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(Image: Fahmida Azim)
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Artist of the Week: Fahmida Azim

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at hello@seattlerefined.com. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? What mediums do you work with?
Fahmida Azim: I've liked drawing since I was six or seven years old. I was apparently a handful as a child, and my parents found that sitting me down with some crayons and paper calmed me right down. I didn't have any formal training until I went to art school at VCUarts, and professionally I've been illustrating since I graduated in 2016. I mainly work digitally. I have a graphics tablet (Wacom Cintiq Pro) and graphics software (mainly Clip Studio and the Affinity suite). I used to work in a lot of traditional and mixed media. I particularly loved acrylics, acrylic inks and gouache, but switching over to full digital has made my process a lot faster and smoother. I had my start doing editorial illustration and graphic design, so speed and flexibility were everything.

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Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I do my fair share of research and planning before I execute my images. For stories like Samira Surfs, the research aspect is especially important since the subject matter is based on real issues that are still ongoing. With SS, I was lucky to work with a team that provided us with ample fact-checkers, research archives and sensitivity readers who are on the ground working on the refugee crisis. I don't think the general population expects drawing to involve so much upfront homework, but when you do the kind of work I do in order to build a full realistic world and characters, it starts with understanding reality. A typical snapshot of my process looks like this: Research I (a broad study of the topic I'm covering and relevant inspiration) > ideation/thumbnail (I come up with the composition) > research II (gathering reference materials) > sketches (roughly putting together my ideas, which might involve sending it to my team to look over for corrections) > execution (I finally actually draw the final image) > final edits (if my team has any further corrections to make).

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Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from.
What I love about illustration goes back to the original meaning of the word — to illuminate. To me, art is a language, it's a communication tool, and it has the advantage of being near-universal. Illustration, in particular, is a very democratic art form. It tells prose-like stories through images meant to be understood by the masses, which is why it goes hand in hand with everything — journalism, children's books, medical textbooks, comics and even videogames. Personally, with my work, I'd like to illuminate the truths and experiences of people who live in the margins, mostly because I want to keep doing stories with perspectives that haven't been done before. I mean, I never had a mirror of myself in any of the media around me growing up, but now I get to create as many as I want with my bare hands — how's that for inspiring?

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Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
Some of the "beats" my work often falls into is usually a mix of intersectional feminism, history, dark and complex stories, but my most fun topic to cover is anything to do with food!

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Do you have one piece of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
Years ago, I made this small comic called "Because I Love You," and it's the reception I got for that piece that still sticks with me. It's nothing big, only a couple pages worth of panels. It's basically an exploration of the intimate, haunting feeling that comes with growing up in an abusive household. The story is told in the form of a letter from a father to a daughter as we go through snapshots of her growing up. In this way, we get to see how his love clashes with his effect on her life. I came up with it while exploring the idea of Fear and Terror for a zine my friend was making. In the end, I went in a different direction for that gig, but the concept wouldn't leave my head, so I went ahead and made it a personal project and put it online. I started getting all these messages from people who said they cried the first time they saw it. I had people thanking me, opening up to me about their experiences with abuse and violence. It was an honor to provide these folks with a safe space to really vent and feel understood, even if it breaks my heart to know I can't help them any other way.

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What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
I'm going to be a total square and say my education was the biggest influence on my art. My experiences in art school grew me into the artist I am today. I know it's a hotly debated topic about whether or not art school is worth it. It certainly varies between individuals and their circumstances. There are art schools that are absolutely too damn expensive. But for me, school gave me more freedom, skills and resources that I wouldn't have had if I stayed where I was. If you're a person who would have less of those things by going to art school, then it might not be the right place for you. For me, it was a place where I had access to other artist peers to learn from, critique, push and support each other well beyond our degrees. That community, time to really harness my creative process and get a layout of the industry, was invaluable to finding my voice.

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If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
You can find my portfolio on my website (fahmida-azim.com), my opinions on Twitter (@fahmida_azim), my highlights on Instagram (@fahmida_azim).

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
I'm working on so many dream projects right now I'm so excited! I'm collaborating with Seema Yasmin again, and this time we're making Djinnology — a spooky bestiary and guide to the world of djinn. On top of that, it hasn't been announced yet, but I'm developing a slice-of-life, coming-of-age story set to be my first big solo project. Gosh, so many other good things have been happening to me lately, but hopefully, I'll get to tell you about it soon enough!

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Lastly, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
Oat milk, no sugar!

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