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Shimanie: Wiggling through the fields of illustrative art and marketing

Aishath Maahaa and Ahmed Aiham
17 August 2019, MVT 08:38
A self-portrait digitally illustrated by Shimanie Shareef. ARTWORK: SHIMANIE / MANIE
Aishath Maahaa and Ahmed Aiham
17 August 2019, MVT 08:38

Having harboured a lifelong vision of succeeding as an artist, Aminath Shimanie Shareef set out to fulfil her goals early, by electing the art stream whilst pursuing secondary education. However, these dreams were kept alive by braving unrelenting forces throughout her artistic education - working through teachers who were never satisfied with her work.

Although Manie, as she is known to friends, began learning the ropes in Aminiya School - by the time she wrapped up her higher education, she had already carved her place as a skilled illustrator amongst the Maldivian artist communities.

Predominantly self-taught, she credits much of her versatility to youtube tutorials as well as books and other sources of information and made her industry debut in 2008 when she was scouted to be an illustrator for the 2008 Colombo Fashion Week.

Today, the stunning 31-year-old wife and mother of two, is both an inspiration and to the discerning eye, proof that one really can have it all.

In a decade of experience across the fields of advertising and marketing, Manie has blossomed from artist to businesswoman, defeating the odds and generating a steady, strong income. She’s come a long way from her beginnings as a marketing executive, having been most recently hired as Marketing Manager at Nada Salon & Aesthetic Studio, one of the country’s leading beauty establishments.

In this capacity, she has had a part in curating and creating all of the brand’s collateral over the past five years.

Aside from her ‘day job’, Manie has now established herself as one of the most sought after artists in the Maldives, lending her creative talents to a number of influential, lasting campaigns. Some of her best received work include awareness and crowdfunding campaigns for Family Legal Clinic, a non-profit that provides free legal consultations to those in need.

Also making waves are her depictions of Maldivian culture in some of FlyMe’s Inflight Magazines. Her work as an illustrator/designer and digital marketing can be seen on GetaHero (Maldives’s Service’s Directory) as well.

The legend is the Maldivian equivalent to the classical romance story of 'Romeo and Juliet'. PHOTO: SHIMANIE / INSTAGRAM

However, it is just a glimpse into the beautiful world within Manie’s imagination, to be sure.

When did you first decide to become an artist?

“I’ve wanted to be an artist for a long time now. I can’t pinpoint the decision to any specific moment. It was always something I wanted to do, even as a hobby.”

“My first job was in the field of marketing. So, primarily, my career was built around marketing. But I’ve always worked as a graphics designer and an artist for several projects”.

What kind of risk does working as a full-time artist pose, particularly in a country such as the Maldives?

“It might not be financially feasible in the Maldives to everyone, because the marketing of art is just beginning to develop - but it is already larger than it was. I wouldn’t call it a risk, but it is definitely challenging''.

“These days, there are a considerable amount of art collectors. I think a market that values and pays for art is slowly emerging”.

Would you say that becoming an artist was, in any way, a bad career decision?

“I wouldn’t - I would say that a substantial amount of jobs exist within the arts. For those who are ready to take up the challenge, there is so much potential to make one's way in the field, even in this country.”

“This is a tough and time-consuming profession. But I never thought that me choosing to work and earn from art was a crazy idea. It definitely has been a tough ride - having a full-time job, being a mom and a wife. It’s been hard for me to juggle everything. It takes quite some commitment.”

“The fact that I get to do all of this also means that I do have a good support system (moral support) too. And definitely help that I get from loved ones. And a lot of it drives me because I pursue it with a lot of passion”.

Describe your style as an artist

“There are two main ways in which I draw.”

“One is based around culture, drawn in an illustrative way. A lot of my work is based on written works about the history and culture of Maldives. A lot of research goes into this too… “

“I also draw specialized illustrations that are more of a ‘cartoonish’ style, a form more suited for children’s books and the like.”

“Those are the two styles that I passionately pursue, but my work as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator does require I show more versatility in my style according to client needs.”

