Meet Jess Henderson, a vegan activist from Scotland who uses “artivism” to raise awareness of animal rights issues. Jess became involved with vegan activism at a young age, and has since created her own vegan art business, Jessica Jane Illustrations.
Jess has lived, travelled, and volunteered all over the world for the past five years, which greatly influences her art. From bearing witness to the dolphin slaughter in Japan, to rescuing dogs at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, Jess has seen it all. She chats with us about using art to raise awareness of the plight of animals and gives tips on how to be successful as a vegan freelancer.
What’s your vegan story?
I went vegetarian when I was 10 years old because I decided I didn’t want to eat animals anymore. A few years later, someone handed me a leaflet in the street about the makeup brands that test on animals. It was a PETA leaflet, and that night I went home and looked on their website. I became horrified because I discovered that I used many of those makeup brands. This led me to watching some videos about the dairy industry. I went vegan overnight!
When did you start doing “artivism”?
Art was something I was good at from a young age, and it was the one subject in school that I excelled in. I first got involved in vegan activism when I started watching YouTube videos of various activists talking to people about veganism on the street. After moving to Asia, I saw the horrors of the shark fin trade. I thought, “Oh my god, I need to do something about this!” That’s when I quit my day job and started volunteering at the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.
I also started doing chalking with Animal Activist Collective when I moved to Melbourne. This involves using chalk to create art and write vegan messages on the streets, which always draws a big crowd. I also started decorating random pieces of cardboard I found on the street and tying them to things! Sometimes, I would create stickers to put near animal products at the supermarket.
These days, I prefer to do artivism online through Instagram and by collaborating with different vegan organisations. I think street activism is really important, but I feel more comfortable spreading the vegan message through my art online.
Which animal rights issue is particularly close to your heart?
People often forget about marine animals, so I think it’s harder to advocate for sea animals. So, I’m very passionate about sharks and anything to do with the sea. At the moment, I’m really trying to raise awareness of shark finning and the UK. Did you know it’s legal to bring 20kg of shark fin into the UK without declaring it? I’m hoping more people in the UK can advocate to ban this practice.
I also really don’t like the dairy industry, for reasons I probably don’t need to go into!
What made you decide to become a freelance artist?
I wanted to use my art to spread awareness to help animals. People would contact me wanting commissions of their pets or of themselves, so I realized that this was a way for me to earn an income. This has also worked really well for me and my lifestyle, seeing as I am constantly travelling. This style of work is fantastic for people like me who are always on the move!
What advice do you have for other vegans who want to start their own business?
Social media is extremely important these days, so I recommend really taking the time to make your social media profiles professional and aesthetically pleasing. I try to post often, and I really try to highlight the message behind the art that I’m doing. I’m uncomfortable with self-promotion, but it’s essential for people to know who you are, and not just the product you create.
When I first started pursuing art as a career, I asked around and saw what other artists were charging for art commissions. This gave me a good idea of how to value my work and my time. I’ve since gotten into the practice of timing myself while I draw, so I don’t sell myself short. I also recommend create a stunning website and portfolio, which will really highlight your abilities.
What are some art projects that you’ve worked on in the past?
In my earlier days of doing activism on the street, I often created eye-catching art installations. One of my favourites was putting toy chicks inside of a blender to highlight the cruelty in the egg industry. Another one I created randomly after I found a dead baby shark on the beach in Australia. I placed it into a bloody display outside of a restaurant selling shark fin soup, which drew a lot of attention!
Since I’ve made art into a career, I’ve worked on a bunch of projects that I’m really proud of. The team behind Dominion asked me to create designs for t-shirts, a colouring book, and other merchandise for the film’s release. This inspired me to publish my own colouring book later that year.
Some other organisations I’ve collaborated with in the past include PETA, V-Dog, NSW Hen Rescue, Fish Feel, and the HK Shark Foundation. I’m currently volunteering with Shark Guardian in the UK to become an ambassador, so I’m creating art for them right now, which is very exciting.
How have your travels influenced your art?
If I hadn’t started travelling, I would never have become interested in sharks, so I don’t think I’d be creating art the same way as I do now. Whenever I visit a new country, I like to get involved in the local vegan activism groups. While living in Japan, I joined Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project in Taiji. This is the infamous place where the dolphin slaughter occurs, which was documented in the film The Cove. I also volunteered with the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation and visited the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China. Here, I helped rescue some of the dogs from being tortured and eaten. In Australia and New Zealand, I joined various animal rescues, including Farm Animal Rescue and Black Sheep Animal Sanctuary. I’ve had many more experiences with organisations like these, that do amazing things for the animals, and which have influenced my art greatly.