With the Tawfiq of Allah, our Boss Lady series goes on. Today we’re delving into landscape canvases, food paintings and divine calligraphy with Sereniee Art. Behind the paintbrush our 21 Serena from London, UK has got a lot of gems to share with us.
How does Sereniee Art serve the world?
In all honesty I have never thought too much into this aspect until recently. Of late, my art was rather self-indulgent; I knew the precise nuances of how it could make me myself feel which are difficult to convey! But it was all to serve me – to escape anything that wasn’t the canvas, the brush, the pigments and my hand.
However I am finally beginning to tap into the type of artist I want to be which is a landscape Impressionist. This has made me question seriously: If this is who I am going to be for the foreseeable future; If with each brush stroke I am finally seeping into the canvas like I have always wanted, others will not know from a landscape this is Serena and they don’t have to, but I want them to see themselves so how can I do this?
I know there is so much pain in the world both on individual levels and on a macro scale, while this must never for a moment be ignored, I want more people to realise they can find some solace in something simple like a painting. This is an indescribable feeling I have had countless times looking at the work of my favourite artists, who do not paint scenery so realistically. There is a huge difference in how one can feel when looking at landscape painted realistically and landscape painted with wild heavy brush strokes mixed with honesty – these convey the reality of weather; wind, calm and storm as well as the suggestion of life much better. Just look at the work of Rex Preston and perhaps you will see what I mean!
If people chance upon any of my paintings and feel as if they are taken away; if they can comprehend the ferocity in clouds yet the tranquil in the seas, lakes and rivers; if they recognize the innocence of lack of order or control in a bed of bright dancing wild flowers and weeds against the solid structure of mountains and rocks that while weathered away by all around them still stand strong and unbreakable in their core — if they can escape into all of this as if they are part of the canvas and see a part of themselves, I’d feel as if I’ve served the world with my gift.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
There is no single biggest inspiration for my art; it is really an amalgamation of different artists and what they offer which inspires the different pieces I do.
Vincent Van Gogh will always be one of them, his work undeniably evokes emotions. Seeing his “Starry Night over the Rhone,” “Starry Night” and “Wheatfield with Cypresses” are where the sentiments behind my art arose for me. The styles and techniques in these three paintings were reminiscent in a lot of my paintings as a teenager and are beginning to return. However it is the man behind the canvas which fascinates me, he was as rich a person as his work. Reading his letters to his brother Theo allowed me to understand him rather than just know about him from the way he is often portrayed as a mad man. You look at Vincent’s changing work across his lifetime and you see Vincent across his lifetime. It’s that simple. He wasn’t afraid when he had a brush in his hand and that is how I want to be.
Wayne Thiebaud, a living artist now in his 90s, is another huge inspiration for the food/object related art I do! He has this modern pop 60’s vibe. He uses bright and pastel colours, and is know for his signature bluey hued shadows and thick brush strokes. He often paints objects in sets of three. He is the single influence in my ice cream paintings, which are among a favourite few of my own work!
Renoir and Edouard Leon Cortes, also now passed away, are massive driving forces in my art. Renoir was the first impressionist I discovered when I was 16. From the day I found a book about him it opened a whole new world of art to me that I soon became obsessed with – Impressionism. I very much doubt I’d have become serious about art if I did not discover him. I now attend every Impressionism exhibition that visits London without fail! Cortes’ work is city impressionism which I haven’t yet tried but intend to in winter time since there is a lot of rain in his work.
Canaletto, is another, while I do not intend to paint in his style I cannot help but appreciate his skill and precision. The depth and scale he was able to achieve in his work is unparalleled! I pick up inspiration from the everyday artists I find on social media too, everyone has something to offer and learn from!
How does the magic happen? Do you paint at night? In the morning? Accompanied? Alone? Tell us about the process, thought and emotion behind the brush and canvas.
The magic certainly and primarily happens at night and very early hours of the morning! I’m not much of a sleeper as my friends and family know; I’ve had chronic insomnia for near enough seven years now. I would find my mind whizzing and ticking all night instead of sleeping. While this is torturous to deal with as a student, it can be golden for an artist. It certainly is for me! The thoughts while trying to sleep often serious, stressful and logical or outright random almost always turn into thoughts about art and artists. Without fail this has always generated the urge to paint something right away and so I do. I paint through the night and before I know it the birds are singing. I will always paint alone – unless some opportunity arises to work with other artists in which case I would be open to.
