There’s no such thing as being bad at drawing: an interview to Sibba Hartunian

Bad at Drawing is about the process. You already know that. When I started I had a lot of questions in mind – how do you develop your own style? How do you achieve a satisfying creative process? Am I the only one struggling to create? – and I thought writing my own experience would be a good way to start giving some answers. Until I felt ready to turn my questions to someone else.

That moment has arrived. Today I’m publishing the first interview to an illustrator here on the blog. Let me introduce you to Sibba Hartunian. We’ve been following each other on Instagram for a while (years, actually) and I saw her developing her own style (although she says she doesn’t really think she has one) through illustrations, books, and zines (zines that have been recently featured on It’s Nice That). Her experiments with collage, pencils, gesture, paintbrush are something that inspires me very much for their freedom and originality. I asked her to give me a little insight of her work and here’s what she told me.


Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? When did you decide you would become an illustrator?

I was born in Los Angeles, and after living in a few different cities in the US, settled down in New York about five years ago. I have always been into art and drawing (my mom is an artist) but started to take it more seriously as a career just a couple years ago.

How does the creative process work for you?

It depends on what I’m working on. If it’s a children’s book I usually start with the text then go back and forth between text and images. There’s a lot of planning involved. The zines happen a lot more organically. I’ll usually think of a topic or theme and just start drawing whatever comes to mind.





What do you do when you get stuck?

Sometimes I force myself to just keep going but I’ve realized that I usually just get more frustrated. I think it’s good to take breaks and do something else to give your brain a rest and restart.

Among your works, what’s the project or the illustration you’re more proud of?

This is a very hard question! I’m not sure. Possibly my two latest zines: Sharks and Snakes because they were the most fun to make. I thoroughly enjoyed the process from start to finish: drawing, printing, and binding the books. I think creating something “just for me” also lessened the pressure and allowed me to enjoy the process more fully.





Your style is quite experimental. What do you enjoy most of it and what’s the hardest part of it?

I actually can’t really pinpoint my style (maybe it’s harder to notice in one’s own work). I think I am always trying new methods and media. I would say that is my favorite part – experimenting and trying new things. But that is also the hardest part! Sometimes it’s hard to get focused and settle on a “style.” But maybe that’s not important anyway.

If you could come back to when you started working as an illustrator and you could give your younger self a piece of advice what would that be?

It wasn’t that long ago so probably the same advice I would give myself now! To loosen up and enjoy the process instead of focusing on the end result or how you want an image to end up looking.





Your favourite subject to draw?

I really love drawing people and animals.  I love trying to capture the individual personality or character of each person/animal.

Is there anything you can’t draw or you don’t like drawing at all?
Hmm not really.  Maybe it’s the teacher in me but I don’t think there’s a such thing as being bad at drawing! I don’t think things necessarily have to look realistic for them to be good. Everyone has their own way of interpreting what they see. If I had to choose my biggest challenge though I would have to say it is coming up with interesting compositions.
style, Work

Does creative process always have to be painful?

Every time I start working on a new project I hope my creative process will work differently than it did for the previous one. I hope ideas will come smoothly and in abundance. I hope I will follow all working phases consciously and without panic. I hope I will get to the final goal with elegance and self-confidence like an expert climber gets to the top of a mountain without any trace of strain nor sweat. I wish all these things all the times and each time I am disappointed.

My creative process is painful. And by this I mean it’s a workflow where phases of great enthusiasm (there are, of course) alternate with phases of despair and panic. Sketches are abruptly torn, thrown into the bin and dig up the day after. I spend hours – sometimes days – begging for a good idea, I panic when I don’t see it, I watch my previous works wondering where on earth I found the skills to make them – and where are those skills right now? I cry, not always, but sometimes I do. And the reason isn’t that I’m creating something deeply emotional, but because I’m frightened I will never make it.





It happens all the times. Then each time, right after the biggest crisis, something happens and I make it. It’s usually a matter of cleaning the table where I work and going through all the sketches I’ve made. With renewed rationality, what looked like a chaotic set of doodles just a minute before, suddenly becomes a good idea. THE idea. The time to finish the work is then ridiculous compared to the time spent to get there. I complete the project. I am relieved.





Since, as I said, this process repeats every time I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my creative process. Even the images you’re seeing in this post (a little series for the Italian clothes brand Salomè) went through these phases. From a rational point of view, I know there’s nothing weird in the way I process ideas. Afterall I start with a brainstorming, I put my ideas on paper, first quite freely, then in a more selective way. It takes time, of course, and some thinking. Rationally I have nothing to object to my creative process. But emotionally there’s so much I wish I was able to control in a different way.





And here I come to the question I’m asking in the title: is creative process always painful? Is it a matter of personality, experience, confidence? Does it improve with time or do I have to accept the fact that there will always be some struggle?



I don’t have any answers but I do have some good reads on creative process I’d like to share with you. My favorites:

  • this recent post by Valentina Solfrini on her blog Hortus (love the part where she explains crisis)
  • this post by LJ (yo!) from Superlatively Rude – I’m going to repeat “Your story is not ready for you to worry about yet” as a mantra
  • the comic by Giulia Sagramola published on Illustratore Italiano last issue, such a true story
  • I love reading artist’s biographies, my favorite so far is Picasso by Gertrude Stein (here in English, here the edition I have at home in Italian) – it was relieving reading about Picasso’s research for his own voice.