Hajar Alqadi is an Egyptian interior designer and artist based in Abu Dhabi whose versatile style ranges from minimalist one-line drawings to dreamy digital collages mixed with acrylic paint blending impressionism, portraiture and Arabic calligraphy, architecture, horses, and motifs.
Creativity Undefined spoke with Hajar about her artistic evolution, her current art and design projects (one is a palace!) and her top three simple DIY interior design tips to create a comfortable and productive home office/studio work environment.
Tell us about your artistic journey. What is your earliest memory of creating art and how did you become the artist/interior designer you are now?
Art runs inside me from an early age. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was very young. When I look back earlier in elementary school, high school, or college, I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t working on some sort of artistic project. I used to spend long periods of time alone in my childhood just doing collage, arts, crafts, and expressing my feelings in my coloured pencil sketches.
I studied Interior Design and Fine Art at university in Egypt which I really loved!
I worked as a designer after graduation and was dreaming of becoming a famous designer in the UAE and the Middle East one day. By this time, my artwork was only a hobby.
When I turned 30, I found myself inside my artwork more than any time before. Later on, I made a decision to build my artwork step by step towards a scaling business beside my full-time job. I wasn’t surprised that I wanted to become a full-time artist after exploring my creativity.
“I always have music playing in the studio. It directs some of my brush movements and the rhythm and flow of my lines. I didn’t want the paintings to be viewed in silence. I wanted them to be seen as they were in the studio, with sound and noise, for the paintings to have full feeling and come to life.”
How would you describe your style? Who/What are your greatest influences and how did you develop your style?
My style is a mix between abstract and Impressionist art.
Most of my artwork is about my perception of the subject matter rather than the subject matter itself. I believe that sometimes the beauty of storytelling is in the subjective and other times it’s more representational, hence it could either be based on a subject or have no source at all in the external world. Art sometimes is better when it’s coming from my unconscious mind and varies based on my moods.
I enjoy looking back at the masters and learning more from the way they worked. A few favorites would have to be Matisse (for use of colour and mark-making), Van Gogh (for experiments and brushwork), Cezanne (for use of colour and subjects), and Picasso (for work ethic and mark-making).
I used to do black and white drawings. I loved building sculptured drawings and I explored a lot of my creative practices in black and white, ink calligraphy, and one line art drawing for a few years. I was really representing my true self in black and white specially one line art – all of them were taking me back to my old memories/nostalgia, and the colours here can be dark, desolate, moody, wild. Then I felt the need to discharge all my negative energy out. This is why I started my abstract and impressionist acrylic art paintings at that time to gravitate towards brighter colours to inject some colour into my world!
Some of your more complex paintings are a dreamy mix of portraiture, abstract landscapes, seascapes, horses, and calligraphy. What do you call this series and what media did you use?
It is known as a digital collage mixed with acrylic paint. I am often using horses in my digital art as they represent our Arabic culture in a desert environment as well as courage and boldness. I also find it fascinating that they’re one of the most popular things that humans have captured artistically, starting from cave paintings to paintings and sculptures, since they were considered as sacred beings. As for myself, equestrianship is one of my favourite sports. I see the horse as one of my favourite animals in my jungle book!
I use different media based on the specialty, but I mainly use Illustrator, Corel Paint and Photoshop for digital art creation. Then after printing on canvas I add mixed brush strokes of acrylic paint to project all the details.
How has life as an expat influenced your art and creative process?
My life as an expat in Abu Dhabi influenced me with both Islamic architecture and Arabian architecture. UAE has a rich culture and heritage that reflects traditional Arab and Islamic values. My artworks reflect the environment, traditional lifestyles and people’s customs, the desert, camels, horses, and Arabic calligraphy. Let me tell you that art is a means of imitating life regardless of what genre or form the artist uses. Consequently, my life here in Abu Dhabi adds flavour to every brush stroke, keystroke, or stroke of a pen in my artwork.
Pragmatically, my art would also be influenced by my life as an expat. I’m thinking particularly about emotions and how I really go through rough times in my loneliest times here. This leads me to produce various art even more than when life is more stable.
What hidden gems should people know about in the UAE’s arts community?
There are several art galleries, art districts and art museums in the cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Today, the UAE is emerging as an international hub for promoting art and culture. The UAE is a venue for several art and literature exhibitions and festivals.
Is there a painting you would never part with? If so, which one is it and why?
Yes, this one (above) because I can remember how each line was coming from deep inside my soul. I was thinking of changing my life and following my dreams of being a well-known artist and that my art should be shown to everyone and not only at home. That’s why I created each leaf on the flowers as if I was creating my action plan for my dream – step by step.
Looking back, what was your greatest achievement and your greatest challenge? Why?
My greatest professional achievement was work[ing ]on being a well-recognized artist while working daily more than 10 office hours as an interior designer, and my greatest challenge is to keep going to pursue my dream through building my brand not only in the UAE but also in the Middle East.
Is there anything that you would’ve done differently or wished had happened differently? What? Why?