The process is heavy, extensive, often crippling and like I said earlier, self-indulgent! An idea, some inspiration, an urge comes first of all. I just have to see something, and it is almost always something overlooked and unnoticed by everyone else and so I find this hard to explain but I’ll try. A small brush stroke someone has painted within a large picture, or a leaf or an objects shadow, perhaps a reflection of light on rainy ground, and it triggers something profound that I then become unable to ignore. I must be honest here; it isn’t always a happy or at least even a good feeling. If I get stuck and cannot think of what to paint or cannot find the time or space to do so; if I am unable to figure out what needs to be put on the canvas to deposit this urgency and these extremely nuanced and unexplainable emotions I have developed from a small cue around me, it then starts to consume me and makes me withdraw into my own mind for a number of days until I can no longer bear it. I reach a boiling point and at some point a light bulb pings in my head, I know what to paint and I no longer care that I don’t have time or space. To me this is all worth it though, as soon as the brush finally does hit the canvas the anxiety and constricted feelings disappear. And then there is nothing, absolutely nothing…
By this I mean to explain how painting is flow. A flow activity allows you to live in the moment, it allows time to fall away, you become so engrossed in what you are doing you often don’t feel anything, or at least I don’t. When I paint I think nothing, I feel nothing, it isn’t even about me anymore. I’m involved in painting for its own sake not mine, every action I do while painting follows from the previous action. I’m probably tired but I barely notice this, like I say, I stop painting and hear the birds and realise it’s now dawn and the world is beginning to wake around me.
And when I finish the painting, feeling and thought begins to return. I analyse each aspect of the painting; what needs changing, what I should stop trying to improve before I ruin it, do I even like it, am I proud of it? So that is the process of painting for me, the difficult emotion happens before I start and varied emotion returns when I’m finished and in between there is nothing but the verb itself. And that is what I love, it is the most addictive feeling I know!
What colour do you enjoy using the most?
There is no colour in particular I enjoy using but rather combinations of colours. In coming landscape work I will use a lot of blue, purple, white, coral, yellow, green and browns.
As the season changes so will my colour palette. In autumn/winter there will be much more contrast of light with dark.
My Islamic geometry and calligraphy work uses so many colours combinations that sound questionable at first in my head but translate very well on canvas! For those pieces my favourite colours are teal, purple, magenta, royal blue and lime green.
Any exciting plans for September?
Yes! September means only one thing: my favourite thing, Autumn (well that and my birthday). Autumn itself has meant nothing else to me in the past eight years than painting. The two pretty much go hand in hand. I plan to include a lot of rain, light, and orange colour in my work to say the least! It will mostly be Central London inspired too since the first time I loved Autumn was when I did a response to Van Goghs ‘Starry night over the Rhone’. I painted autumn leaves in Embankment in the foreground with a starry sky and colourful ripples on the Thames River. I will also be doing a lot of painting with a palette knife using impasto techniques rather than using a brush.
Which creation in your shop are you most proud of?
It has got to be the ‘Flowers on Cliffs seascape’. I have the original hanging in my room and even if I do say so myself I am filled with immense pride when I look at it! It was the first time in my life I stopped being scared of trying to be the artist I wanted to be. I stopped holding back and when I did, that was the outcome! It was also the first time I called myself an artist and actually meant it in a serious capacity. I look at it as if it is the beginning of so much to come; as if it is going to pave the way for the rest of my art career!
Do you hope to have a physical shop one day?
The thought has crossed my mind, it could be nice to own a shop. However although I sell a lot of art, money isn’t why I do it, and I can say that in all honesty – since a lot of more experienced artists have had a go at me for under-pricing my work when advising me! I started to sell because I paint in a tiny corner of my room, there just isn’t enough space to keep all the paintings afterwards, I also realised art materials do not come cheap, so it made sense to sell. Aside from this, I just feel that the way the art market works now, you can’t constrict yourself in a shop; you need to get out there. Perhaps push your own boundaries. I feel as if I need to go to different locations and paint En Plein Air. I couldn’t go from painting in a small room to then selling in one. While I wouldn’t own a shop I would much prefer to have exhibitions in different locations show casing and selling my work. It seems much more exciting!
Any advice to those who want to start their own little business on Etsy?
I would say be patient and make sure you work out the direction you intend to go in first. I started off by making listings very sporadically on my shop. They also varied too much. There would be a painting of oranges, then a landscape then a week later something Islamic. I found when I created categories for food, landscape and Islamic this helped a lot more as people could understand I do three types of art and they could explore whichever interests them. Have a niche, and consistency about who you are and what you sell! I would also say to make sure you do even more leg work behind the scenes to promote yourself. Create social media pages just for your work such as Instagram or Facebook. Post very often and don’t be afraid to show a little of your own personality when you post either. You want to be memorable! Most importantly take it lightly. If it starts to stress you and make you forget to actually love your craft, what’s the point? It just won’t feel as worth it!
How does your connection with God help you in your business?
To be honest, everything I paint comes from God, from the skill itself to the subject matter.
“Not a leaf falls but He Knows it” (6:59). Nothing else came to mind when last autumn I found a gorgeous autumn leaf on the ground, took it home and painted it.
Mountains, seas, the earth, sun and all creation serve as a constant reminder of the Creator, to paint them is an honour although I could never do them justice. These are mentioned time and time again in the Quran as signs and reminders for us! We look at them and admire but there are deeper sentiments to them.
Quite simply, I paint landscapes with many elements of the Creation and think of the Al-Khaliq, The Creator. I paint food and it reminds me of the sustenance and provision blessed on us by Ar-Razzaq, The Sustainer. I paint symmetrical Islamic patterns reminding me of Al-Bari, The maker of Order. Painting Arabic calligraphy, reminds me it is “He who taught the use of the pen” (96:1). Painting what I paint serves as a constant reminder of God. It keeps me in contemplation and close to God and in awe of Him. So I feel there is a link in the sustenance of money He provides me and blessing of the skill God bestows on me in my business.
My closeness to God always keeps me questioning my intention, always seeking to catch myself out so that I can purify any intentions when selling art as well as other aspects in life. Intention is a huge thing to me, it can get you into trouble and bother inside if you don’t keep a check on it, and I just don’t want art to be troublesome for me in such a respect. I stay very honest with my buyers and try to help and accommodate as much as I can. It doesn’t rest well with me to cut corners or provide low quality work!
How do you feel knowing our beloved Mother Khadija (AS) was a boss lady too?
That’s exactly what she was! She was so independent, strong and successful in the height of a time of Ignorance; she was well respected and renowned for her generosity, kindness and good character. As well as this we know she stood by those she loved devotedly and dearly and was the first believer. She was doing it all totally right! I don’t need to even try to seek out the intricacies of how she dealt her business; All this is enough to inspire me to be like her in how she conducted her business alongside her personal affairs and relations. She stood on her own two feet and that’s how I want to be! At times I’ve thought ‘Oh no, what if people see my surname and won’t want to buy from a muslim girl?’, but Khadija (RA) is enough to show me it can and will be done Insha’Allah.
Is there a particular dhikir that helps you on this business journey?
There certainly is, it’s “Ya muqallib al-qulub, thabbit qalbi ‘ala dinik” which means “O turner of hearts, make my heart firm upon your religion”
This is above everything my favourite supplication in general but it is also really important along this business journey. As you may have noticed, painting makes me feel things immensely and deeply. I speak and think of it so much and as I mentioned earlier, it is at times crippling and consuming and overwhelming. In a religious capacity this is dangerous; my unwavering devotion should be centred on my religion and God not art. Shirk and Idolatry, I believe, does not just occur by believing in other deities than Allah. That would be too obvious. I reckon it lies also in the small everyday things we obsess over from the worldly life – games, social media, celebrities, fashion, sport, art etc. I love painting so much but I know I must never let my heart be firmed upon it over my religion. It could remove the blessing and then everything would be in vain. Somehow without art I know I would survive but without Islam I’d be lost and my heart would die. This supplication is so important to me; it reminds me of exactly Who and what I must prioritise! In turn managing to stay firm upon Allah’s religion can do nothing but help me in any prospects anyway!
Please share with us your favourite quote.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘You cannot paint,’ Then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent Van Gogh. (Good old Vincent was right!)
Lovely, may Allah increase the barakah and devotion in you work. May it never ever be an obstacle between you and God. On the contrary, may it be a means to closeness to Him. Thank you Serena! To follow her art journey or purchase from her paintings, check out the links below:
Etsy website: Etsy.com/shop/serenieeart
All art Instagram: Instagram.com/serenieeart
Islamic art Instagram: Instagram.com/serenieeartIslam
Facebook: Serena Hussain art
See you next week with another Boss lady!