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Nine Pakistani illustrators upping the Insta game

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KARACHI:

Let’s be real. Pakistan, in terms of arts and culture, is broadening on a snail’s pace. In an industry where even mainstream artists aren’t getting their due credit, it isn’t much of a surprise that visual artists or illustrators wouldn’t get the recognition they deserve. However, it’s about time, these Pakistani illustrators get their bit of fame.

With illustrations bearing the mark of the artist, there is a certain authenticity attached to a hand-drawn work of art. Illustrations have the power to charm, amuse, and evoke a feeling of nostalgia in the viewer. In a world where everything is digital, its little wonder we’re seeing a big return to the illustration in art. Here are nine contemporary Pakistani illustrators you should know and follow about right now.

1. Umair Najeeb Khan (@umairnajeebkhan)

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The 26-year-old Islamabad based freelance illustrator, comic book artist and an aspiring story-teller rose to fame after his version of Pakistani superheroes went viral.

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“I illustrate for children’s books, do publicity designs for films, design characters, and am in the process of publishing a children’s book of my own,” he told The Express Tribune.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

There’s so many artists that inspire me, Jorge Jimenez, Stephen Bryne, Sara Alfageeh are just a few.

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– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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I think one huge problem is not having a proper channel for online payments like PayPal. So many international artists have their patrons and crowdsource their passion projects. Not having something as basic as PayPal limits us in a lot of ways.

– Your biggest milestone

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My biggest work for me would be Paak Legion. Mostly because I have given it my everything and it’s my child, so it’s definitely over all the other work I have done.

Abeer Kasri (@Aktoonify)

Abeer is a self-taught digital artist. “My expertise is mainly in Character Design and children book’s illustrations,” she shared.

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“I am currently working as an illustrator/designer at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Besides that, I do projects which mainly include storybooks for children, posters, comic books and I run my own thing of making customised toons as AKtoonify.”

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– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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My inspiration to learn drawing or to get in the field was from Disney and that too when I was three-years-old, I am a huge Disney fan. I have grown up watching all the animated movies and cartoons and reading comic books. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember.

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The artists who inspire me the most are Aaron Blaise and Chris Sanders’ work, Babs Tarr is one of my favourite comic artist and Patrick Brown and from our Pakistani industry, I love all the artists, they all inspire me one way or another and are always willing to help others learn – to name a few I like Anas Riasat, Saad Irfan, Zabad Anwer, Syed Jeem, Naiha Raza, Mushk Rizvi, Ameer Ali, Mufaddal Iqbal, Umair Najeeb Khan, Bilal Bhatti, Haris Mansoor, Saib, Javeria Khoso, Hamza Bajwa, Maha, the list is still so long.

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– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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What hurts me the most as an illustrator from Pakistan, is that we haven’t put much of Pakistan centric artwork out there for the world to see. We don’t have illustrations that define and describe people and life of Pakistan in general. Our folk tales, our stories, our languages and our culture, it is all very rich. There is so much to explore and that needs to work on. I hope I’ll be able to contribute by making illustrations that are more Pakistan centric, that define our culture and our lives. I’d love to work on children’s books someday.

– Your biggest milestone

Sharing her visions, Abeer went on to add, “The goal is to represent Pakistan globally, to let everyone see the life here, how simple life is and how people are, our culture, tradition, heritage, and history.”

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Samad Rizvi aka samadrizvi.art

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Samad Rizvi is a Karachi-based concept artist and illustrator who has worked mostly been recognised for his storyboards and works for films and games.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

I get inspired by the work people are doing globally! From the brilliant artists that we have here in Pakistan to international artists. I got the chance to learn from Wasiq Haris and then In my early career, I worked with the amazing Babrus Khan which really helped me to learn the technicalities of the work we do.

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A lot of my inspiration comes from the people whom I learned the most from at schoolism.com where I took courses of Sam Nielson, Nathan Fowkes, Stephen Silver etc.

Few more from the long list includes the Great Jack Kirby, Todd McFarlane, Stanlee, Sean Galloway, Coran Kizerella. Other than this I get inspired daily by watching tv shows, Anime, films and games.

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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I think we don’t really support local artists at all. For a lot of queries, I, myself, would mostly reach out to the international artists because of the support I see with them. We really need to build our community, support each other’s work and help grow the industry within Pakistan first. This is a way the artists can then start to address all the other issues faced in the industry as a whole.

– Your biggest milestone

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“My biggest work is the 5-minute short animated film I have been working on since the last few months, I’m really excited about it and haven’t posted anything from it yet. It might come out in July, just waiting for the right moment now as it is completed!” The 26-year-old visual artist told The Express Tribune.

Saleha Kamran aka TheCreativePea:

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Better known as her social media name, The Creative Pea, Saleha Kamran is a CGI artist based in Islamabad.

