Despite having a rich culture, Pakistan hardly has any representation when it comes to digital and comic arts. The country is lagging behind in the art business and the platform it provides to channel the culture and history that we have left behind. With art, we can influence others and let them know what our country has in store for everybody.
Abeer Kasiri, a Karachi based artist and professional illustrator, has evolved as someone who loves to promote Pakistani ‘desi-ness’ through her quirky work. In 2015, Abeer started with her own label by the name of ‘AK. Toonify’ where her expertise is to design characters which she dubs as ‘toons’. “I love the fact that pursuing art as a career was never in my plan, in fact if things have gone as I planned, I would have been a doctor instead and might be a bad one, which I am glad I am not! I always say this very proudly that I didn’t choose art but it chose me!” she narrates.
In an interview with You! Abeer shares all about her work and how she started toonifying people and characters...
You! What do you toon and why do you do it?
Abeer Kasiri: Haha! I love this question. As you know, I am an illustrator by profession and my expertise is character designs, ‘toonify’ is the term I came up with, AK. Toonify is the name of my business where I love to make toons of people. Toon is basically a stylised and exaggerated version of a portrait; it is less exaggerated than caricatures though. I have grown up watching Disney movies, so the idea and inspiration behind the toons is quite fun, let’s just say if you were in a 2D Disney movie, how you will look like! The small details that make you unique and stand out. I try to capture personalities in my toons. Why do I do it? It is because I love to make memories more memorable and fun.
You! What is your speciality in terms of the techniques and software you use?
AK: To be very honest, I don’t think there is any special technique to my work, I just end up making everything super cute and adorable. For toons, it is just that I try to capture personalities as is and draw facial features. About software, I mainly work on Photoshop and occasionally on Illustrator as well.
You! How did you come up with the name AK. Toonify?
AK: Well, I started AK. Toonify in 2015, if I remember. I wanted the name to be simple. So I just kept the initials of my name ‘AK’ for Abeer Kasiri, and I make toons, so AK. Toonify.
You! What do you want to say about the scope of art in Pakistan?
AK: I am glad that industry is growing; people are working on fresh and cool ideas and are more aware now as compared to five years ago. I see a lot of potential in the younger lot.
You! Is there an element in your art you enjoy the most?
AK: I enjoy the whole process; from brainstorming to compositions, drafting, line art, colouring and the feedback.
You! What is the inspiration behind your work?
AK: I get inspired by almost anything and everything, kids smiling looking at their candies, a dog sleeping in the shed, people’s reactions in rain, some quotes, a song, drive back home, skies, sunset, food, coffee. But yes for toons, there is no inspiration as such; it is mainly commissioned, so it is more like how clients want it to be like.
You! Is there any work of yours you are most proud of?
AK: I am so proud of myself for how far I have come; from not knowing anything to be able to translate my thoughts into my work. A boy in the rain! Dream Big! Funkaar! Paws and Claws! Bitch Please! There are a few paintings of mine which are really close to my heart.
You! What do you dislike about the art world?
AK: The art industry of Pakistan, I talk mainly on behalf of digital artists, is super cool. I am self taught and I love the fact that all the senior artists are always there to guide and help us. They have worked so hard to make this industry where it stands today, and made opportunities for people. They are warm, welcoming and most of all open to ideas. However, I dislike the fact that all the artists are underrated, be it poets, writers, illustrators or animators. They are not well paid and people don’t understand how much hard work goes in anything we make. Like the illustrations and toons I do, people think that I have learnt some kind of spell or trick and my pen tablet is basically a magic wand which can create things on its own; it’s sad and funny at the same time.
You! What do you dislike about your work?
AK: I dislike the fact that I am still far behind and I have a lot to learn, I should have done all the master studies and experiments by now. I have so much to learn, to achieve and to make that it frustrates me.
You! What do you like about your work?
AK: My art is my journey which makes me so happy and proud. It is like a visual diary, I know exactly how I felt when I was making that certain artwork. I am open to try out new things, new styles, to learn and there is so much to explore and experiment.
You! Any bad experiences with your clients?
AK: Not bad but quite funny experiences! For instance, once this client of mine asked me to take out zakat from my toons and I should make his toons for free, which is again sad but funny! I think every experience is a lesson to learn!
You! How do people receive your work?
AK: I think I am very blessed in this regard, they usually love it.
You! What is your dream project?
AK: What hurts me the most as an illustrator from Pakistan is that we don’t have put much of Pakistan centric artwork out there for the world to see, we don’t have illustrations that define and describe people and life of Pakistan in general. Our folk tales, our stories, our languages and our culture, it is very rich. There is so much to explore and that needs to work on. I hope I’ll be able to contribute by making illustrations that are more ‘Pakistani’, that define our culture and our lives. I’d love to work on children’s books some day.
You! Name your favourite artists:
AK: Well, I love Aaron Blaise and Chris Sanders’ work and they inspire me so much. Babs Tarr is one of my favourite comic artists and from our Pakistani industry, I love all the artists, they all inspire me one way or another. To name a few I like Anas Riasat, Muffadal Iqbal, Zabad Anwer and Naiha Raza’s work a lot.
You! In your opinion, how would you define surreal art?
AK: It is pretty surreal!
You! What are your future plans?
AK: To grow as an artist!