Taskeen Zahra chats with the talented illustrator about his science-fiction-meets-Pakistan creations that have everyone talking:
What led you to become an illustrator?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing, and realized I’d probably be a happier person doing art rather than a more conventional professional. About four years ago, I decided to take the plunge and become a professional illustrator. My earliest influence was Ismail Gulgee, who I admired greatly when I was a kid.
You took ordinary day-to-day things about life in Pakistan and made them stand out with sci-fi elements through your work. How did you make that selection?
I have lived in Pakistan all my life, but it was only once I came back after being abroad for four years of college, that I understood how unique our culture is. I like depicting things in my art that are quintessentially Pakistani in nature.
How did you end up giving titles to each illustration?
There’s no real science behind it. Usually, during the drawing process, the name just comes to me.
You titled all your illustrations in Roman Urdu. Any specific reason why?
I title them the way people text these days – which may be the way people write Urdu in the future! I sincerely hope not though.
Did you grow up reading a lot of comics or watching sci-fi television? Did those heavily influence your work?
Definitely. I wasn’t big on comics, but old school sci-fi novels and movies like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Asimov, the Dune Series and Star Wars influenced me a lot.
You worked as a Mechanical Engineer for a while. What made you want to quit and pursue arts?
I realized I was putting more care into my “hobby” than my career. So it was a bit of a no-brainer really.
It couldn’t have been easy to combine science fiction and our desi dynamics. What challenges did you face while creating this series?
The difficult part was actually getting my skills to a level where I could express what was in my head. Creating desi sci-fi was actually the easy and fun part.
What do you think makes you a good illustrator?
This strange need to keep growing, learning and getting better at drawing pictures.
An artist always leaves a little part of himself on canvas. How closely do you relate to your art?
I’m pretty much done with a painting as soon as it’s finished. Contrary to what most artists feel, I don’t have emotional attachments to my work. There’s great care during the process, but once it’s over, I move on pretty quickly to the next.
How would you describe your sense of aesthetics?
Constantly evolving based on what inspires me.
When you’re working on a painting, is the concept clear in your head, or does it evolve along the way?
Sometimes I know exactly what I want to show, like a little Cyborg begging on the streets, and other times decisions are made during the actual painting process.
Is it hard for you to part with your work?
It used to be difficult, but there’s been quite a bit of interest of late which is great!
Do you work with music on or in silence?
Both! It depends on my mood and which stage of painting I’m at. During conceptualizing it’s better to work in silence or with something classical, but later on when I’m rendering, anything goes.
Who are your current art inspirations? Do you look to other contemporary artists’ work during your artistic process?
My inspirations are mostly professionals working in the game and movie industry as concept artists and designers. That is a long, long, list.
Do you think social media has been a key platform to showcasing your work?
Absolutely. I’m big on updating my Facebook page and personal website, as that’s the primary avenue through which people know about me. I’m not an art-gallery type of artist.
What movements in Pakistani art have been your favourite?
I like the current wave of contemporary, almost pop-art inspired work that’s coming up in certain places. It’s still nascent, but I like the fact that it breaks away from conventional modes of art.
Do you ever experience artist’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
It happens from time to time, and when it does I usually work on a new style or theme. The key for me is to keep moving, keep working and enjoy the process meanwhile. The ideas will come and go as they will, that really isn’t in my control.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
What are you working on next?
For now, I’m putting this particular series into an art book form. After that I might be working on a film, which is quite exciting.
If you could create your own superheroes in your illustrations, resembling any public figures, who would they be and what superhero qualities would they have?
Before developing new ones, I’d love to see Umru Ayar make a comeback! He’s a fun character and I’d love to see him in a modern day adventure comic