The story of 'Kuhlhavah Falu Rani' - The Queen of the mangrove forest. It is commonly used as a proverb when an individual forgets their origins. ILLUSTRATION: SHIMANIE SHAREEF / MANIE

So how has your individual style evolved, over your years of experience?

“My initial style and the one I have adopted now are vastly different.”

“I’m mostly self-taught. There are setbacks since I didn’t study design but now this knowledge is accessible via the internet, right? I try to polish up skills I don’t have by browsing tutorials…”

Sharing an all too common feeling between creatives, Manie noted that she has never illustrated a piece she considers “perfect”. But a lot of people received my painting of a *‘Giraavaru’ lady quite well, and I think that’s one I’m most happy with so far.

“(I am) constantly trying to correct things that I am not content with,'' she said, adding that she does notice a gradient of improvement as she progresses from one project onto another.

*The Giraavaru people are the indigenous people of Giraavaru Island and are said to be some of the earliest settlers of the country, in the central atolls.

Tell us more about your creative process

“In the beginning, I always drew whatever came into my mind all at once, it became the final piece.”

“[At the time] If it turns out bad, it turns out bad...but during my International Baccalaureate (IB), I understood the importance of conducting proper research, sketching out variations of one idea before moving on to the final creation.”

The first letter of the Maldivian alphabet 'Haa', as illustrated by Manie in this lettering. The letter is adorned by a background inspired by traditional designs carved on coral stone. ILLUSTRATION: SHIMANIE / INSTAGRAM

Having since grown accustomed to the method and tailoring it to suit herself, Manie described the process as varying, iterating that for instance, less sketching is sometimes required to reach the completed stage of her artwork.

How do you finalize a decision on what to draw?

“If its an independent illustration, I base it around a concept floating in my mind for a couple of days but if it’s a briefing sent by a client, the illustrations will be based mostly on what is required.”

They say an artist’s medium says a lot about who they are and what sort of art they gravitate towards. When and how did you figure out your medium of choice?

“I experimented a lot, but found that I was most comfortable with watercolour and the sorts - in particular, fluid paste.”

“However, now I find it easiest to work digitally. I think it’s the easiest form, in terms of convenience.”

“Right now I have a very tough schedule. Time is something I try not to waste. So running around find materials and all is not easy.”

“Thus, going digital has become more convenient, but nothing beats the feeling of physically playing around with paint and figuring things out as you go on a piece of hand-painted artwork.”

What would you say is your ultimate goal?

“My ultimate personal goal is to capture what comes to mind, perfectly.”

“...To practice enough and to draw without references!”

“I also plan to contribute to the art community with better means, which is something I’m already working on.”

What is the most useful technique or tip you learned from another artist?

“I do a lot of research on a great many artists. In order to bring out something perfect, I think you have to follow and practice on the advice of different individuals.

On that note, are there any tips you would like to share?

“I would say, practice and experiment a lot. Practice is the best way to improve.”

A digital caricature of the late Abdulla Moosa, famously known as 'Naifaru Dhohokko' - a legendary musician/singer known for his lyrical prowess. ILLUSTRATION: SHIMANIE SHAREEF / MANIE

Are there opportunities that you’d highlight as ones that artists can financially depend on?

“There are quite a few now. Platforms are being created as well. Multiple NGOs have been formulated too…”

Detailing her experiences, Manie highlighted Maldives Artists Community (MAC) and Avahteri Gallery, expressing that both groups were working to initiate platforms that would further develop artists within society.

“Then there is the tourism industry. Many resorts, especially the newest ones, do search for artists to work with. Getting exposed to these places may provide a significant helping hand in terms of earning an income”.

She added that currently, “some small-medium enterprises have publicised a real need for designers with the introduction of digital marketing and social media marketing platforms. These avenues might be how you generate an income”.

What goes through your mind when you think about the process of finishing a painting, framing it and then proceeding to sell your work for a price that is worthy of the time spent on it? How does one assign a value to such work?

“It depends. It takes quite some time to release an artwork at a satisfactory price.”

“If you have not established a name for yourself in the industry, or if it isn't being considered by someone who actually understands the process that goes into making a piece, your art might not fetch a suitable price compared to the effort put in..

