(interview)Gothic fantasy art of Shaima Islam

Shaima Islam is a Canadian artist whose works enchanted me when I ran into her site while browsing through the internet wastelands. I decided that I must talk with her for this webzine.

Welcome to my webzine. For start, how would you describe you and your art in five sentences?

Thank you for having me! As for my art style, I would best describe it as gothic fantasy with a bit of surrealist quirkiness thrown in. Since my art can appear dark, with colours I use or the general atmosphere of the work, I find adding a bit of humour or unusual elements to a piece more appealing. I work traditionally, with watercolours, colour-pencils & pens/markers being my tools of the trade. Compositionally speaking, I like to have a balance of detail with more simpler shapes and forms; alternating from detailed anatomy and hair to more minimal garments, objects, negative space & vice-versa.

When did you first realize that you have the wonderful gift and that you can draw?

Having siblings who were great at both drawing and painting, I became interested in art at quite a young age. Also, growing up in the 90s/2000s there was a boom of the Anime and Manga scene in Canada; from there I would try to imitate the art from some of my favourite titles. Since I was creating ‘fanart’, I didn’t really consider it an artistic skill at that age.  I had some great teachers in middle school however, who encouraged me to pursue art.

What were your first works? How was the feedback to your work at first?

I had a bit of ride trying to get to the artistic style that I’ve established, and in the beginning most of my works were Abstract & Contemporary acrylic paintings. In general, the following of these pieces online, and the reviews in local art shows were quite positive. People seemed to really enjoy them; figuring out the symbolism or story behind them and such.


Did you have many exhibitions? Did you go outside of Canada presenting your works?

I didn’t do many exhibitions independently, most of the work I presented for shows were through local galleries in Scarborough and/or exhibitions held by schools or university in Toronto annually.

What is your personally favourite tehnique? What is the hardest from your perspective?

I think creating soft, pastelly features with watercolours, and contrasting that with really dark shapes and lines with black ink is my favorite. However, I find that this also happens to be the hardest to do. Trying to achieve a realistic face for example, while working with a light and subtle colour palette is quite the challenge. There’s always the chance of overdoing the saturation of colours, or sometimes not putting down enough.

You do a lot of fantasy illustrations. Some of them seem to me very dark. Which part of the fantasy genre do you prefer? Who are your favourite book authors? Do you read comics and graphic novels? Any movie and tv series favourites? Musical preferences?

If you’re asking between the fantasy genre as a whole versus more darker imagery, I would say I prefer creating more darker pieces. For the most part, my art isn’t purely fantasy based so I find I can create outside the genre as well. That being said, I’m not into creating art that is dark in the sense of it being grotesque; I rather enjoy looking at works from artists like Gerald Brom & Riccardo Federici.

As for book authors….oh boy that would be a very long list I’m afraid, as I read A LOT. Some of my favourite authors include the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, Robert Louis Stevenson & Daphne Du Maurier; as well as fantasy authors like Michelle Sagara. In terms of comics, I believe the first manga series I ever read in grade school was Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, it’s still a personal favourite actually. Nowadays I’ve been more interested in western graphic novels from Marvel & DC; I’m enjoying the New 52 Harley Quinn and Ghost Rider & The Punisher comics. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson and the new Mad Max movie are some I watch frequently as well. Cormoron Strike, New Blood and The Doctor Blake Mysteries are some of the many BBC dramas & shows I’m obsessed with. I listen to quite a variety of music genres in different languages; folk bands like Faun & Wardruna all the way to bands like Slipknot, Combichrist, & Kamelot.


What do you do for living? Can you live off your art? How is the living in Canada in general?

Working as a freelance illustrator is my current occupation. I believe life as an artist is going to be challenging no matter how established you get; even more so as a freelancer, as you’re technically running your own business.  I believe that you can definitely live off of your art, but you need the determination, persistance, & discipline to land enough projects per month if it’s going to be your primary income. This also means running projects outside of creating artwork like I do with my Etsy shop, or working part-time too when necessary. Living in Canada has its benefits of course, like that of healthcare and such, but with higher living costs it has definitely gotten harder for everyone.

For many Autumn is their favourite part of the year, so many colours, some of the nature is dying to give birth to the new one. What is your favourite part of the year?

I’m that person who starts decorating for Autumn in the beginning of August, so I would definitely say it’s my favourite time of the year. The colours alone make me feel happy and inspired. I’m not really a fan of hot weather either and tend to stay indoors for the most part during the Summer, but I’ll happily be out all day during the Fall and Winter months!

.Have you ever heard of Croatia? Do you know any Croatian artists maybe?

I actually grew up with a few Eastern European friends up to middle school; including a Croatian friend as well those from Serbia, Albania, and the Czech Republic. It’s sad to say however I don’t know much about the country, other than the beautiful landscape and beaches I’ve seen in terms of tourist attractions. As I’m often interested in seeing historic sites and architecture, I would love to see the Dubrovnik Walls (I believe? Please correct me if I’m wrong on the name) someday. Unfortunately I don’t know any Croatian artists, but I would love to check some of their work if you have any suggestions.

What are your plans for the near future? Thank you for the answers.

At the moment, I’m focused on my illustrating work for books and novels. Since I freelance, I’m excited to take on any number of different projects that might come up. I’ve also wanted to be part of the gaming and movie industry in terms of concept art, so we’ll see if that comes into fruition one day. It’s been a pleasure! Thank you once again for including me in this webzine.



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