Vitruvi Muse: Tori Swanson

I almost didn’t want to write an intro for Tori, because her story is so honest and her words so moving that I didn’t want any of mine to get in the way. But for context’s sake, here it goes.

We found it fitting to feature Tori on Women’s Day, because she’s the epitome of the vitruvi muse: she’s kind, creative, curious, and warm. Her art addresses emotions we undoubtedly all face: fear, resentment, shame, doubt. Through her portraits, the physical shedding of clothing becomes a metaphor for something much stronger—this idea of breaking down barriers and getting rid of the painfully heavy weight we all carry that focuses on how we look. Quite simply, what we love about Tori is her approach to people, which can be summed up as: we’re all human.

So for Women’s Day today, we’re celebrating the Divine Feminine Energy that’s in all of us, regardless of gender, or as Tori explains it: “the softer side of who we are, like support, empathy, love, caring, etc. I think we have a tendency to live with a hard exterior, a shield. The Divine Feminine breaks that down and creates a safe and strong place to live with vulnerability.

Read on, fellow humans.

When did you start focusing your art? Was it something you were always experimenting with?

I use to think my love with art started in my 20s. Looking back, I was always in art camps as a child, doing arts and crafts with grandma and in 12th grade, my entire schedule was booked up with art classes; photography, graphic design, drawing, painting, and a few academic classes. Art has been an incredible way for me to express myself. After I studied Fine Arts in University for 1 year, I quit and moved to New York to attend fashion school at FIT. I became anorexic and bulimic, I stifled myself by abandoning my artwork and solely focusing on academics. I was alone and life felt hard. When I decided to move back home to heal, I picked up my paintbrush for the first time in years. I use to paint until I fell asleep. There was A LOT of releasing to do.

At first my artwork focused on canvas and colour, expressing my deep emotions on a blank surface allowed me to express my anxieties. I hosted my first art show at 22 and to my surprise, my figure drawings sold like hot cakes. I had a woman walk into my show, not knowing why she came to the area, but she knew she had to deliver this message to me. This message was to tell me to focus on my figure drawings because of the impact it can have on people. It was such a sign looking back. I soon developed a book of clients who wanted their own portraits. I was always curious as to why, and it was something I started to offer because there seemed to be a market.

At the time I was still battling my body, ashamed of who I was and how I looked. I decided to hire a photographer to take natural, non-sexualized nude photos of myself so I could appreciate my body. I turned that into an art show to expose myself of my demons and fears. The intention was to inspire women to see themselves in me—we’re not perfect, but we are because of our imperfections. That moment impacted me in two ways. First, I was finally able to release this pent up negative energy and full emancipate myself to my community. They saw all of me, and I was still alive haha. Secondly, it brought meaning and purpose to my work. The reason why I offer portraits is to provide the same experience to my clients. To fully release themselves in the artwork, and leave their fears at the door to live a life of presence, happiness, and self love.

Can you explain your process a little more? 

My artwork focuses on quick expressive portraits for a few reasons. This doesn’t give me enough time to be meticulous about what I see, rather it lets me draw the expression and feeling associated with my muse. I think it’s the approach we need to take with ourselves and we have a tendency to worry about our physical appearance too much. Secondly, it’s fun, I usually draw about 50 + sketches in a portrait with a client, and they all come out so differently. I capture small movements in each portrait. I’m starting to bring in colour, ink, and pastel to change it up. I offer charcoal (black and white) and a mix of medium and colour for clients to choose from.

What made you decide to focus on the human form?

I remember at the age of 21, in the depths of my misery and eating disorder, dropping into a drawing class at Emily Carr. I remember the model perfectly, she was voluptuous and womanly and she posed without any doubt. I was encapsulated by each curve, too afraid to look at her too long because it made me uncomfortable. I was in awe with her confidence to do this in front of a room of 20 year olds who are pretty judgmental. It inspired me to take on that attitude.

I find the human figure to be fascinating—we all have the same parts, they may look slightly different on each person but we’re still ashamed to flaunt them or show them. Lately I’ve been focusing on gender and energy. Knowing that we all carry masculine and feminine energy and yet we still play into social ideals and constructs. I want to bring these different energies out in my clients and transcribe them into their portraits as a reminder.

I’ve noticed you’ve started exploring faces as well—what inspired this?

I use to draw faceless people and focus on the body, because that’s what I was going through with my eating disorder. Now, I’m curious about their stories. I wanted to challenge myself and add another dimension to my artwork.

How would you describe the relationship you have with your subjects? 

Safe. My goal is to create a sanctuary for them and create the space to open up and feel comfortable doing so. I spend a lot of time clearing the energy out of my loft before they arrive. I burn incenses, I clean the house, I set up the portrait area, and I meditate for 30 minutes. Meditation allows me to receive the messages and connect with spirit to deliver to the client before they arrive. I started offering intuitive readings to set the intention and clear their auras so when we move into the portraits they’re more comfortable and can really feel a shift in their energy before/after.

Who are some of the women that inspire you?

Every individual and their story—is that cliche? I’m deeply inspired by transgender right now. Incredible people who can embody both feminine and masculine energy. The artist who I feel inspired by is Christiane Spansberg and her faces.

How do you tap into your own divine feminine energy?

It’s definitely a practice and it’s not easy. Divine means connected presently with the moment, living like you have what you need and that the divine will give it to you. Living your life in abundance and happiness. Divine feminine to me means embodying the softer side of who we are, like support, empathy, love, caring, etc. I think we have a tendency to live with a hard exterior, a shield. The Divine Feminine breaks that down and creates a safe and strong place to live with vulnerability.

I connect with my divine energy a few ways. Firstly, I have a spiritual teacher with whom I meet with once a week. There are 4 things I do daily that work for me: I do something creative, I cook organic meals from scratch, I meditate, and I practice generosity (that’s been a big one for me). Whenever I feel myself clam up or feel resistance in situations, that’s my cue to practice generosity whether that is loaning money, buying a coffee, giving someone more of my time, biting my tongue and listening etc.

How are you spending Women’s Day?

I am spending Women’s Day traveling. I’ll be in Bali then. I’m creating a small series of original artwork highlighting the women around the world (the countries I’ve visited so far) and launching them that day.

If you could leave the women reading this with one takeaway today, what would it be?

Whenever you feel fear, or resistance (from someone or something) it’s typically a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Don’t be afraid to knock down old walls and lead with your heart first. I promise you, it’ll burn away any sort of judgement or criticism you keep.

For more info on Tori or to purchase her art/commission a piece, visit her website. Follow her on insta while you’re at it.

Photos from

March 10, 2018