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“I majored in Printmaking from the National College of Arts, with distinction. I’ve always been fascinated with innovative storytelling, through comics and animation,” she said.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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I love 2D animation, drawing cats, and studying light in art forms. Artists like James Gurney, Ann Maulina, Jeremy Adams, Fernando Peque, Mike McCain and Sylvain Sarrailh are my inspirations and I have learned a lot from their painting techniques. KPop is another great muse!

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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As an illustrator or any artist existing in Pakistan is hard. It’s how you make yourself up to be, and how much you can learn on your own. Sure, you will meet a lot of great mentors (Saif Toon, Junaid Badar, Harris Ejaz in my case to name a few) but in the end, it heavily relies on your own self-growth, creativity and persistence. The jobs will not pay you well, you will constantly be exploited, misused, overworked and blackmailed as an artist.

You will also face a taboo of religious parties. The key is to continue doing what you love and remember why you started drawing in the first place. You will also need to know what the red flags are, and how to tackle different situations according to your own self-worth.

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– Your biggest milestone

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“Sharing her most famous work among working as Concept and Texture Artist in Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor,” Saleha added, “I also had the opportunity to work on some of the concepts for live performance for the GEA Event (The opening ceremony of League of Legends championship (Saudi) 2020 being done via Projection-Mapping. I worked on Yasuo ‘s Sword dance performance, who is one of the most played characters in the MENA region.”

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She added, “The aim was to create a sword dance experience that could be Samurai. Yasuo puts up a show of his key skills that are unique to him; like Windwall, Last Breath and Steel Tempest as he vanquishes an enemy made out of Sakura.”

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Maha Abdul Alaam (@poichanchan)

Maha Abdul Alaam is a self-taught concept artist currently working on some games and animation projects!

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“I’ve worked on a wide range of projects, including movies such as 3 Bahadur, Netflix’s Sitara, and issues of popular comic books! I love visual storytelling and the raw power of the medium to touch hearts and stimulate minds,” The 26-year-old told The Express Tribune.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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I’ve always been inspired by Japanese comics (Manga) before I even understood what I was looking at, and there are a lot of artists with the style that inspires me. Some of them being Demizu Posuka, Shigeru Soejima, and rei_17.

I’m also super inspired by the energetic newcomers in our local space! It’s exciting to watch them make their first appearance online and then as if on rocket fuel, start improving like crazy!

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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We face a lot of issues in the local industry. There is exploitation with clients not wanting to pay artists any more than the absolute bare minimum in an attempt to get us to put in an obscene amount of work to get a fair income.

There is plenty of awesome client and companies in need of talent of course, but we must build more in the way of protection for beginners against being exploited.

– Your biggest milestone

“My biggest project has to be leading Environment Design on Netflix’s Sitara! It’s Pakistan’s first Netflix Original and the subject matter of the films is raw and powerful,” she revealed.

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“I’ve been to events internationally and made some cool friends (the director of Spiderman into the Spiderverse, Peter Ramsey as an example!), been on live TV features, been shared on huge accounts like for the video game Giant Konami.”

Aamina Hashmi (@poday_wali)

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Aamina Hashmi is a freelance artist, designer, illustrator, and a plant enthusiast. The 26-year-old Rawalpindi-based-artist shared that her artwork is usually inspired by social stigmas and issues. “I like to explore prevailing mental issues with a touch of subtlety that they deserve. There is no limit to what I draw, or express my opinion on, and I don’t hesitate when it comes to difficult discussion,” Aamina revealed.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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My work is inspired by nature and general social problems. I like to combine my ideas with a touch of pop culture influence. My artwork also pays homage to the brilliant Islamic artists and scholars that influenced art movements with their geometric, precise, and detailed compositions.

There are many artists I’m inspired from, both from the last century and modern ones like Death Burger, Scott M Fischer and I love the pen and ink work of Japanese horror manga artist, Junji Ito.

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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I think a lot of artists in Pakistan are struggling with the fact that they don’t have enough opportunities offered locally to justify high degree costs. Most successful artists we meet are doing their own freelance work. I would honestly like this to improve over time, and not just the scope, but the accessibility of it as well.

– Your biggest milestone

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Talking about her biggest work, the illustrator shared, “My biggest work would probably be a solidarity sketch I drew during for the very heartbreaking 2016 Istanbul Bombings. It was shared worldwide on international outlets like BBC, HuffPost, Buzzfeed.  I consider this my biggest achievement because I was able to stand against oppression and violence in a greater way than I could manage on my small page.”

Hazem Asif (@worldofhazem)

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Asif is an interdisciplinary research-based graphic designer and digital illustrator based in Lahore.

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“My work focuses on speculative design, world-building, and a design fiction that acts as a medium to stimulate positive social and cultural discussions while aiming to raise awareness, provoke action, expose assumptions, and question the unknown,” the 27-year-old said.

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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As a designer with a passion for storytelling, I draw my inspirations mostly from my personal experiences of living in Lahore, a South Asian metropolis with a rich history that is constantly evolving and transitioning. Most of my works have been inspired by the culture, multi-layered and social dynamics of life in Pakistan.

Recently, my work has been focused on visually speculating the future of Pakistan – the new Pakistan embracing technology, diversity, peace and working towards better human rights.

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Besides this, the works of science fiction and fantasy writers such as Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, JRR Tolkien have heavily influenced my work. Additionally, the works of notable designers such as Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Ian Mcque, Alex McDowell, and Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory featured on Cartoon Network) have been a coherent part of my research and inspiration throughout my artistic and design career.

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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Compared with the international industry, Pakistan has a lot to catch up with and has a nascent design industry. There are no specific industry platforms that promote, educate and provide opportunities to visual artists/illustrators. The work of artists/illustrators is most often underestimated and undervalued in comparison with other professions that ‘perceived’ to be more economically viable.

The jobs in the creative industry are not sustainable and are rife with issues such as exploitation of the artists’ work along with plagiarism are recurring setbacks. There are no concrete policies in place regarding plagiarism or the protection of intellectual property rights of artists.

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Visual artists and illustrators, in turn, have found a common ground of promoting and working online through platforms such as Fiver, Instagram, Facebook etc. There is a healthy growing community of visual artists on Instagram that has been very vocal and supportive in promoting the works of upcoming and professional artists. This is turning out to be an organic ecosystem in and of itself without the support of any external, institutional or governmental entities.

– Your biggest milestone

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Hazem’s most famous work is quite different from the rest. “My most successful artwork can be categorised in the genre of cyberpunk. It is a travel poster titled, CyberLahore. CyberLahore has been well-received widely in Pakistan,” he said. “I have sold art prints in Lahore and Islamabad. Internationally, the artwork has been exhibited in the Middle East, Maison de Objets exhibition in Paris, France, the largest design fair in Europe and also at Case Western University, Cleveland, United States.”

Maheen S Zahid aka Pyrosh.art

The 26-year-old Maheen is a Lahore-based artist. “I have been trained as a Fashion Designer from PIFD, and currently work as a Game Designer at Frag Games as well as freelance as an Illustrator,” she told us.

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“I’m mostly self-taught and learned by drawing anime characters and following YouTube tutorials for colour theory. I absolutely love making badass women as well as smol, kawaii characters and also make stationery/merch and have tabled at multiple comic cons.”

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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My inspirations include anime (especially the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai); Japanese culture and the cyberpunk aesthetic; nature and sunlight; the Fantasy genre; and the work of contemporary artists like Audra Auclair, Wang Ling, Laura Brouwers, Gabriel Picolo, Hamza Bajwa, and Aliya Chen.

– Let’s talk about issues illustrators and visual artists face in the industry. How far back are we in terms of establishing a proper platform for visual artists.

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The biggest issue for local artists/illustrators is people assuming we should work for free. These are our jobs; it’s taken us years of practice and work to get to where we are, and it takes hours, days, and weeks to complete projects. Please don’t act like you’re entitled to free art just because you know someone. Please also research and know the value of art before approaching someone to commission them. Please also DON’T steal/copy/trace our work and post it as your own for a few likes. You can always come to us for guidance on how to improve your skills and develop your own art style instead.

– Your biggest milestone?

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While I’ve worked with companies and clients that I’m proud of having on my portfolio, my favourite piece from recent times was my collaboration with a bunch of incredible Pakistani artists, not just because of the revolution we started with our #dontrushchallenge but also because I was introduced to a group of amazing human beings, and because of all the opportunities it brought my way.

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Haris Mansoor (@haris.mnsr919)

Haris Mansoor is a 25-years-old illustrator based in Lahore. “I graduated from NCA Rawalpindi campus in December 2018 in visual communication design,” he said.

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“Illustrations (especially character design) has always been my thing. One year ago I came here in Lahore for my job at PuffBall animation studios as an animator, traditional hand-drawn animations have always got my attention.”

– Tell us about your inspirations. Who inspires you and what do you like about their work?

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I take inspiration from many artists that I follow on Instagram and are also working in the industry for a long time like Alaine Baybayan, Alexandre Sauchenko, Samuel smith, Aaron Blaise, Oolof Storms, Max Grecke,  Amir Mirzaei, Malcolm Wope, Denis Sarazhin. Most of them are young animators and illustrators and its truly inspiring to see someone that is almost the same age as yours doing wonders.

– Your biggest milestone?

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Since I graduated just a year ago so the only first and big thing I did was a part of my job that is Shehr e Tabassum, it was a hand-drawn short film released in February 2020. I was one of the animators in the film, other than that I work as a freelance illustrator too.

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