Creator Spotlight: Tariq Monther

Credit: Tariq Monther

Tariq’s a man of multiple talents: artist, podcaster, streamer, tech enthusiast, and gaming fanatic.

He’s been steadily building his presence in the indie community through his artwork and has recently taken things to the next level by combining his passions in unexpected ways, such as streaming his creative process on Twitch.

Creativity Undefined spoke to Tariq about his enthusiam for mandalas, exploring the slightly unbeaten path, and supporting the UAE’s indie creative community.

So, tell us about yourself!

Hello everyone! My name is Tariq Monther, but you can call me Tim. I’m Syrian but was born and raised and completed my studies in the UAE. I’m into tech news and gadgets, I like to listen to a variety of music genres, when I have the time I do enjoy binging on some shows as well as playing some video games, and ever since I was a kid, I always had a thing for drawing and creating art.

Let’s talk about your artistic journey. What was your earliest memory?

I remember experimenting a lot with art when I was a child, and my parents were of course very supportive. Oddly enough, one of the earliest things I remember doing consistently was doodling symmetrical ornaments and patterns.
I remember at a very young age having drawn a piano that I saw somewhere, and it caught my grandmother’s attention because I was able to draw it with an accurate perspective and depth which seems to have been uncommon for children my age. She was actually the very first person to ever pay me for my art when I was only 12; she wanted me to decorate a piece of art paper she had with my symmetrical drawings.

Beyond that, I have self-taught myself graphic design in high school, in university I got into character design (as does anyone who starts watching a lot of anime), then a couple of years after graduating with a degree in Mass Communications and having worked in the advertising industry, I signed up at the Cartoon Network Animation Academy for a 16-month training program in traditional frame by frame animation and the production workflow. It was at that time that I briefly got into chibi art and started exhibiting at Comic Con. I never ended up working in a creative field and sadly, I went through a very long period where I just haven’t drawn anything, but during the lockdown I picked up my tablet and started doing mandala art which then lead me to streaming it on Twitch, and here we are.

Credit: Tariq Monther

Looking back, is there anything that you’d change, if given the chance?

That’s a tough question to answer as I believe that most of the time things do happen for a reason, it’s just a matter of having the perspective or patience to seeing how connected some events are. Having said that, if I was given the chance I would definitely go back and get more training and development in the basics of art and figure drawing as it is quite the challenge for me to get some stuff from my head on to a piece of paper. I’ve never studied art or got training in it before, it was always a hobby of mine that I practiced doing on my own. The training we got at the academy revolved more about animating one’s drawings and the principles behind that, but we didn’t focus much developing each of our art styles, so it would have been awesome if I had been more developed artistically before I started.

Your designs are gorgeous! What inspired you to start drawing mandalas and why did you choose them?

Thank you! As I mentioned before, one of the earliest memories I had was with drawing symmetrical patterns. They were much simpler and just used vertical symmetry (so things were mirrored left and right), but it was all done by hand and on paper.

A few years ago, I actually created my first set of mandalas when I was checking out some drawing apps on my tablet. I remember seeing someone online creating some art using a symmetry tool that is found in these apps, and I recalled then that I used to do something similar when I was younger, so I got curious. It was a one-time thing that I worked on and I planned on framing them and gifting them to my mom. They’re still hanging on her living room wall and even today it puts a smile on my face.

I started drawing mandalas almost exactly a year ago because I realized that it has been a couple of years since I actually created something consistently. Ask any artist, they’ll let you know that It’s a terrible feeling to have the urge to create but not be able to. I recalled how “easy” and fun it was to create that first set of mandalas I did for my mom, so I decided to revisit that, and I’m glad I did.

How long does it take you to complete one? Do you plan the pattens out beforehand or do you freestyle?

If I’m not live on Twitch where I might start talking to people and losing track of time, then I can get one down in about 20 to 30 minutes. The longest I’ve ever spent on a single mandala while streaming was about an hour and a half. I don’t plan the patterns in advance; it’s all freestyled and happens on the go. Sometimes as the mandala is developing, I’ll plan on the spot what the next stroke or two should be, but generally speaking it all starts with no plan or vision.

