In conversation with Michelle Farooqi

Michelle Farooqi is a prolific artist well-versed in Realism and Tehzip. She is also the illustrator for several children’s books published by Storykit.

In conversation with Michelle Farooqi


he News on Sunday (TNS): What is your background, and how has it informed your artistic direction?

Michelle Farooqi (MF): I have been drawing and painting since childhood. When I started working, I got a job as an illustrator, and learnt how to use the software needed for digital graphic design and illustration.

Over the years, I continued to use traditional art materials and was fascinated by all genres of oil paintings, but mainly portraiture.

In Canada, I continued to work as a graphic designer while I studied at Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto. I took many courses in painting and drawing but failed to learn the exact techniques needed to attain the level of expertise evident in Western classical art.

By chance, I discovered a private art school, Academy of Realist Art (ARA), that taught in the 18th Century manner of an atelier, with a regimented approach to drawing and painting, working from plaster casts, still life arrangements and live models.

At ARA, I learned the correct techniques for charcoal, graphite and oil paints, and how to paint in the realist, classical tradition.

On my return to Pakistan, I taught myself the use of soft pastel and oil pastels, and held two solo landscape exhibitions at Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore.

TNS: What are your artistic influences?

MF: Earlier in my career, I greatly admired the work of Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Vermeer, Titian, Rubens and Caravaggio. Francis Henry Bouguereau’s virtuosity continues to inspire me, but I lean towards the humanist aspect of painting rather than the classical.

The paintings of impressionists such as Monet, Manet, Gustave Caillebotte, and Degas helped me move beyond the purely academic style in my own work.

The work of early Twentieth Century Canadian artists, who came to be known as the Group of Seven, serves as a great inspiration in my own landscape paintings.

TNS: You’ve done quite a few book covers and worked extensively with Storykit. What has that been like?

MF: Kitab is a publishing house Musharraf Farooqi and I have built over the last few years, of which Storykit is an offshoot. I have worked as the illustrator and graphic designer for our books and Storykits, and it’s been a very rewarding experience. I use a variety of media for these illustrations, and my work as an artist has influenced the kind of illustrations I make.

Although working as an artist and an illustrator are connected in that they use the same artistic skills, for me they have always been two separate career paths.

In illustrating a book, there is always a deadline that must be met, a certain age group to cater to, and the limits imposed by print media to take into consideration.

There is a wealth of incredible illustrations in contemporary children’s books, and these constantly drive me to hone my skills in this field.

TNS: Having worked on traditional hand painted art as well as digital illustrations, particularly for books, what drew you to book illustrations?

MF: It took me several years to acquire the skills I wanted in order to create portraits, landscapes and still life paintings in the tradition of classical artists. Meanwhile, I used my drawing skills as often as possible in other fields such as book illustration and cartoons for newspaper columns, textbook illustrations etc. Later, when we started our own publishing house, I was lucky to have the skills needed to illustrate and design our Storykits and children’s books.

The newly launched Getz Pharma Library of Urdu Classics ( features my cover art and design.

Illustrating keeps alive the child in me, and allows more leeway in terms of drawing style and medium. I appreciate this aspect of illustrating even more today, because I create miniature paintings which follow a tradition and carry a meaning behind everything, from choice of colour to shapes, forms and figures.

TNS: What inspired you to pursue tezhip and geometric arts?

MF: After having two landscape exhibitions in Lahore, I was at a standstill in my artistic career. Musharraf wanted some traditional Indian miniature style paintings for his book, The Merman and the Book of Power, but I did not have the skills to create them. He introduced me to Hast o Neest, a private institute in Lahore which focuses on preserving classical Islamic arts in painting, music and architecture. There, the talented miniature painting instructor, Fyza Noon, agreed to paint the drawings I had made for the book cover. I joined Hast o Neest as her student. Thus began my journey of discovery into this ancient tradition of miniature painting. I started learning the complementary subjects of tezhip (illumination) and geometry, allowing me greater scope to create paintings and compositions in this genre.

Thus, I have come a long way, artistically: from a Western aesthetic and training in classical Western art, to an Eastern aesthetic and training in classical, traditional Islamic art.

TNS: Do you have plans of future displays of tezhip and geometric arts?

MF: Yes, I am currently working on my own tezhip and miniature compositions. Some of my work in this genre can be seen on my website ( Additionally, I have created traditional miniature paintings and tezhip for the first volume of Tilism-i-Hoshruba, which we will be publishing soon. These paintings will also be on display when Hoshruba is launched.

The interviewer is a staff member 

In conversation with Michelle Farooqi