Heidi Ahmad is a freelance digital illustrator and character designer. She helps studios, publishers & license buyers tell their stories through light & color so that their illustrations have a traditional feel with all the flexibility of digital painting.
Heidi has been very busy on Facebook recently participating in InkTober, posting numerous videos of her work at her YouTube channel on https://www.youtube.com/heidiGFX. As one watches Heidi at work, it’s amazing to see her skill as well as the variety of pieces she creates.
For our readers who are not acquainted, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself, and what current projects do you have in progress?
Hi! My name is Heidi Ahmad. I am a freelance digital illustrator and character designer. I help studios, publishers & license buyers tell their stories through light & color so that their illustrations have a traditional feel with all the flexibility of digital painting. Check out my portfolio at https://www.heidigfx.com/portfolio.
I graduated with honors from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Helwan University, Egypt, where I studied composition, perspective, anatomy, gesture, landscape, and colors. I continue to learn and improve to this day. You can follow my journey in my blog: https://www.heidigfx.com/blog
I started selling my art as a student and participated in several art galleries. The main paintings of my graduation project were sold to an Egyptian-Italian gallery owner. In addition to working traditionally, I also create digital paintings using my Wacom drawing tablet and I won an award for my second digital painting. My favorite subjects include the human figure, portraits, creatures and textures.
I am currently working on a story based on the Inktober official prompts to showcase my design and storyboarding skills. I will develop it further and color it shortly after October.
You have been a member of ICC Independent Creators Connection since April 28, 2017. What drew you to join this particular group?
…The group has a friendly and welcoming vibe to it and I was looking for an online community to network and share my art. Comics seemed to be the main focus of the group and I am interested in sequential art in all its forms. So it felt like a good fit people- and art-wise.
What obstacles have you dealt with as an artist? How did it shape or hinder your career?
Art is a demanding field. If you’re not investing time, effort and money in it, you’re not doing it right. When my parents got divorced, I was in a terrible place emotionally and financially. It was so bad that I lost my computer and, subsequently, access to the Internet. I was cut off from my main tool to learn and work.
I had to set short-term goals to get my life somewhat back on track. It took me a couple of years but good things are worth the struggle and the wait. After I got a new computer, I started studying to make up for the lost time. It took even longer to finally get a drawing tablet but I was already good at Adobe Photoshop by then so that really helped.
Another obstacle is that after 2011, most medium-size and small businesses in Egypt, had to shut down or downsize. That of course includes studios. The few spots left were automatically reserved for men for a while. There are more opportunities for both men and women now but the pay is still low for what the job entails.
As I look over your extensive portfolio of pieces, one thing that impresses me is the variety of styles and the proficiency of your work as a digital artist. Tell us about what influenced you to become an artist.
I am Egyptian but I was born and raised in Saudi until I was 14. Saudi was a mosaic of cultures because it attracted expats who lived and worked there. I grew up where you had to understand several dialect, and even an extra language, just to be able to communicate with classmates, neighbors, and family friends. Art was just another form of expression.
I wish I could say I was a mini Rembrandt or Monet as a child but I was far from that. I used to draw because I wanted to, not necessarily because I was good at it or because I was being encouraged to do it. Anyways, I kept doing that until I was in middle school where my Saudi art teacher gave me positive feedback on a tent that I drew! She offered to give me extra guidance to help me improve further and I gladly accepted. This didn’t last long but it meant a lot to me at the time. We settled in Egypt just before high school. there was a test you needed to pass to get into the School of Fine Arts. As a result, students sought classes that helped them pass that test. So I came to the conclusion that art is something you can learn and that talent alone is not enough. I passed the test by the way and got into Fine Arts!
Congratulations! Who has had the biggest influence on you outside the arts industry, and how did they affect your life?
It’s not a person, it’s a group of people I met in an online chatroom a while back before that website shut down. It was a multicultural place, just like the place where I grew up, but with an extra dose of depth. They used to discuss deeper topics like religion, philosophy and politics at an academic level. People who are different from you give you a new perspective of the world. I am still in touch with several of them and consider them friends or even family, connected across the distance like the mutants’ lamps in the X-men!
For those interested in these topics, I would recommend this Harvard course: ‘‘Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do?’’ luckily, you can find it on Youtube.