What’s the first one that you drew? How was the process and how long did it take?

The first one that I drew was on the tablet, and I believe it took a little bit longer to complete compared to the rest as I was figuring out my style.

The thing with drawing these mandalas on a tablet or PC while using programs like Procreate and Photoshop is that they have the tools that allow you to draw symmetrical patterns, so the challenge of precision was already taken care of for me. The real challenge was figuring out my own unique style of drawing mandalas in a way that they would still look intricate and appealing.

What’s the most intricate one you’ve done? What challenges did you face creating it and how did you overcome them?

The most intricate mandalas I created are probably the largest ones. I wanted to design a custom desk pad for my desk at home, so I ended up drawing three different pieces, each being about 35 by 15 inches big (normally mandalas end up being about 10×10 or 12×12 inches). The biggest challenge was filling up the never-ending gaps and coming up with different shapes. Each one of those took well over two hours to complete. Unfortunately, I just never had any one of them printed in the end because I couldn’t make up my mind on which to pick lol.

Credit: Tariq Monther

Which design are you proudest of? Why?

I like them all equally, but there are several that I’m really proud of, each for their own reason. The desk pads I designed I was very proud of because it was a personal achievement of mine to draw something that intricate on that scale.

There’s also a piece I did back in November that I called Preach which I really like because of how well the colors all just blended together, specially on the black background that I typically draw all my mandalas on.

There are other ones that I’m proud of because instead of drawing a mandala in an abstract shape, I instead drew objects using mandala designs.

Is there a dream design that you hope to create? What? Why?

I’d like to be able to develop a method or way where I can draw people or objects using mandalas, similar to what I shared in the previous question. Right now, I’m honing in on a certain way to do it, but so far it works really well when there aren’t many details in the original drawing. The reasons are because it would be both challenging and creatively rewarding.

We’ve noticed that you sometimes branch out into other designs. Is that something that you’ll explore further? Why?

I’ve always done a little bit of this and a little bit of that and I never stuck to one thing for too long, which is something I would love to change about myself. While the occasional artist’s block is to blame sometimes, I don’t want to just stick to one thing and one thing only; I can’t stop my curiosity. I want to be able to do several things concurrently without having to drop one thing for the other. I guess that’s something that I’ll need to work on for the future.

You’ve mentioned that some designs are made in “featuring” others. Does that mean that some designs are made with collaborators? If yes, can you please describe the process?

This is actually a fun thing that I do on Twitch. So, my mandalas are typically made using two colors; a primary color that I start the drawing with, and then an accent color that I use to fill in the gaps and add more details. What I will have people on Twitch do is pick my accent color. Some people take it very seriously and put a lot of effort to pick a color that would work well with the primary one. This accent color then becomes the primary color of the next mandala I draw.

It’s a very fun little engaging thing that I do and people tend to like it. So, when I post some of those on Instagram, I give them credit by “featuring” them.

How is that experience? Do you work out some details before starting or do you just wing it? If no, then can you please explain what that means?

This happens on the spot while I’m live on Twitch and if there’s anyone around. If someone is new, I tend to give them priority to pick the color, or if there are only the regular viewers then I have them vote on who gets to pick the color next. What’s really interesting is that out of the dozens of times I’ve done this, I can honestly say that just one time the colors did not work together. I guess there’s a little bit of artist in everyone.

Would you consider doing a collaboration with multiple people, whether on a Twitch stream or elsewhere? Why?

I would be very happy to collaborate with others! One of the things that I really enjoyed about the Cartoon Network Animation Academy and about exhibiting at Comic Con is the sense of community and camaraderie between everyone.

I would love to be able to work with someone because when you do, you get to see your own art in a different way or sometimes even in a different medium, and it can be a good learning experience. It’s a like listening to a mashup or a remix of your favourite song.

Have you ever considered moving beyond the digital realm into physical designs, merchandise, etc.? Why?

Ever since my first exhibit at Comic Con, I’ve always thought about merchandise. It’s really nice to see someone appreciate your art enough to wear it on their chest!

It’s important for artists to know early on if what they’re going to work on will eventually end up being merchandise or not, as it determines their workflow and will save them time and effort in the end.

