A self-taught artist and illustrator, currently studying Art History and Health Science through distance learning, Humayra Jahan has her heart set on excelling in all forms of art. She works as a fulltime freelance illustrator, and art and language teacher. This month, Humayra teamed up with Avenue T to design our stunning section dividers, commemorating some of the prominent female figures in their respective fields. We grabbed the opportunity to sit down with her to discuss all that goes into creating art.
When did you start illustrating? Did you receive formal training in the field?
I started illustrating in 2018, so I’m pretty new at my craft. I took a diploma course in graphics designing for a year, and I was using my knowledge to make some extra cash as a freelance designer. While doing that, I somehow lost touch with the artist in me. It was always about meeting deadlines and making clients happy. It brought me money but really not much satisfaction; but it’s hard to just drop something like that. So, in between working for clients, I would just experiment a bit with the illustrator pen tool. Somewhere along the line, I started making portraits again, but on a digital platform. It also worked as a way to relieve myself of stress, and a coping mechanism when life would get too hard.
You’re skilled in other art forms as well. Tell us about when and how you developed an interest in the arts, and what forms you enjoy doing the most.
After completing my O levels, I got deeply involved in trying different forms of art. It all started with sketches, which I have been doing for a while. I never had any formal training so I would just buy books and watch tutorials, and keep experimenting. I was drawn towards bodies and forms and I remember spending all my days and nights just making portraits of known and unknown faces, humans, eyes, animals, and expressions. My sketches focused on details such as wrinkles of age, of laughter or fatigue. It was something I did just for myself, as an outlet, but eventually the portraits made their way to different exhibitions. As I said, learning graphics designing helped me grow immensely as a person and an artist. I could still do portraits, but using my own style. While doing sketches, I always somehow felt that I don’t have ownership of my own work, because the technique was borrowed and influenced. But the techniques I used for illustrations are those that resulted from just experimenting with the tools and not following tutorials or classic books. This is where I feel I can express my originality. I also do a lot of crafting, and make handmade greeting cards on a regular basis.
Your illustrations have a sense of ambiguity, while also having the ability to instantly connect to the viewers. How did you come up with this style, and what does it mean to you?
As I have mentioned, when I used to do sketches it was all about portraits and details. I spent hours on the slightest details, because I thought that is how it’s done -- that’s what the books taught me. While playing with digital tools, I discovered it didn’t have to be that way. My work has a sense of ambiguity and minimalism which really speaks about me as an artist. I do not possess too many tangible goods (except for art supplies). I grew up in a busy household surrounded by too many people, and I was the youngest. I always had a hard time expressing myself verbally, because I always felt like I have to make space for others, which I was okay with. So I am someone who uses limited words to express feelings, consumes very less, and I think the only way I can be heard is through my art; and that probably explains how my art looks. I am glad to know that it connects to viewers, because as a person I find it hard to do so. For me, like any other artist, my style is just another way of self-expression and this is something I enjoy the most.
Who would you say your inspiration is?
There are many artists who have helped me understand art in a broader sense of the word, but a few artists and their styles have influenced my work the most. Johannes Vermeer’s captivating work plays a big part in my traditional work, as I focus on portraits, and how his subjects capture your attention with their subtle expressions and realism. I have been inspired to use his focus on subjects in my digital work as well. Digital illustrators such Asia Orlando and Miralou have inspired me a lot as well.
Would you say this field has a lot of female artists, especially in this country? If not, why do you think that is?
I do see a lot of women designers and illustrators around me, and it really makes me happy that at least this space is women friendly. I think it’s mostly because we work as freelancers, and have the liberty to choose our time and place of work. Dhaka Yeah, for example, has really put digital art on the map for people to discover and appreciate, and I can name many more female designers. I also feel like this is a space of solidarity amongst artists. We are no Picasso or Matisse, the inventors of modern art, but we are collectively making art through a medium that was, for a very long time, excluded from being considered as ‘art’ in Bangladesh.
What do you have in store for the followers of Jahan Illustrations? What are your five-year goals?
I don’t have a strict five year goal, but I do know that it is important for me to evolve as an artist and experiment. Now I am looking to spread my art through the introduction of different products such as postcards, bags, fridge magnets and other items. I hope to spread my art and make it accessible, so that people can enjoy them in their daily lives.
You can enjoy more of Humayra’s work on Instagram at: