Meet Anoosha, a Toronto-based illustrator from Pakistan who received her bachelors in Illustration at Ceruleum Ecole d’Arts Visuel in Lausanne, Switzerland. She is currently a freelance illustrator and character designer.
Anoosha’s work is characterized by vividly colorful and painterly art bursting with life and character. Her work often features bright, wide-eyed characters, and appealing design that is dripping with charm. We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with her in our current exhibition tobeyou, and in our upcoming exhibition, Color Anthropology. Read more to peek into her background, practice, inspiration and more. For more of her work, check out her website, or her other links below the interview!
Can you tell me more about yourself?
I was born in Pakistan, moved around a lot throughout my child and eventually ended up in Canada. I did my bachelors in Illustration at Ceruelum Ecole d'arts Visuels in Lausanne Switzerland, though I also did a semester at a university in Dubai before I realized that art was my calling. I worked as designer on Dot, a preschool show based on the book by Randi Zuckerberg. At the time of this interview, I have illustrated eight books, and am currently working on ten more!
What does your studio/workspace look like? Is the space a beacon of dedicated focus or disjointed stress? What’s your dream workspace?
This is my current setup! Although I dressed up my table quite a bit for the photo. Normally it's nowhere near as neat as this; I will normally have 10 dirty dishes and a horde of papers scattered there too. My dream space would be somewhere big and open, with tons of plants. And maybe a coffee machine near by?
What is your creative process like? Is it made of simple linear steps or do you just wing it? What kind of research goes into your process?
I most definitely wing it. I don't have the patience to do ten stages of roughs and thumbnails and color tests; I just dive in and hope for the best. Maybe not the best advice, but it's worked for me! In terms of research, I'll definitely start off by collecting as much reference as possible; whether it be locations of fashion or sifting through pages of my picture book collection for inspiration to strike. Pinterest is really helpful for that; keeping all that information organized; I usually make a board for every project I do that I can look back on whenever I find myself in a rut.
What are some things in your art that you feel are so uniquely you?
I'm a digital painter but as I'm very much inspired by art from the mid-century I strive to have a very painterly look to my work. Since a lot of work I do is for kids, my characters tend to have child-like faces with those big eye and long eyelashes. Also, I think that having a european art education would definitely have had an influence on my style.
Can you tell us more about your piece for ToBeYou? Your piece talks about duality, specifically a blending of East and West. What parts of your personal life play off these or other dual natures that you think are unique or interesting?
So like I said, I was born in Pakistan but I only ever lived there for four years of my life; for the most part I moved from country to country because of my dad's job (so far I've lived in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Dubai, Switzerland, Texas and Canada). I’ve switched from living in the east and west, having to adapt to a new environment and culture every time like a chameleon. So that's definitely created a sort of divide in me. What do I identify as? What should I say when people ask where I'm from (the hardest question I have to face)? I strayed too far from my desi heritage for me to sincerely call myself Pakistani, as I can barely speak the language or can tell you about the country's history. But yet, I don't entirely fit in with the Western world; I'm still seen as the 'other', the foreigner. Some people still find it surprising that I can speak English so well, when it's actually the only thing I can speak fluently. It's an issue many immigrants/3rd culture kids face, this lack of identity. So this piece is trying to convey that. Duality: How can I balance all the elements inside me?
You have this South Asian girl. She's wearing western clothes but also a shawl; wearing the nose ring and also blasting punk rock on her phone. She's staring unflinchingly at the viewer; she knows who she is, she doesn't care what you think of her.
Were there any significant moments you had while working on the piece?
I did have a hard time with the color scheme; I admit that I've never done colors as neon as this haha. My palettes are usually pastel and soft, but as I was doing my color tests I tried out something different and found myself drawn to it. That bright pink really forces you to look straight into her unapologetic eyes, so you just can't look away. I'm really glad I branched out from my usual style for this one. At one point I also considered writing the word duality in white above her, in the blank pink area. To kind of comment on the idea of islamophobia and how close minded people tend to look at Arabic letters and fear them for no reason? In the end I decided against it. It just took away focus from the girl.
What are some hobbies you enjoy doing? Anything you’d love to have more time to do?
I'm a big musical theatre nerd; Heathers the Musical is one of my favourites. I also have a beautiful cat who I'm trying to teach how to walk with a leash (it's not going very well). I would love to travel more. Living in Europe, everything was so close together you could drive 2 hours and end up in France. I'm in Toronto now, and If I drive for four hours, I'm in the same province! I like tabling at comic/illustration conventions so that definitely gives me an excuse to travel more.
Do you have any projects you’d like to talk about?
I have a new YA book coming out in May: “Bug Girl” from Macmillan Press. Really cute; about a tween nerdy girl who discovers she has superpowers. I have another picture book called “How I Did It” that came out April 4th. I also had the chance to work with some dream studios on some projects but I alas can't talk about them yet!
In what ways would you like your work to give back?
When I illustrate for books or for myself, I try to be as inclusive as I can. People come in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities and it's important that our media reflects that. Growing up as a South Asian girl, I never saw any representation of myself in books or TV or film, and it really makes you question your self worth. When I create, I hope someone sees themselves in it and remember they deserve to represented. In that same vein, I also would love to inspire more Middle Eastern/South Asian kids to go into the arts. We're kind of a rarity in the industry, unfortunately (mostly because our parents want us to be doctors and lawyers) so I hope at some point we can see some more diversity in the arts.
Where can people find your work?
Thank you for sharing, Anoosha!