Humxns of UCT - Pia Truscott

What makes Her Campus UCT so special and unique from the other chapters is that our members, writers, and students are incredibly diverse. Each person has something beautiful and interesting about them – a story to share, a talent, or an outlook on life. We’d like to celebrate our diversity by zooming in on individual’s stories, speaking to them about what they’re most passionate about and letting them shine on our platform. Whether it be just for a chuckle or to actually share some wise words, we’d like to introduce a new series to Her Campus UCT: Humxns of UCT.

This Humxn of UCT is Pia Truscott. She is an art student at Michaelis, a tree-lover, a creative soul and an all-round wonderful humxn. I have to admit that the reason I asked Pia if I could interview her was somewhat selfish. We have been “internet friends” for two years, and after being in awe of everything that she is (through a phone screen), I realised that I would love to have a conversation with her in real life too! We spoke about art, trees, creative block and the great importance of the small, tender moments in life that can be so easily forgotten. Despite it being a rainy day when I interviewed her, I left the conversation beaming, and I hope to impart some of this sunshine energy on you while you read through the thoughts she shared with me.


Image by Stella Hertantyo


When did you start creating art?

My mom always tells me this memory of when I was a little child and I used to go out into the garden and decorate the trees. I would take all the jewellery, toys and ribbons I could find, and string them across the trees until they were decorated like little Christmas trees. My mom used to spread out this big table of art supplies for my sister and me, and we used to just make art all the time. I feel like I have been making art since I was a little kid.


When did you know you wanted to swap from doing a BA to going to art school?

I loved doing the BA, but I would always try and finish my work really quickly so that I could get home and draw and paint. That’s when I realised: why not just go to art school? Last July, I was walking through a forest in Italy with my family and I just started crying. I didn’t know why I was crying, because I was in such a beautiful place. That was the moment I realised that I just wanted to go to Michalis and make art.


I love that you are always capturing the small, fleeting moments in life through your illustrations. What inspires most of them?

I draw literally whatever is in front of me, or something that was a good part of my day. If there was a vase of flowers in front of me, I would draw that. It draws me back to the present moment and makes me appreciate the small things. I call them “little moments of tenderness.” I think it is nice to think about my day as little pockets of tenderness that I come across.


Image from Pia Truscott's Instagram


Do you always carry a visual journal around with you, for when inspiration strikes?

I’m obsessed with buying sketchbooks! If I’m ever feeling sad, I buy myself a sketchbook - it’s like my version of buying myself chocolate cake! I have little books, and a set of watercolours, which I carry around everywhere, so that I can surreptitiously write poems, or do little scribbles of whatever I am seeing.


Do you have a collection of all of your sketchbooks?

I do have a collection – I have so many that I lose track! It’s very nice to look back on, and sometimes I go back in and add a little caption or poem. It’s a way of collecting memories, I suppose. A way of capturing memories of your daily life and little thoughts that would otherwise disappear into the ether.


Image from Pia Truscott's Instagram


How do you get rid of creative block?

I hate creative block! Sometimes I need to be alone, and sometimes I find it important to talk to people to bounce ideas off. The best way to deal with the block is to go out for a walk in the forest. I have grown up walking through Newlands Forest, so that is a very sacred space for me. I will literally just sit in a tree and think about things for a while. Being in nature or exercising, where you almost don’t think – that’s when the ideas come back to you.

I also do something called “morning pages”. Basically, you just wake up in the morning and make yourself some coffee and then you sit down, and you write 3 full pages of whatever is falling out of your head. There is some really ugly stuff that comes out, but you can almost scream onto the paper. You can scream out your creative block and get down to the first thing you need to do to just get on with things.


Who is your favourite artist in Cape Town?

My number one Cape Town artist is Kirsten Simms. She has this wonderfully free and playful style and her subject matter is very relatable. It inspires me to feel like maybe I should also be drawing my shoes or me with my dog in the morning. I love her painterly marks and the fact that she studied painting and became an illustrator.


Image by Stella Hertantyo


You recently had a book launch for your collaborative zine – The Tree Project. What inspired the zine? And can you tell me a bit about the process of creating it?

For a long time, last year, I had the feeling that I wanted to make a sort of “love project” – something that really came from the heart and wasn’t to do with school or for someone else. I wanted to do it for me. I looked up online “what should I make my zine about” and it said – make it about something you love. Then, I was lying outside, under these two big oak trees at home. I looked up and decided that I was going to make it about trees!

I then wrote up a little brief of what I would like people to do. Basically, my idea was for people to go and visit a tree that they like, spend some time with it and document it in the form of an artwork. This could be a poem, a sculpture, a scribble or a photo. I wanted people to slow down, spend some time in nature and create exactly what they wanted. Three months later, I had received over 60 artworks in my inbox. They were these little gifts arriving in my email, and that was really special. I was so excited about it that I didn’t know what to do, and I realised that I needed to share it with the rest of the world. That’s when I realised, I needed to make a book. I wanted to print it out and not have it online, because I wanted you to feel it in your hands and create something tangible.

Then I spent the next year working on the computer, learning InDesign, asking people for advice. Since we just spoke about creative block, not knowing how to make a book was a big creative block for me. I really struggled to use the computer. It was by reading this really nice book about trees, or little articles, or people publishing their own books, that gave me the inspiration to sit down at the computer again. There was one day where I got out of bed and it felt like I was physically fighting something, I kicked my way up the stairs and said to myself, “Okay, you are going to sit down and finish this,” – and that’s exactly what I did.

One of my favourite things about the project was that people started just talking to me about trees. They would see a nice tree and then send me a photograph of it. Or, they would send me a link to reforestation projects happening somewhere in the world. As a result of this, I really started looking up more when I was walking, and I now have this completely expanded consciousness and awareness of the trees around me. Now when I am waiting at the bus stop, my immediate thought is to look up and check out what’s there. Or, at red traffic lights, I try not to mark my landscape with buildings, but rather with trees. I have a very nice fig tree outside my house, which has been my friend throughout this project. When I was feeling confused during the project, I would open up my window and hold on to one of its leaves and say “hello” to it.


Where does your love for trees stem from? (Excuse the pun!)

I think it goes back to my childhood being spent in Newlands Forest and spending a lot of time outdoors. We would always play hide and seek in the forest, and the best hiding spot was always just climbing very high up into a tree. It’s almost as if I have been on the journey with the trees, and now I am so appreciative of them. It’s almost an indisputable fact that trees are really lovely. I’ve never met anyone that has been like “Ah, I’m not sure how I feel about them”. They are incredibly easy to love.


Image from Pia Truscott's Instagram


What is your dream job?

To be working with nature and art together – I don’t know if there is a job description for that! I love being with people and connecting people creatively. I think environmentalism is a theme that is not going to disappear from my life. So, something that could combine nature an art would be ideal.  


What is the best advice you have ever received?

One of the biggest wake-up calls was when someone said to me – “The only person who is stopping you from doing something is you.” We have so many possibilities, we need to actually just go out and do them. I have learnt that I need to just hone down on one very specific first step that will allow me to continue onto the next thing. Just make and make and make and don’t be precious about it.

Also, remember that it is so important to play, be curious, slow down, pay attention to your surroundings, and never be afraid to ask for help.


I hope you have enjoyed this conversation! If you want to see more of Pia’s art, take a look at her Instagram and keep an eye out for the group exhibition she is hosting at the end of September, called “Connecting Through Creativity”.