Interview with Suleiman ‘Pacmartian’ Gwadah

Suleiman Gwadah aka Pacmartian, is a self-taught digital artist/illustrator who’s obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy and horror and loves to express that through the unique lens of afrofuturism.

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What made you want to become an artist

At first I didn’t want to be an artist, I didn’t see a future in it, rather I wanted to practice in the field of science and technology and that led me to an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and subsequently a master’s degree in the same field. A combination of disenchantment with my chosen profession and long spells of unemployment led me back to my pencils and sketch pad and eventually a drawing tablet. My renewed interest in art was intensified by social media and the realization that I finally had a platform upon which I could showcase my artwork.

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Please tell us about your personal style

Through my art, I attempt to combine elements of sci- fi, fantasy and horror with African folklore and pop culture. My style is heavily influenced by pop art, atom punk, cyberpunk and graphic novels. I love to use bold colours and ink to create images that remind me of the weird and wonderful worlds created by some of my favorite artists from past and present like Jack Kirby, Wes Craig, Fiona Staples, Dave Gibbons and Rafael Alberquerque to name a few.

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Can you remember some of your earliest influences

I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of traditional African artwork but early on I was heavily influenced by Japanese and Western animation. My late uncle was an artist, and it’s his art that influenced my fascination in African art, while anime and action adventure cartoons led to my interest in all things sci-fi, horror and fantasy.

5. What would you say is your strongest skill – It’s difficult to say because I’m never truly confident about most of my technique in artwork, but if I had to give an answer i would say it’s my ability to select colours that work well together

Which illustrators or artists working today do you admire the most

This is a tough one because there are too many to choose from (I already mentioned some above), but I think I’ve managed to narrow it down to a few whose artwork I consistently find inspiring

a. Francesco Francavilla @f_francavilla

b. Jason Gonzalez @deathburger

c. Jayson Mars @marstheillustrator

d. Becky Cloonan @beckycloonan

e. Temboh @temboh

f. Michael Okoroagha @artofmichaelokoroagha

How would you describe your creative process

Ideas for artwork come to me spontaneously and so I’ve made a habit of taking notes whenever an idea pops into my head. The next step is to define a clear idea using my notes and reference images- preferably images of real people, objects and places – and then I proceed with a rough concept sketch to make sure the composition of all the elements of the drawing is to my liking and then a more detailed sketch follows.

I like to sketch on paper as often as possible because drawing just comes more naturally to me that way; however I’ve got more comfortable with digital sketching over time out of necessity. Once the sketch is done the next steps involve inking and colouring, but before I get started I always queue a playlist, album or audio book because at this stage in the creative process I like to switch off my brain and just work on instinct as much as possible. I’ve found that working with a soundtrack makes the creative process rather therapeutic and keeps it from turning into monotonous work.

My inking and colouring tends to remain relatively consistent but I do try to adjust and work a little outside my comfort zone from time to time if think the work demands it, the key is to know when there’s still more to be done or if you’ve done enough. When I feel satisfied with the artwork, I give it a thorough review just to make sure all the I’s are dotted and t’s are crossed and it’s on to the next one.

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How much attention do you pay to the feedback of others

It depends on the type of feedback. When I receive feedback or criticism regarding technical aspects of my work – line, colour, composition – I take it onboard and see it as an opportunity to improve. I think it’s important however, not to let feedback, positive or negative define your work.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given

There’s no one size fits all approach to creating artwork, you can listen and learn from others but don’t put yourself in a box creatively

Besides illustration what else interests you

I study graphic design, I’m an avid comic book fan (if it wasn’t already obvious) and physical fitness also takes up most of my free time.

Top 5 websites for inspiration

African Digital Art, Heavymetal, Nubiamancy, Pinterest 12. Social Media – On Instagram and Facebook @pacmartian

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