Who has had the biggest influence on your creative career, and how has that person changed your work?
Earlier when I was a student, I was fascinated by the work of Rembrandt for his brush work and dramatic light, and Monet for his colors. They will always be my favorites. Moving fast forward, I am still addicted to learning and the internet made my addiction more convenient! I learned a lot from Rey Bustos, Glen Vilppu, and Bill Perkins on New Masters Academy (NMA.com); Jake Parker on the Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS Learn) and several great artists on Schoolism. Each of them added a missing piece to the puzzle that makes me now able to create a complete project from thumbnails to a finish.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
We need some routine to function as human beings, but too much of it kills creativity. To balance this structure and keep the creative juices flowing, I go to new places, meet new people, go for aimless walks, watch people like a creep as they wait peacefully for their turn in the bank! I also watch full seasons of series back to back when I have time, it’s fun but it’s also to see how the story is expressed in composition and light. Oh and new tools, always works. Trying new tools, mostly traditional ones, makes you feel like a child again; curious and experimental.
Describe your typical work routine. Is there even any such thing as a typical work routine?
Working on a computer for too long is unhealthy, so if there’s prep work like thumbnailing, sketching, coming up with ideas, practicing how to draw new things…etc all that can be done on paper. Then I create a bigger sketch and take a photo to use on my PC.
I tend to start with the composition and shapes, to do this, I work on small area first to force myself to ignore the details. I also work in black and white first so as not to get distracted by colors. After that I can move to edges, colors and textures. Having a process helps with efficiency when it comes to paid work on a deadline. I still experiment a lot whenever I can because you learn so much from personal projects.
Even though illustrating is an engaging activity, my ears don’t hold the same view! So I listen to ASMR videos or to series that I have already watched to keep my ears from throwing tantrums. ASMR videos also help me relax.
What tools do you use to create your art and what makes them the “right tools” for you? Describe your illustration style.
I no longer create oil paintings, but coming from that background I find it more comfortable to work with wider tools that let you make different marks, like brushes and markers. They also let me work from the general to the specific. The same goes for digital art, I use wider digital brushes and also the lasso tool. I tend to give a lot of attention to brush work because edges can dramatically change the style of the illustration.
So you can say I’m more of a practical, big picture illustrator, with traditional influences, and my style goes back and forth between dramatic and light-hearted moods, depending on the subject. My work fits as a single illustration on book covers, or as a series of images to tell a story.
Which of your projects over the last few years has given you the most personal satisfaction? Why?
Definitely, my first job in a local animation studio and later, my first digital commission also by another local animation studio.
I was a lip sync artist in the first studio. I was part of the team working on a popular series. To be part of a big project and see it come to life, and seeing my name in the credits was a dream come true.
The second studio found me online only a couple of months after I had uploaded my very first digital painting to Behance. It was a portrait of Jack Nicholson and the studio wanted me to create unwrapped texture portraits for their 3D characters. Even though I was paid a lot more on later projects, these two will always have a special place in my heart.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career – in or out of comics or other creative outlets – and why?
It was when I started working with clients outside Egypt, but specifically a few months ago when I was commissioned to create a cartoony illustration. In less than a week, I made more than what I used to make in a whole month. It gave me more confidence in what I can achieve and I knew I was doing some thing right: improving my skills and marketing my services. Well, 2 things right!
We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?
In an ocean of talented people out there, find ways to get noticed. If you want to get to the top and stay there, there are no shortcuts. Work on your tools (digital or traditional tools), study the principles of art (composition, design, perspective, gesture, anatomy, colors), and have a marketing strategy. It’s not about paid ads. Are you easy to find? If not, what are you doing to fix that? Can clients easily tell what it is you offer them?
Also stay humble. Celebrate your victories and all, but stay humble so as not to stifle your own growth.
Time to get philosophical: What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important to you?
People, as individuals and as communities, use different ‘‘rulers’’ to measure right and wrong. Most people act as if they are the point of reference. Once you accept that your views and your lifestyle are not the default, you will be much nicer to people you disagree with.
Where can we buy your work or support your projects?
You are welcome to contact me on heidiGFX@gmail.com or on my website heidiGFX.com/contact to hire me or to buy available art.