About Daby Ihsan
Born in Iraq, Daby Ihsan is an award-winning illustrator and animator who has done the art work for two ISF children’s books – The Onion and Speak First and Lose. Profoundly original, her work perceives the East with extraordinary subtlety, drawing on her love for architecture and eye for detail.
1. Can you tell us about your family background?
I was born and raised in Baghdad, and lived there until 2002. A year before the war with the USA started, I moved to Jordan and completed my BA in Architecture. I grew up in a loving and supportive family with a great appreciation for arts and crafts. My father is a successful architect. Throughout my childhood he coaxed me to appreciate unusual and unique things, especially those around me. He showed me how to be creative and resourceful, and how to experiment with different mediums and drawing techniques. My mother’s taste in fashion and her elegance influenced me, as did her skills in decoration and creating handcrafts. Both my parents strived to nurture my own skill, providing the right environment for me to develop and be productive. Generosity and respect were two cornerstones throughout my childhood. I was brought up to respect everyone I encountered, to work hard and, most of all, to be humble and appreciative in every way.
2. As an artist who has come from the East and now lives in the West, can you explain whether you experience Los Angeles differently from people who are born and raised there? Do you find yourself questioning it all, or does it seem normal now?
When I left the Middle East six years ago, London was my first foreign experience. I found it shocking at first, and very difficult to communicate with people. But it didn’t take me long to adapt.
Moving to LA wasn’t quite as shocking. People are more ‘laid back’ here, and they express their opinions readily – something which intimidated me at first. At times I have been challenged or confused on my journey from East to West. The Iraqi society of my birth was conservative and, in some ways, judgmental. It was very different from highly-cultured Europe, which was in turn so different from California – one of the most liberal destinations on earth. I believe that life’s chapters have shaped my personality, just as they have my art.
3. What elements of your cultural background do you try to weave into your work?
Attention to detail, and the patterns in each element and object I use in my paintings are the key to the oriental fusion through which I choose to present my version of the world. I find the way I draw or paint shapes, characters or subjects, is mirrored in my own background. I tend to keep a traditional feel in my paintings by merging mixed media and traditional techniques. This way of working – which maintains a connection to my Middle Eastern heritage – provides both intimacy and familiarity.
4. Were you exposed to stories as a child?
Stories are an essential element in a child’s life. They help in expanding imagination and creativity. Unlike other children, I didn’t grow up with grandparents telling me stories. But I was lucky enough to have an amazing father who is and was brilliant in conjuring stories out of thin air. When I was a child he told tales which my mind’s eye created in vivid colours: magical stories with fantastical characters, distant kingdoms, and so much more. I dream of collecting the stories that hung in the air of my youth, and to weave them into story books and animated films, to inspire other children in the future.
5. What were the challenges of bringing the two books you have illustrated for ISF to life?
Illustrating these stories has been one of the most interesting projects I have ever been involved in. From the outset, I was encouraged to follow my own direction, which has given me freedom in experimenting, and playing around with styles and techniques. In the illustrations, I have used mixed media, clay, and paper cut-outs. Not all the techniques are easily seen in the books, but I like the idea of channelling the viewer’s attention, drawing it to certain elements within a picture. Keeping them guessing how it’s been made is almost as fun as making the illustrations themselves. Beside the various techniques, I used acrylic painting and ink for the line work, using each separately before merging them digitally later. It’s a slow process, of layers laid down one on top of the next… a process that’s almost like a journey, as long and interwoven as my own journey has been from East to West.