of nature, being outdoors, and feeling strong. Mountains are extremely humbling and each climb will offer a different experience, no matter how many times you have done it. Also, people you run with become your best friends for life; these people see you at your absolute best and your absolute worst, support you endlessly (physically and mentally), and are the only other people who truly understand why being in the pain cave is totally worth it.
My next big adventure is Pulag100, a solo 112k run with 5,600 metres of climbing in the Philippines in May. It looks hideous… I’m so excited.
What’s your favourite hike/or view in Hong Kong?
I have so many! The trail into Tai Long Wan 大浪灣 in Sai Kung (Maclehose section 2) never gets old for me, I always have a ‘I’m so lucky to live here moment’ when I visit.
My favourite mountain in Hong Kong is Mount Butler 畢拿山; he’s like an old friend to me and if you climb up from Quarry Bay via the Wilson Trail, he’ll show you some of the most magnificent panoramas of Hong Kong harbour (minus The Peak crowds, which is such a bonus!).
On Lamma, I love to climb Ling Kok Shan 菱角山 and watch the sunrise, it’s a spectacular way to kick start the day.
See our fave beginner Sassy hikes here!
What are you favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
Cafe Nivana in Sheung Wan is my favourite local spot that serves incredible Lap Isan and super cheap beer. It’s not the most glamorous of locations, but I always have an amazing time there.
There is a Taiwanese dumpling store in Wan Chai that will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. It only has a Chinese Name: 八方雲集鍋貼水餃專門店 and serves curry dumplings. Curry. In a dumpling. Amazing.
Tell us about your career as an illustrator and artist. How did you get to where you are now?
I studied Clothing Design and Manufacturing and specialised in illustration. After graduating, I moved to China to work with a manufacturing company doing product development and design, whilst working on the occasional freelance illustration projects.
An opportunity came up to work in fine art and I made a leap into the world of running galleries where I learnt an enormous range of valuable skills such as marketing, accounting, client relations and timeline management, all of which have been indispensable to starting my own business.
I started doing more and more illustration work and realised that it was the time to take the leap of faith and pursue it full time, I set up Pirate and I’ve never been busier. Hong Kong has an incredible network and I believe that if you do a good job, then word of mouth will do an enormous amount of the leg work for you. Paired with that, social media has been a fundamental tool for self-promotion, my instagram has bought me many great opportunities.
Tell us about the name ‘Pirate’ – how did it come about and does it have any special meaning?
The first time I met my best friend Tiffany she said that I sounded like a pirate and it kind of stuck. I went with it, because who doesn’t want ‘Pirate’ as a nickname! Fast forward eight years and I find it weird if people call me Tanya.
What are the biggest struggles you’ve faced being a creative in Hong Kong?
Space is really one of the largest hurdles that any artist faces in Hong Kong. Rent, as we all know, is extortionate and that makes it difficult to have the space you need in order to create. The other is deadline expectations, which are often tight in the illustration world, but magnified in a fast paced city like HK. I have pulled many all-nighters to meet a brief.
Otherwise, I feel that Hong Kong is making progress in support for creatives and the arts; spaces like PMQ being small victories and fairs like Art Basel having a significant impact on the scene here.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your career – do you have any favourite events or brands that you’ve worked at or with?
Standing in the queue to register my company was a monumental life moment for me, I had talked about it for so long, and when I was handed a ticket with the number 88 on it, I knew that I had made a good decision.
This year, in particular, has been a whirlwind of success stories, working for brands such as Club Monaco, Fendi, Christian Louboutin, Cle de Peau, Christies, Sothebys, Mandarin Oriental… I mean, it’s a client list that astounds me and I keep pinching myself that this is my real life and I keep waiting for someone to pop out and announce: ‘jokes, that was all a dream and you have to wake up now’.
I love that each brand has it’s own identity and approach, and working with them on creative solutions to fit each brief is something that really excites me.
What inspires you and what do you do to fix a creative block?
I am constantly trawling fashion editorial imagery and style blogs for inspiration, with a healthy dose of Pinterest and Instagram too.
Having worked in the fine art world for a number of years, I am obviously also hugely influenced by artists and their creations, and I pretty much spend all of my spare cash collecting artworks. I love being surrounded by such talent in my home and my studio.
If I’m struggling with a creative problem, I usually find that a run or a glass of wine helps (or a run, followed by a glass of wine). I often remove myself from the problem and clear my mind, hoping that some genius solution will hit me when I’m least expecting it.
Who are your top 5 favourite artists at the moment?
– Marc Standing – a South African artist based here in HK. His work explores the notion of identity through the use of multiple layers, building intricate and intoxicating pieces.
– Tanmaya Bingham – an American artist whom I’m obsessed with, she glorifies imperfection, resulting in beautifully dark and fascinating images.
– Bosco Law – an emerging Hong Kong artist who is immensely talented, he is someone to watch for sure.
– Angela Su – I have long been obsessed with her intricate anatomical ink drawings.
– Julia Deville – an Australian artist who works as an ethical taxidermist, creating the most intriguing sculptural pieces.
How do you turn a passion/hobby/talent into successful career? Any advice for aspiring artists?
My first big step was to start saying that I am an artist, instead of ‘I work in xx job and I also like to paint’. Once I started to believe it myself, it became truth. You have to be comfortable promoting yourself, online platforms are invaluable for this, and also at physical events. I try to make the most of opportunities to meet and connect with people in Hong Kong. Head to art openings, talk to small boutique business owners about their stories, visit artist studios, get invited to fashion parties.
And the other main building block is to work, work your ass off! Be prepared to put in long hours, take certain briefs you may not want to but will help pay the bills, miss out on nights out, work when you don’t feel like being creative, and squeezing in extra time in your day to answer emails and manage your accounts. It’ll be worth it though, because you’ll get to do what you love the most. Every day. And that’s magical.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future – where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’m going to be launching my retail business, selling merchandise both online and in-stores. I have a lot of exciting product ideas that I’m excited about getting down on paper. I also want to start a workshop series, collaborating with brands and other creatives.
I’m hoping that in five years time that I’m living in a castle that is full of cats and surrounded by mountains. Joking. (Not really).
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor and Facebook at www.facebook.com/