Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Meet the Fantastic Four

Four illustrators whose work was showcased in The Dawn of Advertising (1947-2017).
Updated 27 May, 2019 01:05pm

In her review of The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017), a DAWN Special Report published on March 31, 2018, Zohra Yusuf, CCO, Spectrum VMLY&R, in Aurora’s March-April 2018 edition commented: “As the cliché goes, the first impression is the lasting one. The cover of this Special Report strikes you with its accurate symbolism and excellent execution. Many elements of the current consumer culture are captured as the ‘Super (Ad) Man’ descends on an urban landscape where some leading brands compete for space and attention while the audience appears riveted by the Ad Man.”

The cover (designed by Syed Salman Nasir) was one of the many illustrations that were commissioned and published in this DAWN Special Report. There were a total of four comics: Nida in Advertising Wonderland (illustrated by Umair Najeeb Khan), The Art of Agency Doublespeak and Which Media Exactly? (Abeer Kasiri) and 4 Sleazy Kickback Scenarios (Rahada Tajwer). Additionally, the Report included 21 profiles of the pioneers of Pakistan’s advertising industry which were accompanied by sketches by Sara Hashmi. Syed Saad Hashmi, Business Director, Bulls Eye DDB, said that the comics were “eye-catching and made an immediate impact and it is not something you see often.”

Given the response to the work of these bright and talented artists, Aurora decided to delve deeper into their lives and minds; unfortunately Khan was unavailable, while Hashmi, who is now based in Germany, agreed to an interview over e-mail and phone.

Syed Salman Nasir

The brooding Peter Parker-Bat Man hybrid

Nasir, 32, a graduate of IVA has been working as an art director at Waadi Animations for the last five years; previously he worked at several organisations, including the creative department at Geo Entertainment as a storyboard artist. At Waadi, he primarily focuses on the Teen Bahadur trilogy, which he calls “his dream project” since he was involved with it from the start. Additionally, Nasir has drawn storyboards for TVCs directed by Jami and done commercial work for various brands including Nesvita, where he created a comic book that centred on encouraging women to drink milk. His first commercial project was a Jinnah Comic Strip for DAWN (Putting The Team In Place) which was published on December 25, 2007 (Mr Jinnah’s birthday); he recently designed the cover of the DAWN CPEC Souvenir Supplement, which depicted a markhor and a dragon in a Yin-Yang formulation.

Rapid-Fire Questions for Nasir:

1 How would you describe yourself on a professional level?
SSN: A commercial artist and an illustrator.

2 How would you define your style?
SSN: A combination of different drawing styles of my favourite comic book artists.

3 What do you think differentiates your work from other artists’?
SSN: That’s a difficult one. I think that no two artists think alike or approach the subject matter in the same way and that is what really differentiates their work. Everyone has different inspirations and methods, so the difference comes about automatically.

4 If you could be a superhero or a cartoon character, which one would it be?
SSN: I don’t think there’s any chance of that happening!

Abeer Kasiri

The Disney Princess

Kasiri, 30, currently works at the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) as an illustrator and says that the crux of her work there entails video animations and drawing; one of her recent projects included working on exhibits for the National History Museum in Lahore. Kasiri has previously worked at software and animation houses and has been running her own business – AKToonify – since 2015, where she creates caricatures of people at their request. A graduate in sociology from Karachi University, she is a self-taught artist. Bright, bubbly and full of energy, Kasiri says that all she needs to work is a good cup of coffee, no matter what time it is, and this is not hard to believe given that she talks a mile a minute. She maintains that she did not choose her career, but rather it was the other way round. “It chose me,” she exclaims with enthusiasm.

Rapid-Fire Questions for Kasiri:

1 How would you describe yourself on a professional level?
AK: An illustrator/artist. I have the superpower to make everything look adorable and cute.

2 How would you define your style?
AK: When you see my illustrations, you will not be able to stop yourself from smiling.

3 What do you think differentiates your work from other artists’?
AK: How I draw facial features and how I end up making everything look adorable and happy. And there will always be a cat in almost all of my work.

4 If you could be a superhero or a cartoon character, which one would it be?
AK: Merida from Brave; I love her and she reminds me of myself for so many reasons. I have curly hair; I am hot-headed, rebellious, adventurous and strong; she is always getting herself in trouble like I do.

Sara Hashmi

An artist through and through

Now in her mid-twenties, Hashmi recently moved to Germany after her marriage; her work (which includes acrylic, water colours, oil paintings, sketches and sculptures) has been showcased at nearly 15 exhibitions in Pakistan. These include Stories Around Jehangir Restaurant, a public art project centred on the now demolished Jehangir Restaurant in Saddar. The purpose was to save the restaurant from demolition by documenting its history via public art performances, paintings, writings and art installations. Another project was Traces of 47 which highlighted the stories of 50 people who came to Pakistan from India, through paintings of their houses and their prized objects (such as a paan daan, pens, pipes and manuscripts), illustrations, audio recordings and maps. Described as “bohemian” by her friends, the Karachi University Fine Arts graduate has worked as an art therapist at Dar-ul-Sukoon, an NGO, where she held art classes for children with special needs, and a freelance storyboard artist for features films and TVCs.

Rapid-Fire Questions for Hashmi

1 How would you describe yourself on a professional level?
SH: I am an artist who uses illustrations and paintings as a medium according to the need.

2 How would you define your style?
SH: Realistic storytelling which tries to connect with people on an individual level.

3 What do you think differentiates your work from other artists’?
SH: My ideas and technique; the way I approach people to get stories out of them and how I use multiple mediums to portray my message.