For me, I treat every drawing as a potential merchandise, so whether I’m drawing something on Twitch or if I’m just passing the time, then I need to make sure that the canvas I’m drawing on is big and detailed enough to be printed on any material, and I also need to prepare my files in a way so that it’ll be easy to get them printed. I actually automated this process so that from each drawing I have I can quickly generate a high resolution image with the solid background, a lower resolution image that I would use on social media or my website, and a high resolution image on a transparent background that I need when printing the designs.

I actually do have an online store that I just very recently finished working on. I will start updating with new mandalas frequently to keep the design selections fresh.

Twitch is usually known as a gaming streaming platform. Why did you decide to stream yourself drawing?

Actually, I started streaming the game Borderlands 3 and was planning on just doing that, however after a couple of months I wanted to try streaming some art and people really got into it. I started phasing out Borderlands bit by bit until ultimately my channel was an art channel.

Twitch is predominantly a gaming streaming platform, yes, however there are a lot of people that stream art on it, so it wasn’t really that farfetched, and I started following a lot of them after I started streaming art.

What has been your experience on it as an artist? Do you think that it offers a supportive environment for communities that aren’t gaming-focused? Why?

Twitch is so big that I think if you stream any kind of content, you’ll find somebody who’s accepting of it. My experience so far has been pleasant, I don’t have a big audience but those who do come end up staying for a while or coming back again. I made it a point to have my streams be a chill experience. Watching colorful symmetry happening on screen with some very soothing lofi music in the background was something that a lot of my viewers were vocal about how much they enjoyed it.

Are there other platforms that you feel are supportive of artists? Which ones and why?

On paper any social media platform is great for artists; you get a profile where you can showcase your art and engage with like-minded artists as well as fans of your work. Instagram is obviously the place to be as an artist and I know a lot of them who basically use their Instagram account as their portfolio.

There are other artist-centric platforms out there like DeviantArt and Artfol which are also focused on building your own community. DeviantArt is probably the largest one as it has launched over two decades ago, and Artfol is under two years old and is an independently funded project, so there’s still quite a lot to be done, however I like the idea of a social networking platform dedicated to artists.

What more do you think can be done?

The struggle that every artist will feel if they’re just starting out is discovery. Some are able to gain a lot of traction early on and that helps them build their following and get more eyeballs on their work and ultimately get paid gigs or sponsorships. That journey is one hell of a ride and sometimes with no clear destination in the end, and it’s one of the things that I know discourages a lot of people from putting their work out there because they don’t get to see any instant results.

It would be great if there are more platforms, both online and offline, that are focused on putting the spotlight on such talents that haven’t found their way yet (such as this one). Other than recognition, there’s a lot of benefit that comes from something like that such as networking and collaborating with others in your space.

Let’s pivot to your podcast for a bit.  What inspired you to start it?

I was actually working on reviving an old and very short-lived tech YouTube channel that I started a couple of years ago when I got the idea to start the podcast. The plan I had for the channel was to actually prepare a few episodes in advance so that when I do launch it I would already have some content in my back pocket that I can publish if I’m ever behind on schedule. Part of that planning process was preparing the scripts for these episodes, and one night when I was thinking of the amount of work I would need to record and edit these videos, it just hit me that since I do have the scripts ready, why not use them for an audio-only podcast? I did it on a whim and I definitely wasn’t prepared for it, but I knew that it was something that I had to start doing right then and there, otherwise I would drop the idea and never do it.

It’s a very different side of you, compared to your artist account. Why did you choose to focus on tech and gaming?

I love tech and gadgets and always have. I’m constantly following up on the latest news and I follow all the big tech YouTubers and always thought about doing something like that myself. Other than the old channel that I created a couple of years ago, I did have a series of episodes that I created for the Mohtawa platform from Abu Dhabi Media, and I had a blog at some point in the past, but that wasn’t very active.

As for video games, I’m a casual gamer but I do enjoy the gaming culture. The plan to do a weekly gaming news show on my podcast came to be from the idea that it’s something I can do perpetually as long as there’s news about the video game industry. I also thought that listeners might enjoy listening to a conversation between two people rather than just one person speaking out loud. I’ve had many long conversations in the past with my friend and co-host Fadi about the video game industry, so it just felt right to ask him to do the Gaming Weekly show with me, and it has been a great journey so far.

