Women Who Draw: Aida

It all started with a simple movement three years ago that would change the way we think about fashion sustainability and consumption today. Thanks to the #WomenOfStyleTheory community, we have now sowed the seeds for a new fashion movement in Singapore and Indonesia with thousands of women sharing an Infinite Wardrobe and the experience of unlimited fashion freedom.

The Women Who series highlights inspiring subscribers in our community with a story to tell. This week, we sat down with a resilient woman who never stops challenging her boundaries.

Meet Nur Aida Sa’ad: 

Hi Aida, thank you for finding time in your busy schedule! We’re inspired by your grit and determination that has led you to where you are!

Briefly, how would you describe your drawing career to someone and how did Yellow Mushmellow come about?

“Yellow Mushmellow” was created by accident. I was never an art student, and drawing was just a hobby. It dated back to my ‘A’ level period I would draw about how I “died” after exams. It was just a series of doodles but it became something people looked forward to after every paper – even my teachers would ask me, “Oh, what did you draw today?”

I came to realise that people like things that are relatable, and my doodles brought them joy. Those doodles were then used to enter art school in university! Even though I studied graphic design, I never stopped doodling. I would doodle about my own problems, and that was actually how the fatty girl character was initially conceived – from my stress-eating episodes in the midst of my school’s final year projects! I guess it’s kind of a coping mechanism, a form of stress relief if you will – and mine is drawing.  

What’s behind the name “Yellow Mushmellow”? Why “yellow” and not any other colours?

I’ll get back to you when I think of something more creative besides ‘I like yellow and it rhymes’, haha! 

What is your philosophy?

Many times people are afraid of doing things because they overthink. You have to take the first step out to do it, and people will take you seriously along the way. An example is my barf bag illustrations, where I draw on the paper bags provided on planes every time I travel. It’s honestly quite silly, but after doing it consistently, along with making good use of the internet and adding a purpose to it, people will start taking you seriously. Don’t worry about it being nonsense, because somewhere along the way, after doing it long and well enough, your ‘nonsense’ can be taken seriously. 

Where do you get your inspiration for your works?

All the little things that happen in a day. I’m not sure if I force myself to do it or if it’s my subconscious mind just turning daily musings into yet another idea. I went to hike a mountain the other day, and everything around me became an idea. I’d look at a certain thing and think to myself, “Oh, this is funny, I can draw something of it,” or “This leaf looks interesting, I should draw it.” I accumulate all of these ideas in my phone and I always end up with a lot of things to do! 

While you were studying in Temasek Junior College, did you ever think that art was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

No, because I didn’t study art. If I had known, I’d have studied art. I went to university for an arts degree and that was where I learnt the roots. However, it was a lot of self-learning and exploration. 

You had two really big projects in recent years – namely “Hullabaloo” and “Rubberband Land” in Singapore and Hanoi respectively. Where did you derive the ideas from?

My sisters, Aisha and Sheila respectively. For a long time, I like to draw inspiration from them. Both of them have special needs and they see the world in a different manner, which I feel is quite interesting. Aisha, who has autism spectrum disorder, has different quirks in her life. I feel that being on the spectrum  allows her to do things that we may not have the patience to do so – she had this phase when she would use a 2B pencil and repeatedly colour sheets of paper until they were all black.

The Hullabaloo installation playspace was based off this painting during her obsession with rainbows. Her rainbow obsession lasted for a good year. Aisha would draw rainbow smiles, turn it around, and it would look like rainbow pants! It is an abstract form that people usually overlook, and only logically understand it as a rainbow. The joy that I find in these small simple things is what gives me my inspiration.

Similarly, Rubberband Land was an idea derived from my other sister, Sheila, who has a rare chromosomal deficiency. After graduating at 18 years old, Sheila often stayed at home. It was then when I realised that she had a habit of twirling rubber bands, which made her happy and occupied for hours. My idea for the Rubberband Land exhibition was to use simple materials, to show that you don’t need expensive toys to be happy. I wanted to portray the idea of simple joy.   

Why did you want to make Hullabaloo and Rubberband Land into an installation? 

I saw that there is power in telling a story. And I wanted to share my experiences with my special needs sisters in a way that is not usually portrayed in public — in a light-hearted and fun manner, because that’s really how I see them — brilliant and inspiring. I wanted my audience to see that too.

The right amount of perseverance, stubbornness and talent made you who you are today an accidental artist, a full-time art director. What’s your take on being in the creative industry? 

