It’s always brave to go against the grain and follow your own path, rather than someone else’s. When Raj Jeshang was growing up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, he was discouraged by his parents from pursuing anything creative. Instead, they wanted him to attend a top university in America or the UK and become a doctor or engineer. “An animator was not a respected career to them,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Now, they’re glad I never gave into the pressure to be someone I didn’t want to be.”
When the 2000s came, Raj travelled to the US to study film and animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design, acquiring bott a BFA and MFA in the moving image field. Nine years down the line he moved to Brooklyn, where he currently resides and works as a full-time animator and illustrator spanning motion graphics, 3D art, video editing and kinetic typography. All of which succumbs to an exceptional level of storytelling, where Raj carves out narratives and visuals for clients such as Origins, Bumble and Bumble, Nest Fragrances, Topix Skincare and Philosophy.
His successful artistic practice, then, is something that he nurtured from a young age. Growing up, Raj would often watch his father draw and asked him to teach the technique of observational drawing. “I loved aviation, and when I was four or five, he would take me to the airport to watch airplanes and I’d draw them,” he recalls. “I also remember him explaining how perspective works.” Another fond memory is of the family-run auto shop, which Raj would help out at once he was older, making licence plates and in turn gaining a steadier hand. “I loved painting the numbers and letters by hand, though I made a lot of mistakes,” he says. Coupled with an adoration for flip books and cartoons – plus an inquisition as to how they were created – this would effectively go on to steer his artworks down the line.
“Naturally,” he adds, “I wondered how animations were made and my dad showed me how to make a flip book. It really blew my mind to see a ball bounce on paper. After that, I made a flip book out of novels, textbooks, notebooks – anything I could get my hands on. Even into high school, during class I made flip books in the margins of a rocket taking off. My teachers weren’t happy about it.”
A quick glance at Raj’s portfolio and you can instantly get a feel for the subject matter that excites him the most: the everyday and mundane moments of urban life. Having always lived in a city, Raj is able to zoom in on the hustle and bustle and, with it, cancel out the noise and focus in on one element. This is usually something quite normal – anything from rainwater flowing to people relaxing in the grass. “Maybe I find myself drawn to mundane things that I didn’t experience growing up in Tanzania,” he notes. “I certainly didn’t experience crunchy fall leaves or tranquil parks like Prospect Park.” In this sense, Raj takes the things we’ve all grown to know and ignore, only to twist them into his own beautifully animation version where time slows down and everything becomes more vivid. This becomes especially prevalent in his still animations, a painterly technique that allows him to “focus on each scene, each camera angle as its own gif,” he says.
In a recent piece titled In the Quiet of Prospect Park, Raj looks at the memory of a “rare” weekday afternoon he had off, as he’d planned to fly to London that evening. “My girlfriend (now wife) Becky and I decided we would spend the time under a tree. I remember feeling peaceful and seeing how peaceful Becky looked, with sun rays dancing on her skin,” he says. “I wanted to capture that atmosphere but didn’t know how.” Meanwhile, a few months down the line and the pair had gone to see an animation named Only Yesterday by Isao Takahata. “I was blown away by the lush backgrounds, so that led me to try and simulate oil paints.” The result is an utterly peaceful still animation that takes you to a beautiful day in the grass – a universal freeze frame that many can relate to.
There are many more animations of this kind, where charming moments from everyday life are spruced up with Raj’s signature animation style – one of serenity and beauty. This includes falling leaves, water gushing into the gutter, or an 18-frame animation inspired by a Tame Impala music video. We’re completely enamoured by the skill and technique of this artist so far, and sure you will be too.
Raj Jeshang: In the Quiet of Prospect Park (Copyright © Raj Jeshang, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.