Interview with Jess Henderson – Vegan Artist & Activist

Jess Henderson (@jessicajaneillustrations) is the fabulous artist who lovingly designed our “Until Every Cage Is Empty” Enamel Pin. Charlotte Lim (Admin & Communications) chats to her about art, activism and veganism!

Portrait of Catherine Kelaher, Founder & CEO of NSW Hen Rescue. All artwork done by Jessica Henderson.

Hi Jess, thanks for joining us! When did you start drawing, and when did you begin to use art as a form of activism? 

No worries, thanks so much for asking me! I’ve always been interested in art from a young age. It was the only thing I was really good at in school. I studied it at college for a year and started creating art about the oceans and plastic pollution. It wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong in 2015 and I became involved in animal rights activism, that I realised I could use my art to try and help animals.

empty cages
Our very own “Until Every Cage is Empty” enamel pin design. Get it from our shop!

Tell me about the “Until Every Cage Is Empty” design. Where do you get your inspiration from? What goes on inside your head when you’re tasked with creating a design?

For this design, I wanted to keep the colours really simple. Lots of other designs with that slogan and similar animal liberation artwork are black and white so I wanted to keep with that theme. I thought a hen trying to escape/fly away would go well with the slogan and obviously because it’s just a small design with lots of wording there wasn’t much room to draw more than one hen. Even though it’s a pretty simple design I think it works well and looks good. I find it easy to come up with a design when someone tells me every little detail they want. Otherwise I have no idea what goes on in my head! I think once I come up with one idea then lots of other ideas stem from that.

Is there anything that you find really difficult to capture through art? What’s been your most challenging assignment?

I would say I find it difficult to capture emotion through my artwork as most of my art is all the same. I like creating brightly coloured, flowery and happy animal types of art which doesn’t really fit with a sad theme.

Last year I illustrated a children’s book called ‘An Underwater Friend’ for an American vegan charity called Fish Feel. That was probably the most challenging assignment as I don’t think I am that good at drawing people. I found it so hard to get the characters to look the same on each page! It’s only been the past few months after practicing, that my drawings of people have improved. 

Tell me about your time in Japan!

I moved to Japan in August 2019 on a working holiday visa. I was planning to stay a year but because of Covid I decided to move back home (Scotland) to be closer to my family. I worked part time in a hostel in Tokyo and then as a cleaner in Kyoto and did freelance illustrations. A few weeks before I left, I volunteered as a Cove Monitor for The Dolphin Project in Taiji. Sadly every year in Taiji  hundreds of dolphins are killed for their meat or captured and sold to aquariums all over the world. The Dolphin Project goes to Taiji every year to shine a light on what happens to the dolphins there.

Captivity Is Cruel

What other forms of vegan activism have you participated in? What kinds of activism do you enjoy the most, and which forms are the most challenging? 

I think, apart from open rescue, I’ve done nearly every kind of activism. Before, I used to love doing direct action, going to vigils, shutdowns and cubes of truth etc but I much prefer just doing my own thing now. I like to avoid people as much as possible, which I mean in the nicest way haha. I think bearing witness is the most challenging because it’s so hard seeing the animals on their way to being killed and not being able to help them. That’s really heartbreaking.

What have you learned about performing activism via art?

I have learned that art is a lot more powerful than I once thought. Since I started doing ‘artivism’ I have realised that art is a really great way to spread a message. Especially now, thanks to social media, an image you create can be seen online by thousands of people and you never know who you can reach. You can also inspire other people to create art too.

What’s your favourite animal, and what’s your favourite animal to draw?

Oh, my favourite is definitely sharks. I love sharks so much! And manta rays. I have a soft spot for the ocean so I love drawing any ocean animal. I also really love cows because they are so gentle and goats because they are hilarious.

Are you currently taking commissions? What’s the best way of contacting you for art?

Yes I am indeed. I love doing commissions for people. The best way to contact me is via my instagram – @jessicajaneillustrations


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