The Bangladesh art and creative scene is still nascent – with society still raising eyebrows at it for being taken up as a valid career path by the country’s dynamic youth.
Those who could meet such gazes upfront and stand up to the challenge have today garnered a name for themselves within this eclectic industry. An inspiring story is shared by the self-taught graphic designer Sharara Zaheen, who followed her hunches to establish herself in this competitive field.
What budded by creating cards and mehendi (henna) designs eventually translated into a full-blown career in the graphic and communication design space. Childhood doodles translated into mature illustrations and henna application skills gave birth to elaborate and intricate mandala designs – so much so that Sharara gave up on her lifelong dream of becoming an architect.
One single stunt of designing a logo for a friend led to months of freelance projects for various brands. And after graduating in Marketing and Communication from one of the best business schools in Bangladesh, Sharara decided to merge her passion for art and interest in business to discover the perfect area for her, i.e. branding.
Many diverse work experiences that included visual identity design, pattern design, wall murals, illustrations, product design, jewellery design, kiosk design, folk art illustrations, etc., honed Sharara to develop versatile skills which broadened her client base. Today, Sharara is a full-time Team Lead of Brand Communications at one of Bangladesh’s biggest travel platforms as well as an independent creative consultant, illustrator and designer.
Apparel Resources gets candid with this promising young artist to unravel her unique journey, how she created a niche for herself in an uncharted territory, and her knack for acing graphic design projects in the industry today.
What has your professional journey been like? What was your first job and how did the idea of your ‘own practice’ come into being?
Sharara: My professional journey has somewhat been very unorthodox. It was totally based on trial and error.
I started off with freelancing, and my first job was writing content for Amazon websites where I’d get paid US $ 5 per article. Few projects later, I decided to use my drawings skills to create things; I can promise I had no idea what I was doing, but that made me work even harder and made me confident of my abilities. That’s how every project I took on, not only made my portfolio better, but also gave me enough skills to compete with established people within the industry.
I learnt from my father that ‘there’s always a backdoor to your dream’ and I think I have followed that into my career. I didn’t end up becoming an architect, but I ended up using the same passion and skills for something broader – the scope of work is a hundred times greater on this path.
Your work emits a raw yet refined and provocative vibe – something that stands out from other voices in the space. How would you describe your signature aesthetic?
Sharara: I have worked on a lot of diverse projects in my creative career. My aesthetic is very hard to define as I don’t confine myself to one particular part of art genre. I like to explore various art styles and mishmash them with my flair to present them to the world. Sometimes they are horrible, and sometimes I have a masterpiece in front of me (chuckles).Upon first view, it may seem like I have no signature style as opposed to other creative professionals, but I like to see diversity in my work as a strength.
The roots of my creativity stem from the cultural aesthetics of our region (Alpona/ Mandala/Jamdani/Geometric motifs, etc.). I also love to take inspirations from my heritage and surroundings. I feel this is the differentiating factor between my work and others in the market. Going forward though, I do hope to settle into a single identity/style.
What are some of the projects that you really enjoy doing and why? Describe a few projects that got your creative juices flowing.
Sharara: I have done many projects with the food and beverage industry in Bangladesh. The restaurant business has been booming for a while and the demand for creativity in this area is huge. There has always been a demand for out-of-the-box design in packaging, branding and interiors.
I have worked on many Digital Wall murals too; my specialty in this genre of work is the marriage between art and branding. I really enjoy doing that because it helps me nurture both my educational background and passion at the same time. However, I love to take on projects that I have no experience in, in order to challenge myself as an artist. Such projects really help me push my boundaries.
What is the most important way to engage the consumers today and spread word about your work?
Sharara: In this particular field of work, networking is really important – and not in the shallow sense of the word. People generally like to give work that has no quantifiable value, to people who they can trust and understand, and this, I believe is the key to engaging and retaining consumers.
Social media plays a huge role as well. In my experience, being at the top-of-the-mind of your followers/friends and engaging with them on social platforms is extremely important.
Your audience should be able to feel that they are a part of your creative processes. This creates an amazing connection between your work and the people who appreciate your work, and for an artist, it is very impactful.
What is your take on the graphic design industry in Bangladesh today?
Sharara: I have experienced the boom of this industry first-hand – it has grown and saturated exponentially in the last few years. Western countries outsourcing from Bangladesh have helped the development of several freelance designers in the country. The local demand for graphic work isn’t any less – there’s a tough competition amongst design agencies and we see an increasing number of people joining this profession. This is encouraging innovation and making professionals step out of their comfort zones.
How did you get your first client? What was your first project like?
Sharara: My first project was for a local band that asked me to create an album art for them. These clients were my acquaintances who, at the time, were seeking a different creative expression than what was available in the market. It was a fun project wherein I promised to deliver an album art, when I had no skills in album art design altogether!
It was after this project that I realised I was capable of doing things I thought I couldn’t. That gave a huge boost to my confidence and inspired me to take on a lot more diverse work. The more projects I took on, the more I grew.
How can ‘creatives’ who are starting their own practice negotiate and ask for a fair price for their work? What would your advice be to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter this field?
Sharara: Sometimes, bad experiences can be the best teachers and that is how I learnt the importance of negotiation in this field. Albeit tricky and intimidating, I learnt to value my work, effort and time that I devote to clients’ projects and not be ashamed of asking a fair remuneration.
Also, a developed portfolio favours the negotiation towards your side. My advice would be – start off small. Even doing few free/goodwill-based projects add to your portfolio, which, in the long run, help support higher rate claims.
I think if a young entrepreneur finds himself or herself on this path and it is something that they really enjoy doing, they should definitely pursue it. But the best results come from patience and understanding your own strengths and using them in your work.
“Art is something you make for yourself – it can serve no purpose. Design is something that’s built for a purpose and has a lot of expectations linked to it. An idea in business that is built to serve a purpose is a good design – a design that serves a business entity. Understanding the client’s needs and expectations is the most important thing for a creative business to work.”
Take us through your design process. What are your go-to design softwares?
Sharara: For most projects, I like to go with the following steps back and forth:
- Pitch/receive a briefing.
- Add my insights and have an open conversation with my clients to understand their needs and expectations.
- Quote my remuneration, negotiate, and do relevant paper work (work orders, contracts, etc.).
- Ask for an advance and start the work. I often provide a WIP for the clients to experience and add their inputs.
- Ensure the feedback is translated to match client expectations.
- Delivery and further support is assured from my side.
- Receive remainder payment thereafter.
I use an iPad Pro and a PC for designing. For most of the graphic work, I start off by drawing elements in Sketchbook Pro, post which I import the elements and digitise them for various uses on my PC using Adobe Suites.
Name a few creatives whose work you admire and why?
Sharara: I admire Yayoi Kusama for her work in the fashion industry and surrealism, and Van Gogh for the same reason.
I love to follow, and also admire the work of Satoshi Kon, Miyazaki, Taika Waititi, Wes Anderson, Junji Ito, and many more storytellers. I feel they have mastered creativity and the connection between art and human emotions – this is something I hope to achieve one day.
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