The first word that comes to mind when I think of Umaimah Damakka’s artwork is PINK! Whimsical, soft, soul-lifting, pink. What follows that bright color, is a world of beautiful gowns, glowing women, and a steadfast devotion to the hidden strength found deep within the core of all of us. I see it in the portfolio, the print shop, and the Instagram of the brilliant SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design) graduate, Umaimah Damakka. I first came across Damakka’s work on Twitter. I was scrolling about my day, mindlessly wandering down and through my TL of beautiful illustrations, cosplays, and critical theory, when I saw a retweet of her gorgeous Princess Aurora illustration:
It was an instant follow after that! Her work showcases the femininity and softness of living, at least that’s what I gleaned from it. I took comfort in looking at the beautiful natural landscapes. I was lucky enough to be granted a chance to converse with her, so please enjoy the following in-depth interview!
Oona (They/She): Please tell us about yourself! What’s your origin story and how has your Hero’s Journey been so far?
Damakka (She/Her): I’m an artist from Nigeria, specifically Northern Nigeria. I came to the USA four years ago to study animation at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and recently graduated. I traveled to the US for school because there isn’t really any place in Nigeria one could go to study animation or art as extensively. So, I had to convince my parents to let me travel this far for an art education. This wasn’t easy; a major obstacle I faced was comments from friends and family. They believed my dad shouldn’t let me travel this far for an education, especially one in animation. But I’m lucky enough that my dad had a different mindset and was willing to support me this far. He and my mom just wanted to see me doing what I loved, and it wasn’t easy convincing them either because parents aren’t very understanding when you say you want to study art. But they saw how much it meant to me and noticed how much happier I was when I was doodling away since I was little, and decided it was worth supporting me.
After 6 years in secondary school, I went to South Africa for a two-year course and it was there that I met a college counselor who recommended going to SCAD. It was also at this time that my art took a turning point. I was hardly drawing Black girls or African girls but being in South Africa really opened me to a lot of cultural discussions and conversations about representation. That was when I looked into myself and realized that there was a reason why I wasn’t drawing Black girls, and I decided to change that. I still stuck with the cliche’ fairy tale theme that I always loved, only this time I wanted the subjects to be dark-skinned girls because we hardly ever see that in the media. I am so happy that I went through that change because it was healing for me. And since I started sharing my work online, I’ve gotten messages or emails from Black girls about how much better my work made them feel about their looks. I’m sure 7-year old me would have been part of those girls too, so I’m hoping she’s proud of me.
Oona: How would you describe your art style? What is your process in creating like?
Damakka: I feel like as the person behind your work, it’s hard to see what your art style really is. Also, when discussing art, especially animation, it’s always between anime and Western-style, I can see why because those are the two main popular animation styles that we see on TV. And they both have definitely inspired my artwork, but I think I would just call my art style ‘fluffy’ because no matter what I’m going for in an artwork, it mostly always comes back to being soft and round. My drawing process is similar to a lot of other artists.
When designing a character, I start by thinking of their personality, the world they live in, and their age range. This helps me when I’m gathering references and what I always use for my references is Pinterest. I was recently introduced to the DuckDuckGo search engine. I truly believe both are the holy grail sites of references.
When using Pinterest, I create a mood board for the character. I like to include color palettes, images of an actual person that I think carries the personality of the character. I like to include background images because that can inspire the color palettes too. I always include looks and outfits. After my mood board is set, I move to sketch. I make around three to four different sketches. There’s this general rule between professional artists where you should never go with your first idea or sketch, but honestly, sometimes the first sketch just nails it for me, and I move from there. I only do one pass for my sketches. Some artists do two passes, but I’m always eager to get to the line-work and details. So, next comes line work, which is my favorite part. I then put down my flat colors, color in any line that I don’t want in black, and finally comes shading, highlights, and details. Something that I’ve really been enjoying lately is playing around with the color balance of a piece when I’m done with it, it helps give the perfect mood, and it really pushes the piece for me.
Oona: Are there any major inspirations for you?
Damakka: Oh definitely! I think I have a lot of inspiration because I fall in love with so many different things all the time. Ranging from Animation to Artists. Some cartoons that have inspired me are Adventure Time, Amazing World of Gumball, Tuca and Bertie, Into the Spider-Verse, and Owl House. These are all animations that made a remarkable impact in the industry. They’ve changed the way stories can be told and brought forward some voices that weren’t always represented; not to mention the amazing art direction they all have.
With artists, one of the main artists that inspire my work is Adrienne Brown, she was part of the team that illustrated those old Disney fairy books. She drew the fairies in this really magical way and painted the worlds in a way that still makes me wish I could just jump into them and live amongst the tiny creatures. I didn’t find out about her until recently and then discovering that she was also a Black woman was a great moment for me because I grew up loving those books and getting lost in them. Other artists that have inspired my work are mostly character designers like Cory Loftis, Alexis Page, Philip Light, and Dana Terrace. I love how these artists handle their shapes and line work and most importantly, how much story is in each character they draw.
Oona: If you could step into any painting or animated film, what would it be and why?
Damakka: I would have to say The Secret Life of Arrietty. In general, Ghibli movies have the perfect art direction that I would hope to get my work to someday. I got into them about 3 years ago. I adore the floral, flower fields aesthetic that is in The Secret Life of Arrietty. I would love to live in a place where I’m surrounded by plants, flowers, and yes even bugs, (I find bugs adorable). I can imagine being that tiny like Arrietty, viewing small fields as a whole forest. I love the classic fairytale whimsical stories, kind of like what we see in Sleeping Beauty and the beginning of Alice in Wonderland. It feels so peaceful and serene like you could simply escape into them and have no worries.
To see more of Damakka’s work, check out her social media handles below.