Aysha Tengiz is the Professional winner of the Alternative Publishing Category. Here, she tells us more about her award-winning project.
The project is a picture book written and illustrated by me. The idea came about when I was feeling overwhelmed and lonely living in London. Even though the city is bustling with people – we’re constantly surrounded by people at work, on public transport and along the streets – yet feelings of sadness and loneliness can creep up.
One day I woke up with an enormous spot on my forehead, so big it could have its own personality. While sat on the bus to work I had the idea of the story. The outcome was a small self printed book, A Spot of Loneliness.
I’d wanted to create a picture book for a while. I had just began freelancing part time and work was slow and sporadic. I decided to set myself the project to keep me busy and to create new work. I had been setting myself short quick projects but I decided I wanted to create something a bit bigger, to make something that I knew would be harder for me to finish.
Most of the narrative and illustrations are all inspired by my day to day life: from Fil’s house, to his commute and the walk up the high street. It wasn’t intentional but these views were all I was seeing on a daily basis and they unconsciously worked their way into the drawings. As I couldn’t get out much to do lots of observational drawings I relied heavily on Google and in particular Google maps. Perhaps I’m also just very lazy and don’t like leaving my house…Either way the internet was my saviour! I love being able to use it to get references for everything I need. From high street buildings to character inspiration, it’s stimulus is endless.
I used Photoshop to create all the drawings. I really wanted the book to have a rougher quality and I didn’t want it to look super perfect and digital. I used Photoshop brushes to mimic paint and printing it onto thick Tintoretto gesso paper gave it the characteristic I wanted.
I began drawing the elephant character just before the idea of the book came about. He morphed out of lots of doodles I was working on and his bright trousers, boots and braces originate from one of my own outfits. His name, Fil, derives from the Turkish word for elephant. I would sketch out each page and use the sketches as drafts to work into using Photoshop. I decided to make the book digital as I was still working almost full time outside of my illustrative work and being able to pick things up on the computer was a lot quicker than working on physical paintings.
The biggest challenge was not giving up! It’s really hard to keep at a project that’s self initiated with no deadline. I’d constantly be doubting the story and illustrations and feel like I wanted to stop. I kept at it because I wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a book and the further I got the more I knew I couldn’t let it die.
I learnt how to put together a story. I’d never worked on anything that had a storyline and it was really interesting understanding how to develop the narrative. The story also led me to understand that I wasn’t content in my day to day life. The book pushed my illustrative work ultimately leading me out of a job I was unhappy in. If Fil is my alter-ego, then he’s doing a lot better now!
I was working 4 days a week in retail, this included a 1-and-a-half-hour bus journey into central London every day. Balancing this and trying to progress my illustrations and portfolio was really hard. It exhausted my energy and at times I felt like it was a losing battle. I had to keep at it at any opportunity I got, which meant a lot of scribbles on the back of receipts, working on my lunch breaks and late nights. To produce something that I’m proud of makes all of those days completely worth it!
The folder containing the book on my computer is 3.72GB and contains 155 items.
I would’ve liked to work on it for longer and add more pages into the book. Perhaps I never would’ve finished it if I had done this though!
Keep setting yourself projects to push your boundaries and try things you never thought you’d be able to do! Don’t doubt your work depending on other people’s opinions. I couldn’t get A Spot of Loneliness published and so decided to do it myself. Once I had the books I went into an independent comic shop in London to ask them if they’d stock it. They turned me away saying no one would buy it and made me feel very small. The books ended up selling out and have taken me to win an award with the AOI! I feel very proud that I didn’t let others bring my confidence down.
Lockdown gave me the unintentional nudge to plunge into fulltime freelancing. So I’m currently trying to make sure I can continue this. Although being miserable in a job I hated gave me great material I hope I never have to return! I’m currently working on another picture book, so I hope to finish that by the end of this year.
I grew up surrounded by picture books and have continued to collect them as an adult. To be commissioned to create a picture book that would be professionally published has always been a big aspiration of mine. I’d love to work on my own stories or else collaborate with a writer to create something together.
Favourite thing to draw
I really really love drawing characters. Basically anything that has a face.
I usually work in a studio. It’s based under a railway arch and has rubble occasionally crumbling onto my head, but I love it! The space is full of other creatives and is a really inspiring and fun place to work. During lockdown I’ve been working in a spare room that myself and my housemate and animator Caitlin McCarthy share. We squeeze ourselves into the small room which is filled up with one big pink desk and work side by side. This has it’s perks as I have enjoyed rolling out of bed into the “studio” and working in my pyjamas!
I was completely blown away by the idea of being shortlisted and to have won is astonishing! I hesitated even entering because I doubted the work and worried it wouldn’t be good enough. I would recommend anyone who worries about their work or doubts themselves to always keep at it and go for opportunities. Have faith in yourself!