In conversation with Tasneem Ben Amiruddin
Foreword by Fatema A.
Tasneem Ben is the epitome of a child who never grew up. Her excitement about life is palpable. But you wouldn’t know until you meet her in person. From the brief messages and phone calls we exchanged, Tasneem ben was to the point, lets-get-this-job-done. The prospect of meeting and interviewing an artist I looked up to and someone who seemed rather distant, was rather daunting. Except, I was gravely mistaken. I should have recognized her for who she was through her illustrations. Bright-eyed, chatty and like her illustrations, bursting with colors.
Conversing with her taught me the importance of having an obsession with learning. She told me of the time she would have to give an anatomy exam to study illustration, which led to a month long hibernation and filling up 3 fat sketchbooks. We shared perhaps the longest laugh in my life when I saw her go wide eyed when the waiter filled her glass with coke to the brim, because she thought her can was empty. We shared our helplessness of being stationary hoarders, and papers bought eons ago we hadn’t unwrapped yet. Our frustration over the unrealized hard work required before one sees results.
Tasneem ben is one of the kindest, humblest (for a woman of her accomplishments) and happiest humans (maybe alien?) I have had the fortune to meet. Take a glimpse into her journey below.
I live on planet Neptune. I draw a little.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was life like growing up for you?
I’m Tasneem. I live on planet Neptune. I draw a little.
Also on Earth, I grew up with my wonderful family who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. My parents realised my inclination towards creativity when I was quite young and always encouraged it. They brought me all these different kinds of art supplies that fascinated me as a child and also made sure I was exposed to various opportunities.
I loved reading- so I had this huge collection of wonderful children’s books which eventually led to inspiring me to become an illustrator for children’s books mostly. My obsession with Disney also proved to be a little useful in terms of my career choices 😉
From an early age I felt compelled to create
Was there a moment you had decided you’d become and artist, or was it a series of events that led to it?
Coming from an artsy family background, there was never one particular moment when I decided to become an artist. From an early age I felt compelled to create and have always enjoyed drawing and painting – so I just never gave it up!
I usually snack a lot
What is a typical day in your life?
A typical day would be waking up, saving the world and going back to bed. Just kidding.
In the real world, I usually snack a lot, watch a lot of videos and draw sometimes.
I work from my home studio.
I start the day checking emails over snacking and writing a to do list.
After which I quickly start on the project I am working on. This normally involves sitting at my desk for hours sketching, painting (digitally), editing on Photoshop, replying to emails and being on social media.
I try and have strict work hours so that I have time to do other things in late evenings or early mornings. That’s really important, because being a freelancer you tend to work for days together without realising your time and surroundings.
If you could travel back in time, what’s the one piece of advice you would give yourself?
It would be not to underestimate myself.
Gorgeous pink sunsets, mischievous children, magic, dark nights and bright stars
Where does most of your inspiration come from?
Gorgeous pink sunsets, mischievous children, magic, dark nights and bright stars and other such whimsical moments inspire me quite a bit.
I like observing the little things in everyday life- little actions, gestures, beautiful architecture, the hustle and bustle on a busy train- stuff like that really makes me want to take out all my art tools and get to making something!
I also like observing different cultures and traditions. I think that’s a given since I am an Indian living in the cosmopolitan city of Bombay. (Pshh. It’s still Bombay not Mumbai :p)
I don’t think this has a direct impact on my work but definitely helps me to develop and be open to different styles when I start something new.
As a child I was really inspired by Disney movies and books by Enid Blyton.
A motto that you live by
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
Just kidding. I don’t really live by a motto but I do believe that it is very important to believe in yourself and work hard and do a lot of “sabr” to attain any goal.
What is it you hope to achieve with your artwork?
Saving the world, of course!
Okay, that’s a lot of exaggeration- I want to make an impact with my work- putting a smile on someone’s face when they see it would do wonders for me to start with.
I would hope that the viewer feels the warmth that I did while creating that piece and expressing my idea.
What is your creative process? Could you take us through it?
I sketch out random ideas I think about in the day or when I am half conscious. I don’t necessarily execute them right away.
When I have a project (an illustration for example) in hand- I start with doing or drawing something completely different or unrelated. It’s probably psychological, but this really helps me with my thought process and ideation for the project. I strongly vouch that ideation is the most important part of the process. The rest is just physically putting down the idea on paper.
Once I get a rough idea I immerse myself into the piece- start sketching, snacking, figuring out the style I want to use depending on the topic, audience of the piece, type of message, medium of publishing/ advertising and then finally start executing the final piece after another snack. (The part where I start the final piece could take place even on the same day or a couple of days later depending on the creative process)
I usually block paint all the colours I need in their specific spots and move onto the details. I put equal amount of work in all the parts of the piece until it starts looking like a whole slowly.
P.S. My entire process is done digitally besides the concept sketches- they can be found in my sketchbook or in some of my computer folders.
I use Photoshop mainly for illustrative work and draw with my pen tablet.
I do miss the feels of good old art supplies and paper so I use those occasionally.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
Turquoise Blue! Because it’s my favourite colour. Also because it’s my favourite page from one of my favourite children’s books “The days the Crayons Quit” by Oliver Jeffers. But my interviewer at Mighzal thinks I am a yellow 😉
I stop liking my work only a few days or maybe a few hours after I am finished with it
Which artwork is your most favorite piece by far? What was the inspiration behind it?
Well, hard to say- I stop liking my work only a few days or maybe a few hours after I am finished with it. If there was a permanent, on going project on just one piece I bet I’d still spend all my time on it.
But one of my current favourites is what I am working on right now. It’s a children’s book written by a 3 year old- and it’s about fun things like the rain, a frog, a cat and some splashes which automatically also became my inspiration!
I am using a different style in this one- using inks, paints and digital collage work so it’s quite exciting!
What would you be if not an artist?
A mermaid with a pet unicorn.
What role do you think artists play in the world- how crucial is it?
Artists provide the society with emotions, color, and texture. Scientists think up of ways to make life easier, builders and technicians turn those scientific ideas into tangible objects. While these things help us, they never add real emotion. Artists come into play on our emotions and subconscious thoughts.
They record history for the future generations. Their art reaches out and touches people around the world and can lift people when they are down or create controversy. I think that’s a superpower on it’s own!
A cherished memory of Maula and a particular teaching that you hold dear?
Every mumin will have countless memories with Maula that they cherish. I, just like everyone else have so many! A few of them hold very dear to me and have had a great impact on my life and how it has shaped me as a person.
I think on many different occasions Burhanuddin Moula RA and Mufaddal Moula TUS ye farmayu che “Sabr Karo” which has really helped me to lead my life in the right fashion.