Zainab Isa is a skilled painter with over 11 years of experience. In this interview, she shares her love for acrylic painting and her creative processes as an artist.
How did you discover your passion for acrylic painting on canvas?
After my beautiful and fun exploration of oil painting back in Ghana. I had a very tiny studio where I do most of my paintings. You see, oil paint takes a longer time to dry; the strong intense chemical smell wasn’t that friendly with my stomach and I had people that drop by from time to time to check my works. Having a tiny studio, not so much for cross ventilation, longer time to dry and one or two accidents like brushing off a particular section unknowingly with your hands, body or people who come to visit. After a while, I decided to explore and try something opposite from oil which got me to the conclusion of changing my medium. Alhamdullah my works don’t take time drying and at least I can redo some parts after making mistakes.
What draws you to acrylic as a medium for your artwork?
I am eccentric, my pattern is random. If you remember why I switched to acrylic from oil, other than the causes I mentioned, it’s all about exploring the depth of your creative passion. With acrylic, I found out that there isn’t restrictions; you can be innovative, play with colours, create a pattern, the flow is smooth and you feel its ride all geared up. The most exciting thing and relaxed feeling is, you can beat a deadline, an unexpected invitation or a client who wants an art piece within a limited frame of time. Well, for me, that’s the striking flow and geared up feeling I am referring to. The more experience I gain, the deeper the exploration of this medium I attain. It doesn’t mean I stop from there; I learn every time and I intend to learn and master other mediums along this sequence I call my life.
Can you describe your creative process when working with acrylic on canvas?
Muse is my drive, period. A friend once called me “a part time artist”. That’s the issue, my process must not be similar to other artists. We are all different, as for me “Muse” plays an important role in my creative process. Muse ignites my passion and drive; it gives me the power to become boundless in that moment. I refer to my creative process as “Zainab being in her element”. At times, certain people become my muse, their stories or personality captivates and captures my attention. Traveling to new environment, literature, films, instrumental orchestra, traditions from around the world, their stories and music.
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At times, I go into a stage I call “mind silence”. At that stage, I am aware of my surroundings and the people around me, but in there (my mind) I am seeking and learning, accepting and understanding all at the same time. Usually, I don’t talk much so it gives me more power to manifest my abilities in where my muse flow. All that gives me the will and zeal to paint. It can be early in the morning and it can be in the middle of the night.
In that mind silence stage, I start to be in my element and my muse helps me keep the process afloat until when its energy exhausts. This process can be days, weeks, months or even a year and also it can be fleeting.
I am also a surrealist painter. It is when one paints with the subconscious mind, how incredible yet confusing that can be to others. It’s simple. All your creativity or processes are more than 60 percent controlled by the sub-mind. It’s just that many people aren’t aware of this reality. Now, one example that will make you understand more of my creative process is: when driving, heading to a certain destination, you have full control of your mind and body right? It means you are conscious at that moment. Along the way, you might either take a different turn without you even being aware of it, but you tend to realize minutes later and have no actual explanation how that happened or when in the process of driving you zoom out and immediately your attention gets called back either by people’s car honk or people also on the road. Now, that’s how I can describe my creative process and all what gets me into that element.
What themes or subjects do you often explore in your artwork?
Mental and emotional instability and personalities, heritage and forms of traditions.
Are there any particular techniques or styles that you employ in your acrylic paintings?
Yes. Abstract art, surrealism art, expressionism, colourism and minimalist art.
How do you approach colour selection and mixing in your acrylic artwork?
Colour is one important reason that got me into painting, I was more of sketching before. But I found out colours do have emotions and they breath just like we do. Do you know that we wear our emotions through the shades of clothes we put on? Yes. If you haven’t noticed, maybe I think you should pay attention next time, let’s start by waking up in the morning, putting on your clothes and going out, you do not even realize that the colours you put on is basically how you feel at that moment. It goes hand in hand with also understanding people’s personalities.
Honestly, I take my time and it has to be specific when applying them into my work. There are colours with good energy and some with bad energy. It’s a strong substance when applying into anything you do in your life. It’s like when people say having a positive mind and speaking good things attract positive energy around you, likewise with negative minds.
Before I start a piece, my mind, body and soul already understand the emotions I carry along. That gives me a sense of direction to what my energy with applying colour and mixing intends to depict. After the work is done, to make you understand how colours relate to us, when people gaze at it, the energy already becomes present to the mind and body instantly before the emotions beings to relate to the piece. Now, that’s how important colours are to me, I concentrate more in the power of emotional energy.
How do you incorporate personal expression and emotion into your acrylic paintings?
I am no robot. I am just human. For me, there is no ‘how do I incorporate personal expression and emotion into my paintings’ I am the art and the art is me. It’s a natural thing. Without the expression and emotion at the first place, I won’t even touch the brush and say ready, I wouldn’t dare. I had a painting I created called “female energy”. At that period, I was going through something personal. Now, how that painting got created was me, sitting down, in my element, listening to a particular song and it became my muse. I don’t know if you understand my point. For me, to paint is just as natural as the whole of me doing it.
Are there any artists or art movements that have influenced your work in acrylic on canvas?
Yes there are. I would like to mention one. He goes by the name Ludwig Deutsch. He made me understand how detailing in art is powerful. The moment you look at his work, the nobel and elegant detailing will make you understand what the piece represents. It will make you become the artist and get you thrilled in explaining and describing his own art. That’s Ludwig. Although he is an orientalist painter, a bit different from my concept, due to modern age, but his works are one of the greatest collections of Orientalist art ever formed and till date, he is a muse.
How do you handle mistakes or unexpected outcomes while painting?
For unexpected outcomes, those are some of the worst feelings ever. Sometimes I get all teared up. It’s heart-breaking. A lot of times during that moment that’s when I get to convince myself by motivating my mind and energy into completing it. At the end, my mind shifts a bit and end up with what you never intended applying to begin with. The silver lining about it though can be positive; through that mistake or unexpected outcomes, you create something new, activate a certain skill, the meaning and concept changes a piece to the whole new different perspective. Then, you’d realize some mistakes become blessings in disguise or you just apply correction liquid and repaint it to what you intended if it’s ment for a specific reason.
Can you describe what your art means to you?
My art is a psychedelic effect of colour waves that penetrates through stimulating the mind, energy and emotional vibrations of human beings. Mixing the mediums of abstract, surrealism, colourism, expressionism and minimalistic art into one technique. Further into the act of therapeutic art.
Are there any specific environmental factors or conditions you consider when working?
Solitude! Major environmental factor. Conditions, no room for distractions. In fact, when I get to be in my element, I naturally block unwanted sounds around me and focus on my painting and the state I am in. Nature is where I feel my energy is connected to. The natural breeze and sound of the wind gives me peace and the power to be boundless, to flow and to levitate.
Have you ever experimented with mixing acrylics with other mediums to achieve different effects?
Yes I have. Oil and acrylic, crayons, spray paints, mud sand and charcoal. My next is water colours. It looks easy but it’s way much harder than it looks. I also tried with luminous beads. Very interesting concepts and it’s a fun exploration.
How do you know when a painting is complete or when to stop working on it?
The only thing I can say is: just like the amount of food you eat, the time you take bathing, the amount of time the barber trim your hair etc. Eventually there is a natural instinct and decision you will make to understand that you have reached a certain level of satisfaction.
Can you share any upcoming projects or exhibitions where we can see your paintings?
Any upcoming project will be by next year. Presently, I am in the phrase of seeking, learning, accepting, exploring, traveling and flowing as I acquire more knowledge into my skills, creations and perspective.