4 If you could be a superhero or a cartoon character, which one would it be?
SH: Avatar Aang from Avatar: The Last Air Bender. It would be cool if I had his powers.

Rahada Tajwer

The perky idealist

Twenty-three-year-old Tajwer is clearly ambitious and determined, although she maintains she is rather meek. She will be graduating from IVA later this year; she is petite and (there’s no other word to describe her) endearingly ‘perky’. Despite being so young, Tajwer has already worked on a range of freelance projects and these include an album cover for the band Kashmir, illustrations for children’s books published by Oxford University Press, as well as for an app for an international company (she cannot reveal too many details at this point, but says that it has to “do with filters”). She has also illustrated several covers of the Herald. From what she tells me, I gather she is a bit of an idealist and this is supported by the fact that a comic book (her thesis project) she is working on explores gender roles; she is passionate about bringing about social change and believes that “design has the power to change mindsets.”

Rapid-Fire Questions for Tajwer

1 How would you describe yourself on a professional level?
RT: A communication designer. I think mediums like design, illustration, and paintings are a way to get a message across.

2 How would you define your style?
RT: Experimental, perhaps. I constantly tweak my illustration style, depending on the content and the feeling it calls for. 

3 What do you think differentiates your work from other artists’?
RT: I’m still coming up with something that might hopefully make my work unique!

4 If you could be a superhero or a cartoon character, which one would it be?
RT: I’m one of those boring and grounded people who are content with their safe lives. But perhaps Mulan? I love her!

In search of inspiration? Not!

As to where they derive their inspiration, all four artists have different drivers, although they are all in agreement of the fact that once they commit to a commercial project, they have to subscribe to the line ‘Just do it.’ Nevertheless, they have their unique sources of inspiration and influences and have been drawing ever since they were children.

For Nasir, it was horses, cars and then comic book heroes (in that order) that inspired him, although he is more philosophical about why he chose his current career path. “I believe it was an innate talent I had. I was always a left side of the brain person, and from a really young age I was inspired by cartoons to draw, be it on paper or the walls of our home – much to my mother’s chagrin.”

Given her Disney infatuation, it is not surprising that Kasiri names Aaron Blaise and Chris Sanders (directors and visual artists who have worked on animated films for Disney, including Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) as her main influences, as well books such as the Harry Potter series. Thanks to them, she says that even if she has to draw the “insides of people”, they “look cute.”

For Hashmi, the artist in her is inspired by “anything that challenges the norm” and films such as The Untouchables, The Fall and Schindler’s List. “I just think that the surrealistic approach taken towards these stories is mesmerising.” What also inspires her are “real life stories” and she elaborates on this by saying that “you often get the most beautiful stories out of people unexpectedly. I explored Karachi quite a lot on foot, which made me talk to people and hear their stories and they inspired my projects. Social interactions are always a helpful source for any artist.”

Tajwer remembers scribbling a character when she was barely four years old, and whom she plans to revisit in the future. “I called him Mr Boss, because that was what I wanted to be. When I look at him now, I think that he is very ugly and I am going to recreate him soon.” She claims that she can’t sleep until she gets the job done, and when I interviewed her, she said that she hadn’t slept for three days. However, she maintains: “You don’t have to find inspiration. It’s always within you; you are always seeing things, and taking mental notes.”

Given that Millennials are (in)famous for needing mentorship, it is not surprising that these artists attribute their success to the people who mentored and taught them at work, or their professors and teachers. Surprisingly, they also did not face parental opposition when they decided to pursue their field, and were, in fact, encouraged by their parents to pursue their respective career paths.

Back to basics

What also interested – and surprised – me was the fact that all four illustrators claim that the first draft of their work is done using good old-fashioned pencils and paper – and not the tablets that one sees artists doodling on. What they do say is that once they have made their initial sketches, they scan them and improve and colour them using software; this allows them to experiment with colour palettes before deciding on which one to employ.

“You have to be able to do things traditionally, and your manual skills have to be very good,” says Nasir, and adds that when he is particularly stressed about a project, he goes out into the fresh air with a sketch pad and pencil to come up with ideas.

Most of their technical skills have been acquired where they have worked or studied and they are more or less equally comfortable with print and digital mediums. For Kasiri, what makes her love the digital medium is the range of colours it provides and the fact that the results are far more accurate that other mediums such as print.

Not entirely picture perfect

However, despite the fact that all four love their work, they are honest enough to admit that it has its share of frustrations. For Nasir, the demanding work hours, which result in next to no time to spend with his family (he has recently married) and “sleepless nights” are a major hindrance.

For Kasiri there are two. The first is plagiarism and the abuse of copyrighted artwork in Pakistan.“People don’t understand that you cannot pick an image from Google, Behance or Pintrest and modify it and use it unless you seek the artist’s permission.” She adds that illustrators are underpaid in Pakistan and people are not aware of how much effort and time goes into their work.

Hashmi and Tajwer echo this and Hashmi adds that artists are not appreciated in Pakistan, while Tajwer is of the opinion that artists are “underpaid and undervalued for their services. Sadly, ‘art’ is still looked at as a hobby here.” Her idealism shines through as she says: “I hope we can become more progressive as a society [to change this].”

Despite these frustrations, all four artists continue to pursue their careers with enthusiasm, and given how accomplished they are at such a young age, it is likely that as the demand for their work increases, they will become artists that Pakistan will be proud of. To rephrase Uncle Ben’s quote from Spider-Man, “with great power will come greater opportunities.”