Boss Lady #2 An Interview with Serena the artist behind Sereniee Art

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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See you next week with another Boss lady!

Boss Lady #1 An Interview with Mariam Zehra creator of The Blooming Daisy

Hello my creative, ambitious friends,

I love listening and learning from people’s stories. And today, what i’m going to share with you is the experience and beauty of a young Muslim Boss Lady: Mariam. She will be our first interviewee in our Boss Lady series. Mariam is a 27 year old Pakistani artist living in the beautiful state of California. Her shop The Blooming Daisy consists of modern Islamic prints, Islamic calligraphy and original paper cuts. She has blessed 125 homes with her art. Masha Allah!

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How does The Blooming Daisy serve the world?

Well, the Holy Quran is a source of guidance for all of us. I am sure at some point in our lives we all feel that there are some verses of Quran in which God is directly talking to us and we read that verse again and again, like “Verily, in remembrance of God do hearts find peace” (Al-Quran 13:28)

Similarly, there are many quotes of Holy Prophet ﷺ and Imam Ali (AS) that have encouraged me to reflect and I try to remember them. But the best way I find to remember them is write them and hang them on my gallery wall.  I believe, my art serves the same way to anyone who buys it from TheBloomingDaisyShop.

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Yes, hanged quotes are good reminders and motivators. Especially if they’re beautiful to look at, too. So what or who inspired you to start your journey?

To be very honest, my motto “to keep myself busy in productive work” was my first inspiration to start my online shop at Etsy.  Secondly, every form of art inspires me.  So, I tried to begin with all I have rather than investing a lot money first. That is how  TheBloomingDaisy journey started.

Nice. Being resourceful is the heart of creativity. Were you scared when you first started? How do you feel now?

No, I was not scared perhaps due to the small amount of risk involved. I took it more like a “Hobby”. Now, alhamdulillah I am happy about the fact that I have my own little shop. I just LOVE it! I love creating my art, listing things in my shop and seeing my little business grow. The best part is when I get good feedback by a happy customer with 5 stars.

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Any plans for the Fall season?

All seasons are beautiful but I am sort of in love with Fall season. I am working on some thing new that I am excited about to list in my shop inshaAllah. Hint: It involves glass. ;)

I’m so intrigued to know what’s to come. What’s your favorite creation in you shop right now?

This is a tricky question. I would say my favorite product is the “Hijabi bookmark“.  

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When sales are slow what do you do?

I use that time in designing new art, browsing new trends, learning some new techniques that can help me in improving my art work.

Smart! Any advice to those who want to start their own little business on Etsy?

I would encourage them to go for it. One should never underestimate themselves. Keep working hard and have confidence in yourself. Trust me! The excitment of your first sale is worth all efforts; the sense of accomplishment – like “wow, I can actually do this!” It makes me eager to create more work to post.

How does your connection with God help you in your business?

I think this connection with God is what encourages me to make Islamic Prints. Living in a non-Muslim country, we all know it is not easy to find Islamic art. I found it difficult to buy Islamic art for my personal home decor. That is why, I try to play a little role to make it easy for like-minded people to get Islamic art.

How do you feel knowing our beloved Mother Khadija (AS) was a boss lady?

Lady Khadija (AS) is a role model for all Muslimah entrepreneurs. It is so fascinating to learn how she was a Boss Lady in the time of ignorance when pre-Islamic Arabs used to bury their new born girls alive. Thanks to her example, in today’s world, a Muslimah can follow her dreams with intelligence, confidence and modesty.

Is there a particular dhikir that helps you on this business journey?

I recite Surah Al-Waqiah daily alhamdulillah. According to the Prophetic tradition it is a good means to increase one’s provision (Rizq).
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Beautiful work Mariam. Thank you for sharing with us your story.

Please check out Mariam’s creative corner here. If you have any questions for Mariam about any product, email her at thebloomingdaisyshop@gmail.com

 

 

The Love Stone

One day I was on the bus, and I saw someone and I gave them a look full of judgement devoid of love – for how they were dressed (So shallow of me). But then I noticed the Rose quartz hanging from my neck and it reminded me of the human heart’s capacity and its ability to love the whoooole universe. You can. Your heart was magnificently designed. Suddenly, I felt… Love! For him and for all the passengers around me. Sometimes it just takes a reminder and a decision – to choose love.

Cry Out in Your Weakness – Rumi

A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.
A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save
anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself,
they run toward the screaming.

And they can’t be bought off.
If you were to ask one of those, “Why did you come
so quickly?” He or she would say, “Because I heard
your helplessness.” Where lowland is,
that’s where water goes. All medicine wants
is pain to cure.

And don’t just ask for one mercy.
Let them flood in. Let the sky open under your feet.
Take the cotton out of your ears, the cotton
of consolations, so you can hear the sphere-music. . . .

Give your weakness
to One Who Helps.

Crying out loud and weeping are great resources.
A nursing mother, all she does
is wait to hear her child.

Just a little beginning-whimper,
and she’s there.

God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.

Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of Loving flow into you.
The hard rain and wind
are ways the cloud has
to take care of us.

Be patient.
Respond to every call
that excites your spirit.

Ignore those that make you fearful
and sad, that degrade you
back toward disease and death.

 

Mantras & Dhikir

My Muslim friend shared with me something beautiful. Her father who is Hindu keeps a mantra notebook – for dhikir (divine remembrance). In it he writes the syllable “ॐ” and fills its pages – he’s been doing this as long as she can remember. I imagine he does this with the intention to be lost in Oneness or to redirect his focus on what really matters in this life. This has inspired me to use a few pages of my gratitude journal to write and rewrite the name “الله”. I find it a relaxing practice. I highly recommend it. Some people like to remember God outloud, some in groups, some alone and some silently with their pens and hearts. Never stop discovering what strengthens your faith. And be humble to ask those with knowledge to verify these means.

Intentions for Ramadan

7 holy intentions by Habib Ali al Jifri

  1. We intend to fast all the days of this month, beginning from the first night of its inception, and intend to renew this intention every day before sunrise (fajr).
  2. We intend: to expose ourselves to Allah’s subtle spiritual breezes (nafahat); a sincere repentance, by having regret for what may have transpired from us, leaving sinful and disliked actions, and having resolve to never return to them; to return people’s rights or dues and if unable, then seek their pardon: to persist in renewing one’s repentance after every sin.
  3. We intend to recite the Quran in a sate of majesty and exaltation toward its words, and attain an opening in it from Allah.
  4. We intend to call to Allah through good behaviour and virtuous character, particularly when quarrels and arguments might take place during the fast.
  5. We intend from the beginning that it be a month of nearness to Allah through mastering our works and actions.
  6. We intend to spend the nights of this month in righteous works and take benefit from the Night of Immense Worth (Laylat-al Qadr).
  7. We intend to rectify the state of our hearts so they be better after Ramadan than they were before it. We intend to remain in a continuous state of upward spiritual ascent until our meeting with Allah is that of those who are loved.

What are some of your intentions? Tell me in the comments!