It’s usually the flawless makeup she applies to the faces of brides and models that garners attention for Torie Conn ’10, an in-demand Chicago-based professional makeup artist. But now, Conn’s artistic work is turning heads for a different reason: She’s illustrated the popular book Twinkle, Twinkle, Social Media Star: An Internet Fairytale of Fame, Fortune & Followers (Ulysses Press, November 2018).
Part parody, part social commentary, the book borrows from the classic fairytale genre to explore our cultural obsession with social media. The premise? A mama bear tucks in her baby at night, and instead of a traditional story, scrolls through her phone in an attempt to explain the world of internet fame to her baby bear. From @LittleBoPeep’s crowdfunding campaign for her lost sheep to @HumptyDumpty’s #EPICFAIL falling-off-wall vlogs, this poem for adults offers something for every social media fan—or critic.
Conn’s illustrations add a playful dimension to Kate Kennedy’s writing. “There’s a whimsical aesthetic that lends itself to a children’s story, but my work innately has a bit of darkness to it,” says Conn. “When Kate approached me with this idea, it was pretty easy for me to visualize what it would look like. It was fun to think about what Little Red Riding Hood would look like as an Instagram influencer with a fashion editorial sense about her.”
The project also pushed Conn to expand her digital capabilities. “In the past couple years I’ve focused on ink and watercolor illustration, done by hand. It was an exciting experience to rework my style and adapt to a digital format. I had to learn on the fly. It’s amazing what you can do with an iPad.”
And while book illustrations may not have been on her radar specifically—Kennedy invited Conn to collaborate on the project after the two met at a Chicago networking event—it actually aligns perfectly with the artistic trajectory Conn has been building since high school. “I realized that all I wanted to do was be an artist in high school,” says Conn, who went on to take classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Denison, though a vastly different setting from her home city of Chicago, ended up being the perfect place for her to grow as an artist. “Campus was breathtaking, and I fell in love with the Bryant Arts Center that was renovated while I was there. It was an incredible place, just filled with artistic spirit.” In addition to her studio art work, she began doing makeup and design for Denison’s theatrical performances. Recalls Conn, “I would balance my time between the studio, where I would work on my paintings, and the theatre. I spent a lot of time running around using my hands.”
For Torie Conn, that will always mean art. She’s already on to her next artistic venture, having recently launched Victory Paper Company—including a greeting card line showcasing her watercolor and ink style of illustrating. And given the success of Twinkle, Twinkle, Social Media Star, will there be more books in her future? “Kate and I have talked about it, and when the time comes, we’d love to do something together again,” says Conn. “I would love to continue to work in this style and with publications. It’s a pretty incredible opportunity for an artist.”