“It ended up being unavoidable,” says Aysha Tengiz on her transition into illustration. At the age of eight, Aysha had moved to a small island in Turkey with her family to be closer to her father’s. At this time, she explains how she couldn’t understand the television nor did she had many friends – “so reading books became a huge part of my life,” she says. “I remember lying on my bed reading every book we had; chapter books, picture books, encyclopaedias, anything I could find. Life was slow and there was never any rush, so I could spend hours reading them and memorising every detail.” This, plus the fact that the town was absent of any English bookshop – an aspect of her childhood that inferred books to be an “incredible and rare treat” – ignited an infatuation with the art of illustration.
“My time in Turkey sounds idyllic but a lot of the time we were very bored,” Aysha tells It’s Nice That. “In the winter it’s incredibly cold and there’s not a lot to do.” So much so that the island comes heaving with tourists in the summer yet runs desolate in the colder months – with frequent electricity cut-outs only increasing the boredom. “Drawing came naturally and I would spend hours creating large jam-packed illustrations, not unlike the ones I draw now.”
Currently based in London, she spends her time freelancing, working on personal projects and commissions for clients such as TFL, Lazy Oaf, Scoop Magazine, SchwuZ, a nightclub in Berlin, and the charity Coppafeel. She found herself in the city after studying illustration at Camberwell University of the Arts, and has recently moved into her first studio. “Before [this] I would work from home, which had its perks – like listening to trash music super loud and eating fried eggs in my pants,” she says. “Working from home is a lonely business, though, and I’m really enjoying being around other creatives and actually leaving the house.”
Adorned with bright and cheerful colours, her illustrative work comes strewed with characters and scenes that depict the beautiful madness of everyday life. “I take inspiration from my surroundings,” she explains. “I love the complexity of high-streets and buildings, especially when you look closer and realise how chaotic even the simplest place can be. Drawing it out is my way of showing how I see the world around me.” Her characters – suited, hat-wearing and anthropomorphic – go about their daily business, whether it’s riding the tube, the bus, dancing in the kitchen, sat watching telly or simply meandering down the street. They’re familiar entities that are drawn from Aysha’s own experiences: “Most of my characters are variations of myself or people I know. They’re usually wearing my own wardrobe or clothes I wish I had!”
Alongside these busy Londoners, Aysha also pulls her concepts and themes from her own encounters – particularly from those less cheerful. “I find the macabre much more natural to work with; I think it might be because the feeling of happiness is fleeting, whereas feelings of sadness have a habit of lingering. This makes it much more easier to work with and delve into,” she tells us. Somewhat surprising, indeed, due to the fact that her vibrant illustrations beckon with joy. But this in fact is a conscious decision made by the artist: “I think this combination makes the tone less serious and depressing, which is what I want,” she says. “I think these elements are also easier for people to relate to.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.