“Thankfully, I now manage to get a satisfactory amount, though I won’t say it has always been like this.”

How would you prepare for a solo exhibition?

“I personally don’t believe that I have reached the right capacity to host a solo exhibition but, thanks to an offer from MAC, I did hold one in January”.

“Honestly, I was not all that satisfied with it, and that’s why I say I’m not at that level. I want to really prepare myself to reach that target”.

Praise is often far easier to stomach than criticism, especially negative critique which is often much harder to accept. Given that art usually comes from a very personal place, how do you deal with comments made by others?

“I take it as constructive criticism, and particularly, if the feedback is from creatives within the field, I try to accept it and work on it”

“I have never been offended by such feedback though. It's a matter of learning to grow from your experiences.”

“I think it is about learning to put your ego aside and knowing that there can always be room for improvement - not taking any of it personally.”

“ At the same time, it is also important not to be too hard on yourself.”

An illustration representing the folk story of 'Rannamaari', the legend of the sea-faring demon - kept at bay by sacrificing a young virgin every month. PHOTO: SHIMANIE / INSTAGRAM

What was the most noteworthy piece of constructive criticism you received?

“I don’t know what to say specifically. Many people have given me advice. Compliments too...I think I appreciate advice the most.”

When it comes to improving yourself and your skills, what is your go-to?

“As I mentioned earlier, I turn to watching tutorials, researching different sorts of artists and practising a lot.”

From an artist's point of view, could you explain why a seemingly plain piece of art sometimes sells for a large sum of money?

“Art has different rules on how you use colours, there are a lot of theories. Every artwork involves quite a few stories.”

“The commercial value of art is based on collective intentionality. There is no intrinsic, objective value. Human stipulation and declaration create and sustain the commercial value."

Some people say art is not a good source of income, so if you were to convince them otherwise, what would the argument you put forward?

“If you take a look, you can identify artists, people that have a constant flow of work and also earn a considerable income. Then, I would try by narrating my personal story.”

“I’d tell them how far I have come from where I was before. I would probably share all that I did to get here.”

What are some challenges which exist in a local context and what needs to change?

“There are so many things. First and foremost is the establishment of art courses and relevant education within the field - improving our art education and art awareness.”

“Next off, easier accessibility to art equipment, increasing platforms for artists and the creation of the local art market in Maldives”.

Some artists work best accompanied by music, others through complete silence...what sort of atmosphere do you prefer?

“Depends on the mood. Sometimes it’s complete silence.”

The story of 'Dhon Hiyala and Ali Fulhu'. A spy for the king discovers a woman whose beauty knows no equal and is subsequently kidnapped from her husband. After a rescue attempt goes awry, 'Dhon Hiyala', out of fear of being taken away again, jumps into the ocean, landing on a giant jellyfish, severing her slender waist in half. 'Ali Fulhu' then crashes into the giant, destroying his ship. The couple were considered reunited in death. ILLUSTRATION: SHIMANIE SHAREEF / MANIE

“I barely work with music, mostly silence because it requires a lot of focus. Nowadays especially, I prefer to work in silence when my kids are asleep, it is just easier for me to focus then”.

How do you feel about your body of work, as we reminisce over years past?

“Very content. But there is so much I want to do, I want to contribute to the art community and to keep learning.”

“It's been quite the journey, I’ve managed by learning on my own, through a lot of trial and error and exploration, so I’m very pleased with where I am.”

“It does make me really happy but as I said, there is much I have yet to accomplish.”

What’s next for ‘Manie’ as an artist?

“Overall, I would like to improve my performance in all of the fields I work in. That is; illustrations, paintings and everything else.”

A beautiful illustration aptly titled 'Firuaonu Mudhaa', loosely translated as the pharaoh's treasure, often used in reference to a jellyfish. ILLUSTRATION: SHIMAANIE SHAREEF / MANIE

“I am also working on a children’s picture book with “ Thakethi” that will be released soon.”

“And I’m also in the process of trying to bring forward some good accredited art courses and begin educating kids and young children in art, so I’m excited for what is ahead there as well!”

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