At Cass Art we are on a mission, a mission to Fill This Town with Artists - and on our radar of artists this week is illustrator and author Maliha Abidi. Who herself is on a mission to fill the world with illustration - particularly illustrations of women, and more specifically Pakistani women. Her book Women of Pakistan bursts with 50 inspirational Pakistani women from all walks of life, each wonderfully brought to life with Maliha’s bright and unique portraiture style. We caught up with Maliha to talk about her book, her journey as an artist, and why she loves the materials she uses:
Hi Maliha, it’s wonderful to speak – thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to catch up with us!
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your creative journey and how you’ve developed into the artist you are today?
I have always been someone who draws and is attracted to colours. I guess when we are little, we all are that way, but I never stopped playing with colours and with time, I kept teaching myself. I started posting my work online to share it with everyone but while I was posting online, I was also learning about many other stories from around the globe. This happened because of my travels. Slowly, I started incorporating those stories in my art work and today I create art to tell stories, to celebrate women, to express and to showcase how we can build bridges using art brushes/pencils.
Your book ‘Pakistan for Women’ is a brilliantly bright, powerful and enlightening celebration of Pakistani heritage, culture, adventure, creativity, tenacity and of course women! For those who haven’t come across the book yet could you introduce us?
Being a Pakistani, I see that there is a lot of talent in my country. Being a feminist, I see that there are many women from my land that we need to celebrate. That is why I decided to write and illustrate my new book, “Pakistan for Women: Stories of women who have achieved something extraordinary.” It celebrates women from all walks of life and is the first book of its kind to be published in Pakistan.
From mountaineers to astrophysicists to educators, there are many stories of excellence from Pakistani women. Through this book, I hope to show girls that through hard work and dedication, they too can achieve their ambitions.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to the project?
The support and love I have received from not only people of Pakistan but from people all over the globe. These are the people who want to celebrate women, stand for women empowerment and want to read stories of strong women from no matter what country they belong to.
You use a mixture of Winsor & Newton promarkers and Faber Castell pencils in your drawings. What is it about these materials that you love to use? And do you have any technique tips for our readers?
Winsor & Newton Promarkers are my go-to art supply when it comes to backgrounds of images. Starting from the range in colours, I have so many to pick from which helps me keep variety of colours in my illustrations. I have noticed that promakers work best for me on Cass Art’s heavyweight cartridge paper. I always look for paper that is heavy in weight and is good quality. The Cass Art heavyweight cartridge paper provides exactly that. When working with Pro makers, sometimes you need to go over the marker again with the same colour but I don’t like when I am using a paper that absorbs the ink from the marker too much or when I go over the marker again, it makes it look messy showing the previous and the new marker separately. With Heavyweight Cartridge paper, I go over the promarkers and they don’t give me that “double” line which is one of my favourite things about it. The texture of the paper works really well when I am using Faber-Castell polychromos or Prisma Colours on them, allowing me to blend them really well. Faber Castell Polychromos are one of my favourite coloured pencils ever. They are super strong and yet they blend very easily. I use them for all the portraits I draw and thanks to the colour range of Faber Castell, I am able to achieve great details in my work.
How do you approach a new portrait?
I have a small notebook and I sometimes plan the details in it and sometimes, I start by directly sketching on paper. I start with a rough sketch and then I move on to adding brown shading to the portrait. This is basically my way of putting in the initial layer of colour pencils. To enhance the shadows, I use a darker tone of colour which I aim to blend in later in the process. Before any of this, I try to take care of the background because finishing a background doesn’t take as much time as the actual portrait due to details but when I see I have finished the background, it gives me a sense of motivation that oh look you are kind of 50% done with this piece. This trick works really well on projects where I have a ton to draw and other times, it works well because it gives me a sense of “done with the quick part, now I can invest all the time in the details of the face.” Drawing eyes is something I do at the end usually. They are my favourite part of any portrait and I invest a ton of time in them. Eyes tell a billion stories, I take my time with making sure I do justice to those stories.
An impossible task I’m sure, but which three of your 50 featured Pakistani women are your most inspirational and why?
It is like asking a mother to pick her favourite child. This book is like my baby and for each story, each illustration, I have worked with equal passion. They all inspire me in their own way.
What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue their own projects?
- Whoever wants to launch a project close to their heart, my advice to you is to take advantage of the resources around you. Social Media is a huge resource and I owe it to the internet platforms through which I was able to share about my project.
- I also suggest that before you get started, have a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself why you are doing this project? Do you feel passionate about it? I say this because this book took me a little over a year to complete and along the way, I had days when I felt truly overwhelmed by everything. It was my passion for this project which kept me going. Passion is the key.
And finally! What’s next on the horizon?
This is going to be an exciting summer because I am working on two incredible projects. Both are close to my heart. First project is a “feminist zine”. I will be illustrating 30 incredible women from around the world such as Frida Kahlo, Emma Gonzalez, Greta Thunberg and many more for my zine. In the Zine, there will be some lessons by these women to live by.
Next project I am working on this summer is another book which is full of art and stories. Cass Art has been an incredible support to me in this process. The supplies I needed for this project; Cass Art was kind enough to support me in that. As a full time student, it is not easy for me to always afford these supplies but when there are companies like Cass Art who always have artists back, that is amazing and that makes all the difference.
Thank you for taking to time to talk to us Maliha, good luck with the next project and thank you for inspiring women both young and old!
Pop in-store or shop online for everything you'll need to get you started with your creative travels. Our staff artists will be more than happy to give you advice on materials. Don't forget to hashtag #cassart on social media to show us your creations.
Follow Maliha Abidi on Instagram to keep up to date on her creative ventures!