How has the experience been since you started? Did you face any challenges? How did you overcome them?

I had some challenges here and there, and I’m still learning about podcasting in general. I had no proper previous experience in it but to me that was part of the fun; getting to learn about this industry as I make my way through it. Trial and error is one my learning tools. I had some audio trouble at first, but a few YouTube videos and a lot of research later, I feel like I figured out what I need to buy and do to make sure I sound somewhat decent at the very least. I never publicised my podcast on social media, even though I have produced nearly 50 episodes at this point with over 20 of them being from the Gaming Weekly show, but I’m making some changes in that regards and I am now ready to be more proactive with promoting my work.

Have you achieved any milestones – or are there any milestones that you hope to achieve? What are they and why?

Not sure if I can get into any details at this point, but I recently got contacted by a group that wants to work with us and even help promote us. To me this is quite the milestone and an achievement that I’m very proud of. I aspired to be at a stage where businesses would want to work with me, but I never thought it would be so soon, so I must be doing something right. There are some milestones that would typically have to come first which I haven’t achieved yet and is why this kind of feels like a lucky break, so I’m very grateful for it and I look forward to the opportunity. Other than that, I do want to be able to build a community around the work that I do, be it streaming, the podcast, or my Instagram art account.

What do you think of the UAE/GCC/Middle East podcasting community? What are the issues currently being faced and how do you think they can be resolved?

I wish I can answer this question but seeing how I just started out a few months ago and I did it all by myself, I don’t feel comfortable talking about the podcasting community as I don’t think I can yet represent what people have gone through in that industry. However, I imagine discoverability is a problem that podcasters in this region are facing just because I feel that there aren’t that many that have “made it”. Everyone I know who listens to podcasts usually listens to the western ones, which I believe is indicative of the number of podcasters we have in the region and more specifically, the reach that they have.

What more can be done, especially in the UAE, to highlight and support the podcasting community?

All it takes to solve this problem and change people’s perceptions of local podcasts (or even awareness of their existence) is shining a light on them. I think if someone out there with a big enough following can start spreading the word about the small unknown podcasts (not ones started by already well-established media personalities or celebrities), that would really help develop the industry as a whole and make it easier for people to consider browsing what is available or even starting their own.

What trends have you noticed occurring over the past year, whether as an artist, podcaster, or both and what do you think of them? Do you think these are permanent? Why?

The biggest trend for me was working from home, and thankfully it was something I was able to manage from the very beginning and it had no negative impact on our productivity. Being able to work at my own pace meant that I was able to organize my time better and be able to give enough focus on my own personal projects like my art and my podcast. It also meant that I could take small breaks to spend some time with the family or help out with some stuff and errands.

Personally, I don’t think I would have started streaming or podcasting if it wasn’t for the fact that I was stuck at home. Perhaps I wouldn’t have even started drawing mandalas either. It’s a cliché answer but there’s a lot of truth in it.

Credit: Tariq Monther

Who is your dream person to collaborate with on your artistic work? What about interviewing on your podcast? Why?

There’s no specific person in mind but I would love to collaborate with fellow artists in the region! As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed being at Comic Con with fellow artists I appreciate that sense of community, even if it was for a few days. I actually have a collage of art from people I met at Comic Con that I dedicated a whole wall in my room for. It’s also where I keep all my geeky collectibles and figurines. I’m quite proud of how it turned out!

For the podcast, I would really like to start interviewing people in the tech and video games industries. I also have an idea to interview smaller content creators and artists, give them a platform to speak out and tell their stories. I would love to give back to the community, however I need to work on myself first to make my platform something that can benefit others.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years? Why?

I hope to be able to build a sustainable platform and community revolving around the things I like doing and enjoy talking about. I want to keep getting challenged and overcome those challenges to deliver something better every year. Ultimately, I would love to turn these and other projects I have in mind into profit-making ventures and just live off of the work that I really enjoy doing.

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