October 10, 2014
Aziza Iqbal is an artist and a self-taught pattern designer who currently resides in Doha. Below is the conversation we began with her to understand ourselves, the play of patterns, a love affair that turned into a profession for Aziza.
What is pattern design and what does it involve? Is it a combination of graphic design and art or a separate discipline?
In contemporary design, patterns can service any discipline: from interiors and architecture to graphic design, products, textiles and so on. To me, they fall somewhere between surface design and abstract art, balanced by mathematical rules. In fact patterns have always played a big part in surface design for every ancient Sacred Art across the world: for example the rangolis and mandalas of Hinduism and Buddhism, Celtic knots in Christian art, and most extensively in Islamic crafts and architecture. They’re not merely decorative elements or space fillers; when done right, patterns communicate a message about the art, product or space, just the way typography works in graphic design. Patterns are essentially capable of infinite extension, whether it’s a single unit, or series of units, that is repetitively tiled on a systematic grid, or a radial form like mandalas. Growth is a key characteristic of designing patterns.
Brand identity and Art Direction for Alef : Pictograms developed for the magazine.
What are the concepts behind your patterns?
With my digital, abstract patterns, it’s not always a concept that I work with, but rather a particular style or visual language. With some commissions I do have distinct ideas for what I plan to do, towards a client brief for instance, but in general, my work follows a very organic stream-of-consciousness flow.
What are your artistic inspirations?
I’m very much influenced by the traditional arts, and in particular the artistic heritage of the Islamic world. I’ve never been able to draw ‘conventionally’ well, and I’ve always loved maths, grids and intricate details, so the attraction to Islamic patterns was natural, par for the course. One of the distinct characteristics of the Islamic art and craft legacy, whether it’s Moorish Andalusia, Ottoman Turkey or Mughal India, is the use of elaborate patterns – both geometric and biomorphic. Actually, even the seemingly random, floral patterns are clearly structured by geometry and proportions. What I also find fascinating is that these patterns have had such a broad application – woodwork, metalwork, stonework, ceramics, textiles, carpets, architecture, book arts – and yet, maintained a coherent system and identity, allowing for both versatility and innovation. I’m inspired tremendously by this, to create patterns that can adapt themselves to any media, style, purpose and space; patterns that invite your eye to explore, interpret and contemplate.
What are the various kinds of projects where pattern design is used?
How do you adapt traditional patterns for contemporary projects?
Even a common pattern that has been used in abundance across cultures and media will change from artisan to artisan. My main approach is to first study the traditional patterns in question as much as possible, recreate it, understand their grammar, and only then start from scratch using my own perception of what I took from it. One trick I use to turn a classical pattern to contemporary is to apply minimalism, and then de-minimalise it by adding details and dimensions.
What materials do you use for sketching or painting?
Because I work in both digital and traditional media, approaches are very different. For my digital commissions, when I don’t start off directly on the computer, I use the regular sketchbook-pencil combo, but often experiment on grid papers. I have a bunch of graph paper books in square : grids, isometric grids, perspective grids etc. For the traditional geometric patterns, all I need is a ruler and my prized possession: a vintage Rotring Wing compass. Paint media: I’m all for inks, gouache, and also traditional, hand-ground pigments that I use in miniature work.
Tell us about one of your favourite projects, or something particularly challenging that you worked on…
Always a hard one to choose, but I think it is probably my recent pattern illustration based on Bedouin weaving for the Uncommon Dubai guidebook. I’d already done two commissions with this theme over the years for different clients; the first one itself was a massive task – a series of eight patterns, same concept, but all different. So this third foray into familiar territory was a big question: how could I do this differently, again, without inherently repeating myself. The client’s brief was really simple: something indigenously Dubai, and totally colourful. I spent even more time researching for this project than I did for both the previous ones combined, and I ended up so inspired that I requested the publisher to let me have a multi-page foldout instead of just a double spread, and they did.
The Uncommon Dubai guidebook – one of Aziza’s favourites.
What is your educational background, and what are you doing currently?
I’m a B.Com. graduate from Sydenham, but I’ve always been interested in art. Mostly self-taught, and because of that, I’m a perpetual student. Over the last few years, I’ve taken short courses in Islamic geometry and traditional Persian illumination, which is a form of floral miniature painting with genuine gold. I’m learning traditional art techniques via brief courses and resource books, that is when I’m not working on digital pattern commissions. Lately I’ve been working towards a few fashion design collaborations, and some merchandising projects as well. I’m also soon going to be participating in my first major group exhibition, for the traditional geometry paintings.
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