Duration: Five years.
Location: New York, New York.
Education: Six years in graphic design from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, Turkey.
Career path: My education journey began in 2006 at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, where I studied graphic design—and that’s where I found out that I actually enjoy looking at design more than designing. During my education with design projects, I struggled a lot because all I really wanted to do was draw and create illustrations on my homework. There was no illustration department at Mimar Sinan; the two closest departments you could pick from were the painting department and the graphic design department, and neither of those teaches editorial. That missing piece got my attention, so I decided to leave Turkey and my education behind and move to the United States with my husband.
When I found out about editorial illustration working with newspapers and magazines, it spoke to me. I saw that you could approach a problem with the same mindset that designers approach design problems—except you could solve it by drawing. Whenever I draw for assignments, I still think with a designer’s mind.
When I came to New York, I didn’t have a portfolio, a style or my own voice in which I drew. I looked at many of my illustrator friends’ work first and met them at openings and parties. Thanks to them, today, I can call myself an illustrator and work alongside them. A couple of years after entering competitions and developing my skills, I got my first commission from art director SooJin Buzelli for PLANSPONSOR magazine, and then, my first editorial for the Boston Globe newspaper—with a big thanks to art director Kim Maxwell. I’ll always be grateful to both of them for giving me a chance and believing in me. Then, in 2017, I won my first gold medal in the editorial category of the Society of Illustrators competition for my piece in Nautilus magazine about handwriting’s importance for students. In the following two years, I won two silver medals in the uncommissioned category for personal work. These Society of Illustrators awards—and the juries, to whom I’m grateful—helped me connect with more artists and art directors.
Artistic influences: When I started drawing seriously, my influences came from graphic design. On my own, I somewhat learned how to read an article and take them apart in pieces to study to create something new from them. When I started looking at newspapers carefully, I began wanting to go beyond portraying what was being told in the article directly and come up with forms and ideas in an abstract way with shapes, textures, perspective and compositional arrangements. When my interest in abstract storytelling grew stronger, I started looking at abstract artists: in design, I looked at Bauhaus; in painters, I looked at Wassily Kandinsky, Hilma af Klint, René Magritte and Joan Miró. And now, I love the painters Julie Mehretu and Laura Owens, and I love Italian futurism for the movement and speed in its paintings.
Favorite projects: My cover for Bloomberg Markets magazine, which describes volatility in finance. This illustration represents the direction to where I always wanted to go in illustration. I’m sure that someone who isn’t interested in finance and doesn’t read Bloomberg Markets won’t understand what the cover means—but isn’t that also an issue with some posters made by graphic designers? I enjoyed brainstorming with art director Josef Reyes; he already had some ideas on where to focus and how to approach the story, so it helped me narrow down what to draw. In the end, he wanted me to create an abstract environment without any use of figures.
The piece Time Captured I drew for Socialter magazine. This time, art director Jérémie Martinez let me work on it on my own, letting me trust my own instincts to come up with ideas for the final image. I didn’t want to use any watch faces or anything representing time; instead, I wanted to focus on the feeling of time being captured, like a memory. The hardest part for me was the color palette—as there were so many elements, shapes, and details going on in the illustration, but it looked good in the end. When an art director lets me work freely after agreeing on certain parts, I enjoy it more, and the work turns out better.
Approach: Instead of looking up to other illustrators’ work, I try to find something more interesting beyond the style or hype we see so often. I look at paintings. When I watch movies, I screencap or take photos of interesting compositions in scenes. I explore galleries and museums on the weekends. I find inspiration in nature. Sometimes, I come up with ideas from a leaf’s pattern or tree branches—they create interesting compositions if I think of the lines as arms. I constantly focus on new ideas and methods to tell stories through forms rather than by what narratives say directly.
When I draw my pieces and take them to final, I always use one pencil brush that I love using. Even though the piece is digital, it makes me feel like I work in traditional media. If I have to fill a big background and I’m not tight on time, I color the background with a single brush as small as a pencil tip. But it gives me so much joy to see the texture and everything. Also, in the end, it gives the illustration a more organic feeling rather than a digital look.
Aspirations: I want to do more commercial work, as it’s something I don’t have much experience with. I love editorial, but I think commercial work would be fun to explore, too. Also, a New Yorker cover assignment wouldn’t be so bad! Other than that, I hope I can have gallery shows of my abstract work that I’ve been drawing on wood panels. I also want to teach somewhere here, as I had some opportunities before, but I don’t think I have enough knowledge to pass onto students yet. Or maybe I’m just shy.
Philosophy: Fail many times, but try harder next time with new knowledge. I’m very ambitious, and it sometimes tires me, but I don’t feel any guilt if I fail at something. If it is what I want the most, I always look at it from a different perspective each time and try again. If I didn’t look at my life this way, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I failed to graduate from university in my home country. I moved to the United States with nothing. For a while, I felt like a failure until I found what I wanted to do and pushed beyond it to become an illustrator here. My peers came from good universities and learned from great teachers. I am here on my own. I did it all myself and learned everything on my own to be among all these amazing talents. And I still try and work so hard to be here.