Actually, I wish I could have started my own [art] business earlier.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Has that changed since the pandemic hit last year? Why or why not?
I am inspired by so many things! I believe inspiration comes from many diﬀerent things, beautiful views, music, poetry, books and fairy tales, a lush countryside view, cosy cuppas while it rains outside…but mostly nature and culture. Those are probably the driving force to what I find inspirational.
How do you overcome artist’s block?
I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t working on some sort of artistic project. I did, however, struggle with that dreaded artistic self-doubt for quite a while. While it’s a wonderful thing to be self-motivated, I believe external encouragement can really help an artist blossom. I think that was the turning point for me when I started taking my art more seriously. I am grateful to my friend, Jovana, who helped me to develop the skills and confidence I needed to believe more in myself as a professional artist. Thanks, Jovana!
Who would you jump at the chance to collaborate with, if given the chance? Why?
I absolutely love Van Gogh – he was such a dreamer, wasn’t he? I also love Klimt. He created the most magical pieces.
The pandemic’s had a lasting impact on everyone. What was the biggest adjustment that you’ve had to make?
I just have this constant fear of losing someone again especially after losing my father.
“Some of my famous pieces, including one featuring Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed quotes during the pandemic.”
Do you think that you’ll maintain any changes once things return to normal? If yes, what and why? If no, why?
No, I don’t think. For me, here in UAE they can manage everything. Even during the lockdown there was control so it never affected our work progress. We surely have to acknowledge the UAE frontline warriors. It is a story of the human spirit and commitment from individuals and institutions. A commitment that made everyone stronger because of the support we received from all levels, especially the leadership. A spirit kindled by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
What shifts have you observed from creatives? Will these last beyond the pandemic? Why or why not?
I started digital collage which gave me the advantage of technological advancements to create freedom of creative expression. As a creative person, I love the use of paint and mixed media as a form of self-expression and communication. There are so many options out there to help you out and allow you to express yourself artistically.
Yes, it will last beyond the pandemic because digital painting techniques take time and need more practice to master. You need time to select your digital painting software. It can be a program on a computer or a tablet app which means that I had to check many apps and programs while I was working and going out. I couldn’t find enough time for that. During the pandemic, especially in isolation when I caught COVID-19, I found more time to practice and explore the digital painting world.
Transitioning to working from home has been a huge change for many. What are your top 3 easy DIY interior design tips for people who need to create a small home office/studio space?
Fill your space with items you love. Stay in a place that feels welcoming and you enjoy spending time in. Add personal items like photographs or items you value. Try things like lighting a candle while you’re working to improve the atmosphere and the existing energy. Surrounding yourself with a room or space that evokes happiness will keep you motivated and inspired, allowing you to do your best and master your work.
2- Have storage to keep the paperwork hidden
No matter where your home office is in the house, it’s crucial to have enough storage space to keep all the work materials. That way, at the end of the day or when you are done your mind won’t stay focused on the work. We need to leave the office mentally and enjoy personal time without being bombarded with work.
3- Invest in a quality chair
And by quality, I mean one that will provide comfort as you will be sitting on it for a long period of time. Today there are many ergonomic chair choices that are not only created for comfort but are also aesthetically pleasing. Ensure that your desk serves you for the tasks that you need to perform. Consider what you will need to have on your desk and that your work surface is large and wide enough to accommodate everything.
What are you currently working on? Can you share some details about some upcoming projects?
- As a designer:
I am working on a new palace. It’s a huge building which can give me a chance to fly with my creation. I’ve incorporated a blend of classical design using Islamic patterns with a modern twist, and my favourite part is the water jet fountain that uses different marble patterns.
- As an artist:
- I am currently working on Danat Al Emarat Hospital for Women and Children in Abu Dhabi, and the artwork includes 300+ pcs between digital art and acrylic paintings.
- An upcoming project is Mediclinic City Hospital and the artwork is mainly acrylic art painting on canvas.
What is your dream interior design project?
My dream project could be something like designing my own art university and providing full scholarships for the talented kids who can’t afford to enrol and study at this university.
I want to give them the space and chance to represent themselves.
What advice would you share with anyone starting out that you wished someone had told you?
To create for yourself and for nobody else! It’s challenging while creating something as we naturally want our work to be well received and liked. However, there is the concern that we might end up creating what others like instead of what our truth is, and that can be really stiﬂing and detrimental as an artist. The advice of creating for ourselves is a piece of advice I always try to hold at the forefront of my mind – it’s so important to be true to ourselves when we create as this is our form of self-expression!
What’s the WORST piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
Getting married at an early age. We have to know [ourselves] deeply and achieve a milestone in our dreams before we share our life with any other different mind. Especially here in the Middle East, some men are not open-minded enough to encourage their ladies’ dreams.
What’s a goal that you hope to achieve, personally and professionally, in the next five years?
To have my own brand as one of the bespoke trademarks in the art and digital art fields within the UAE and the Middle East.