Fast Five: Illustrator Gizem Vural


I’ve had my eye on Gizem Vural’s work for a little while now. I first stumbled upon the Istanbul-born illustrator’s Instagram page about a year or so ago—back when she went by the handle Little Teashi—and was immediately struck not just by her expressive, sketchy style but her amazing knack for creatively solving problems and telling stories.

Featuring signature abstract characters and dreamlike worlds carved out both in pencil and digitally, Vural’s vibrant and emotional work is distinctly hers. It’s a style born of her childhood love of art; a love for legendary Eastern European poster artists like Jerzy Flisak and Karel Vaca; and an unyielding urge to spend much of her time making spontaneous drawings in her many sketchbooks.

But it’s only fairly recently—and unexpectedly—that Vural discovered her desire to pursue illustration as a career. As a graphic design student at Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Vural quickly found herself most intrigued by the sketching process that preceded her design work. So, in 2012—six years into her degree—she made the decision to drop out.

She then packed up and moved to the United States—specifically, New York (where else?). There, she taught herself about illustration, took online classes from her artist friends and absorbed as much as she could about editorial illustration, her design education serving as a solid foundation upon which to grow.

Now a full-time freelance illustrator, Vural counts publications like the New Yorker, Boston Globe, Guardian and—every illustrator’s dream—the New York Times among her clients. So it’s fair to say her weighty decision to ditch her studies five years ago has paid off, and we can’t wait to see how she grows and progresses.

We asked Vural five quick questions about how she developed her style and built her career, and what her experience as a Turkish expat in the US has been like.


1. How did you get your start as an illustrator?

I got my first assignment after doing some networking at illustration events in New York. It was for art director SooJin Buzelli for Planadviser magazine, and it encouraged me to go on as an editorial illustrator.

Then, I worked for some newspapers and magazines. I did my own promotions: sending postcards with my work on it and emailing art directors about my work. It helped me a lot in getting assignments from the art directors I wanted to work with.

[With regard to getting representation], I got emails from agencies after I did some work for clients, and that’s how I got to work with my agency. [Agencies are] always on the look-out for new talent to represent.


2. Can you tell us how you developed your style? Was is an organic evolution, or more conscious?

When I first got interested in illustration, I wanted to develop my own style and voice. While I was looking at many great illustrators’ work, I found myself pulled into abstraction. I thought telling a story in an abstract way is more freer than telling a story in any other way.

So I explored this interest of mine by looking at the abstract works of many artists. My interest also let me find excitement in use of composition. I think composition has a very big impact on the way you’re telling your story with drawing.

I can say I didn’t know I was so into abstraction at first. I think it’s important to know what you like the most and create something new within it.


3. You’re originally from Turkey and immigrated to the United States to pursue your career. What has this experience been like for you?

Nearly everyone I met in the US helped me to get where I am today. Everyone is so helpful and friendly. Even though I didn’t study here or go to university with them, they are so open to helping you in any way to achieve your goals and dreams.

Back in my country, it is so competitive. Not everyone is so open about their experience and knowledge. So it helped me a lot. I learned many things from my friends and used in my own path to being an illustrator.

Also, I could only follow my career in editorial illustration here in the US; it’s not a common thing in Turkey. I’m lucky to work on it and experience this here.


4. Do you ever experience self-doubt in your work? How do you overcome it?

When I first started I did; I was so influenced by my friends’ work. But now that I’ve developed my own style and approach, I don’t worry as much. Even when something resembles another artist’s work, you can always tell a different story. I think copying every exact thing is the worst thing an artist can do.

I did compare my work in my first years, but after some time I developed some confidence in my own work. Exhibitions, awards and good feedback from art directors and friends helped a lot to overcome this.


5. What advice would you have for someone wanting to become an illustrator, or to pursue a creative career in general?

Just practice a lot and draw a lot. Do your best. And don’t forget to take some time for yourself. It’s important. I’m still learning it.


Images: supplied by artist. Illustrations by Joana Partyka.