Another strong young lady in all her vibrancy and talent – there’s a good reason why Hala AlAbbasi is our arts spotlight this month. FACT’s Shabana Adam talks to Bahraini Digital Artist and Calligraphist about creative spark, representations of modest life and the connection between fashion, religion and art…

Hala AlAbbasi’s instagram profile is a gallery of bold colours and strong images; portraits of women, depictions of summer in the Gulf, and plenty of iconic imagery that exudes an overwhelming sense of fun and positivity. “Beauty and nature inspires me,” she says. “When I start to draw, I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born. I have confidence in it. I do not think about it. The hours on each artwork differs and depends on the style of the design, and the details which I dig into to create the final result. It took me years to get to where I am now by practicing art everyday,” Hala explains. It’s important to highlight that Hala’s creative side is a result of a type of art that has been around since the 1970s, and various names have been used to describe it. For the sake of modern day, we’ll go with Digital Art.

This is where an image is predominantly computer generated, scanned or drawn using a tablet. Hala mostly uses her iPad Pro and Apple pencil as well as the Procreate App to produce her illustrations and portraits. She also utilises vector-drawing software with Adobe Illustrator by using the pin tool and shapes, which are outlined and can be filled with various colours and patterns. This tends to produce a harder edge or graphic look for her professional work. The process might be a cool and contemporary one, but the philosophy is still one of a traditional artist. “When it comes to the tools and techniques, I would say that art is not about the tools used to create it, but the vision, message, or emotion of the artist who can express their idea through lines, form, colour, pigmentation, composition and rhythm,” Hala says. “The artist can combine different features, effects, techniques and media to create their own unique vision.”

If you’re new to the world of Digital Art, don’t let it intimidate you. The images are just as beautiful and daring, in some cases even more so, than a traditional pencil drawing or painting. Colour is more vivid, expression is deeper and there’s a whole new dimension added to something as simple as a portrait. “Digital art is like any other art,” Hala tells us. “It’s just created by using different tools than the more traditional arts. It took me years to draw everyday and experiment with different styles until I found what I love the most. “So I decided to focus on the digital side of my artworks, because that is what reflects me the most, and I also enjoy it so much,” she continues. “When it comes to the digital world, I feel like it is much less restricted than conventional mediums for artistic integration and manipulation. “Moreover, moving in between reality and the digital world gives me a push to do more and be more, it gives me hope and joy and all I want is to reflect this to others. It’s my gateway, and it’s my freedom,” she adds.

Hala is not only challenging critics in the industry who believe that digital work has a lack of connection to an audience, she is also championing a form of art that is often overlooked by putting her own stamp on it, whilst living a free lifestyle driven by choice. She often draws portraits of women, random faces, (she even produced our incredible cover) as symbols of beauty  and strength. “Women in general, they inspire me the most,” Hala shares. “They reflect the real beauty and real power and strength in this world. I look for the depth in each woman, which can be found in all of us. Thriving women give meaning to life, and add hope to this world which reflects my purpose of creating artworks centered around them.”

A refreshing perspective and one of the reasons why we chose Hala as our arts spotlight this month is, of course, to learn more about her opinions and experience of modest living as a young, Arab artist. It’s interesting to find that Hala, like hundreds of thousands of Muslim women everywhere, views modest fashion as a form of expression that boosts confidence. “Modest fashion gives me more options of clothing and to be creative in how I put together my outfits,” she says. “I now think outside the box and have developed an individual sense of style. It gives me the ability to dress in what I love but to add my own artistic twist to keep my outift elegant and simple, which in turn allows me freedom to express myself publicly.”

When asked: how would you describe the connection between fashion, modesty, religion and art? Is there room for them all to exist side by side? Hala says: “If there is one thing that connects all four, in my opinion, it would be freedom. The freedom of choosing and matching colours, patterns, materials and styles and to be who you are as a woman. “Fashion and modesty reflect the world around it, and it could be for anyone which can be perceived and interpreted in a myriad of ways. Although, Muslim women who dress modestly are highly visible both on the streets of modern cities and in the media,” she adds. “When it comes to all four, it is important to reflect the beauty of modesty by being inspired by art, religion, and fashion.”

Back to Hala’s creative flair, her love of digital art began at an early stage in life, and even back then, it was something about the vivacity of the images that stirred her. “I remember as a kid, I would always pay attention to graphics,” Hala recalls. “They were a reflection of what I loved and my thoughts. The look, materials, quality, colours and feel were so desirable to me. I would observe and study the colours, patterns, design and illustrations and soon enough I wanted to discover the digital world to create what I love the most,” she says.

Hala’s energy is becoming of her work. She is unapologetically a digital artist, a thinker, a celebrator of life and a staunch supporter of women in all their forms – fierce, vulnerable, outspoken or shy – and you get to see this through her dreamy and sometimes mysterious images. Alongside the modest lifestyle movement there’s a growing artistic revolution taking place – one that is challenging conventional art forms and garnering the attention of people in the Gulf and beyond. Hala is a part of this cool, unbound, selfdetermined 21st century crusade, and it’s time for the critics to sit up and take note!

Q: Do you remember the very first piece of art or illustration that you created – what was it and how did it make you feel?

A: During my childhood years at school, I remember when I first started to use the mouse on the computer to draw with Paint. I drew three girls and I loved how it made me feel, as it was a real hard challenge to put all of my focus and control on it. When I did the first one, I wanted to do more. Deep down I believed in my skills and abilities. I was always interested and I explored with different drawing applications and used adobe photoshop for the first time back then. I was obsessed to learn more and grow. I simply enjoyed every little process with every little detail I made. I knew then that I never wanted to stop. I wanted to embrace myself and let my passion and love for digital art drive me wherever it was going to take me.

Q: What would you say to people who think that women who choose to dress modestly are not “free”?

A: Modest fashion isn’t limited to Muslim women; it’s also popular internationally. Modest fashion shows love to women and speaks awareness and wisdom to others when it comes to covering up to feel comfortable and accepted within most communities. It feels great to be able to dress in a modern yet stylish and beautiful way that brings confidence to be more fashion-forward. The biggest brands and fashion companies  have started to launch hijab and abaya collections within their clothing lines in the last two years. Muslim women can now express themselves freely. Dressing modest for women shows self-respect and love of each one to others, and lets them get creative freely without being judged by others.

Q: What advice would you give to up-and-coming, young, budding illustrators or Digital Artists?

A: I believe that every artist has their own creative ‘truth’ which I think matters the most. It’s about taking many tiny baby steps to achieve and maintain quality and continuity. It’s about commitment and dedication. It has to do with inhaling and exhaling. Getting in depth, letting it be with no expectations. What I love about art as a form is that it has no limitations or restrictions; art is a total freedom. Any beginner illustrator or digital artist has to start from somewhere, experiment with drawing apps, electronic brushes and tools that help you to translate hand motions, cutting and pasting to create a new look and pose real challenge to those who explore these new digital avenues until they grow internally to be extraordinary.