I am so excited to interview an artist from a nation I would love to visit. As a school librarian, I have made sure that we have a number of books written by Iranians and/or set in Iran, but today I chat with my second Iranian artist/illustrator, the lovely, Leyla Safa.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[LS] It has been round about four years that I work in the field of illustration. Of course to me, painting has been a pastime and source of sheer delight ever since my childhood days. From 13 years ago onwards, I have gradually taken it more seriously by means of oil paint and copying of the most iconic painters by whom I was captivated. That is how illustration started to take a more active role in my life, and now I can go as far as saying that it is undoubtedly one of the biggest joys and hobbies in my life.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[LS] As far as story writing is concerned, recently after penning a text called “The Cycle of Existence”, I have found a new ray of hope, flame of fair and window of opportunity in a way that now I would like to write more and more again. Being an emotional and imaginative individual, I assume I can fulfil this very task pretty well.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[LS] I live in Iran and my hometown is the city of Tehran, however, I reckon the way my works fall under influence from the environment is rather indirect and implicit. In other words, I attempt to give birth into a novel and dreamy world unlike the real one. A world filled with love and liberation, safety and peace and free of conflicts and violence.
[JM] I love the world you are trying to create, Leyla! What is your preferred medium to work in?
[LS] I would rather work with oil point for this is the color I am quite fond of using and mixing.
[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?
[LS] Some of the themes I tend to apply to my works are as following: Angels, Santa Claus, love and security, liberation and levitation as well as drawing the old costumes, the 19th century style and the early 20th century in Europe and America.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[JM] Can you remember the very first book you bought with your own money as child?
[LS] It was a fun challenge that really occupied and captured my mind. By reviewing a series of memories along with my sister, I remembered buying the first book with my own money. It was a book about a white swan that unfortunately I cannot recall the name.
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[LS] Despite all the shortcomings, I still like my early works which were copies of the works of the most eminent painters in the world, and mind you, I would rather hang them on the wall.
[JM] What makes Iranian literature for children different to the books created with a Western audience in mind?
[LS] Ever since I can remember, I came across the books like “The Little Match Girl”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Cinderella” to name a few and read several stories by Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Dickens. It is worth noting that Iran has a wide range of old, beautiful and original stories that many of them have neither been illustrated nor are children familiar with them as of yet. Such as the beautiful story “Vatama and the Patience Stone” which I have lately illustrated for a Korean publication and I myself had never heard of it before then. I am under the impression that the contrast between the books presently published for kids in Iran and the books published in Europe, the U.S., and even the ancient Iranian stories lie in the current books being more religious in Iran.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?
[LS] If you ask me, “Stourhead” in Wiltshire, England is one of the most stunning parks in the world. I have not yet seen this park up close, but taking a walk in this park is one of my recurrent dreams. Everything is like an animated film and it takes me to the dreamy atmosphere of Cinderella story where the Prince and Cinderella were dancing and strolling over the bridge and in the garden.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[LS] I like them both, but I assume I’d get along better with dogs.
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[LS] Music has a profound and incredible effect on my works in terms of both innovation and inspiration. By means of shutting my eyes and listening to my desired music, I would be able to imagine myself anywhere in the world and beyond. At that very moment, I would be the queen of the earth and capable of ruling the world which is an amusing and uncanny feeling.
[JM] What as your first paid job?
[LS] The very first work I received money for was the illustration of a book called “Let’s go snowball fighting” and it was rather the early days of my career.
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[LS] I like sitting in a coffee shop for hours with the one I love, having coffee and making conversations. Similarly, seeing a cup of coffee or hot tea on my desk and drinking every bit of it can be greatly enjoyable, soothing, and inspiring.
Leyla, thank you so much for sharing your world and work with us today. You’ll be glad to know that I know “Stourhead” in Wiltshire, as I have good friends nearby. I wish you all success as your illustration career evolves.