Interview with a Saudi Illustrator: Jazz Islam

By Layal Alkhatib



Shying away from creating satirical illustrations of one’s culture, Jazz Islam has managed to portray the light-hearted positive side of Saudi culture, receiving glowing reviews for her work and a steady stream of followers. An Illustrator and Graphic Designer, Jazz shares her inspirations and aspirations with Shoes and drama…


Tell us about yourself and when you first became interested in graphic design/illustrations?

I have been drawing and painting ever since I was very young, and doodled my way through high school. I would always draw comics of my friends and the funny situations we went through. I’ve always appreciated and been interested in art in all its forms, but my strong interest in illustration specifically came after this year’s annual “Pick Me Up” Festival in London. I was so inspired by all of the work there, particularly the incredible illustrations  - after that I started experimenting and practicing non-stop.

What other arts or hobbies do you dabble in?

One of my other passions is Arabic calligraphy. I usually work with paints or inks on large canvases, and I’m always trying to practice and improve on it.

7What do you hope to portray in your illustrations?

The main aim of my illustrations is to shine a positive and humorous light on Saudi and our culture. Unfortunately there are far too many negative associations with our country and culture especially from the younger generations, and sadly from Saudi’s themselves. People tend to forget about the good and focus on the bad. Through my illustrations I try to bring out the positive, usually in comical ways. I always say if we don’t love and respect our own country, who else will?zwaj

What is the subject matter or theme your illustrations focus on?

I tend to draw what I’m interested in at the time. Right now I’m focusing on fashion illustration and comics, which are usually related to Saudi culture with a funny twist. Laughing at typical Saudi scenarios amuses people mostly because they see reality in them and can relate. I also try to incorporate themes that shock people, because that keeps it interesting.  This Ramadan I developed a character named ‘Saeed’: through him I displayed the typical Saudi Ramadan behaviours and got amazing feedback from everyone who followed Saeed and his adventures. I think what people enjoy most about Saeed is that he represents Saudis in a happy and optimistic way, as opposed to the typically sarcastic and negative ways.

Tell us about the project you are most proud of, and the inspiration behind that?

I’m proud of all my illustrations because I have followed my passion and dedicated myself to it, but if I had to choose one right now I’d say my fashion illustrations of typical Saudi girls which I titled ‘Your Typical Saudi’. People always ask me where or how I come up with the ideas and dialogue for these characters, the truth is most of them are taken straight out of real life situations that I have witnessed.

 1How has your cultural background influenced your work?

I think everyone is heavily influenced by their culture and background, whether they know it or not. In my view artwork displays a person’s beliefs and cultural views which tell you a lot about that person. I’m greatly influenced by my culture and very proud of it, it is also a main source of inspiration for me. My main intention is to link positive ideas and connotations to my country and culture, therefore a lot of my energy is focused in that direction.

 5Tell us about your upcoming projects

I’m working on a couple of very exciting illustration projects that will be revealed soon, so stay tuned!

In the world of art or design, who do you admire or look-up to?

My main illustration inspiration comes from Hayden Williams, an unbelievable artist and illustrator. When it comes to cartoon illustrations it’s a lot closer to home; I’m constantly inspired by Malak Fakeih, not only as she is an amazing artist but also as shie is a very close friend and important person in my life. Malak also portrays Arab culture in a comical way with traditional influences.

Any words of advice for aspiring graphic designers, illustrators or artists?

It’s been said to death and become a cliché but it’s so true… PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! And don’t take people’s negative criticisms too seriously, which is hard to do but will make your life easier.

Share with us one unforgettable experience you went through.

My travels around India were undoubtedly the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had, it affected me and my point of view on life in so many different positive ways. The entire country is a source of inspiration and optimism…  no matter how much you think you have experienced there is always more to see, and I’ll be back there every chance I get Inshalla.

Twitter: @Jazzislam

Edited by Dawn Wood