Many times, people question me, “Can this route make money?” Actually, you’re able to earn quite a substantial amount as an artist. Like any other occupation, you will have to work hard and be smart about it. 

Another common trap that many artists fall into is feeling victimised by the red tapes in Singapore and society’s general lack of interest in the arts. The constant laments of not having a place to draw or too many steps in order to get a grant, I feel that it is a self-defeating mentality. If there are ways for you to get to where you want to be then just go ahead and do it. It is possible that things don’t go in your favour, but it is definitely possible if you’re willing to work hard for it.     

In the 4 years of your freelance career, how did the people around you react to not having a conventional 9-to-5 job?

My parents were skeptical about it in the beginning. However, now that I’m working full-time, I can understand why. Despite their initial doubts, they allowed me to make the mistakes that were crucial in shaping who I am today. Despite saying no and disagreeing to my choice, they did not restrict me in the choices I made. Growing up stubborn, I think they know that it will be how I learn. 

I have many friends who are doctors and scientists, whose parents would ask them, “Aida, still like that ah?” Only after five years of showing achievements and going on the local newspaper the language the older generation understands did they start to take me seriously.         

What is a regular work week like for you?

I work all day, and like I said previously, my brain never rests! I have three modes: work-work which is my full-time job, work-play which is mostly my freelance or installations, and play-play which is stuff that I do for fun that never gets finished. 

Now that you’ve built a name for yourself, usually people would have continued being their own boss. What made you take on a full-time job? 

I started out as an intern, applied as a copywriter and was offered a position as an art director. Many would disagree with this and think it’s unwise. Personally, I think it’s growth. I came to realise that there’s a lot out there that I don’t know – video, art directing, branding, and the sheer intensity of projects forces you to have some kind of discipline, and that benefits my play-play work too. I feel like with creative work and ideas, doing one doesn’t diminish the other, so more is always a good thing!

Working with different people allows us to bounce ideas off each other and we are able to learn from different backgrounds about their craft and how it works together with what I do. It’s fun to get out of your comfort zone!   

What is it like to be an independent woman who takes on many roles and juggles them all at once? 

That is what I am still struggling with. Advertising (my day job) is difficult. In order to put out good work, I have to put in a lot of extra hours. Sure, you can do the bare minimum, but if you want to do it really well, you spend the weekends thinking about ideas, and from there, produce better quality work because of the time taken. However, I have not found where to draw the line between work and daily life.

Do you feel worn out or burnt out from your day job that you don’t have the capacity to freelance anymore? What do you do?  

Yes I do feel suffocated, so for me, I need to draw. I am still trying to figure out what works best for me but I’ve been trying to pace myself and find time for myself. 

You have two sisters with special needs whom you talk about a lot in helping you with your inspiration. How are you so open to speaking about them?

It’s the way my parents brought me up. I grew up without the mindset that it was “not normal”. I would bring my friends over and brought my sisters along. I didn’t think that they would be unfamiliar, and never felt the barrier between us. It’s lucky that this was never an issue in my life.

As someone with this experience, I feel the need to share and express it. I feel I have the responsibility to raise awareness, share the right attitude and normalise it, as well as help shine a light on their brilliance despite of their disability.   

As a career-centric 28 year old, how do you reply to people whenever they ask the common questions on relationships and marriage? 

If it happens, it happens. There’s no rush to it. I have an aunt who got married at sixty. She travelled the world and met someone with the same interest at sixty. She would not have met the person had she not travelled the world. Maybe it’s idealistic, but I believe if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. But to some, I just tell them to pray for me.

What would you say to women who choose to be free and focus on growing career wise?

It’s your choice, there’s nothing wrong with that and everything happens for a reason. 

As a subscriber of Style Theory Apparel, what are some of your favourite hits about our service?

Instant gratification that there’s something to look forward to. There’s definitely something about women and buying things – buying a new pair of earrings just for work, or waking up wanting to try something different.

How do you describe your personal style? 

Obiang (over the top) – clashing prints, colourful and whimsical.

We see that you design your own Raya baju, almost every year, what are the must-haves when coming to designing your own style?

A lot of colours, and some personal story behind it. There was once when I asked people what are some funny scenarios during Raya. I chose 20 scenarios, drew them into funny characters and printed them onto a top. Another is the fake batik where I draw pak ciks (uncles) and designed them to look like a batik. Some makcik (aunties) thought it was real batik! 

What is important for you when it comes to renting? 

For me, I use this opportunity to try some styles that may be different from the clothes I would usually buy, because renting allows me to try them on without having to commit a cent. So I look for special pieces that I can use for travelling or events. Or just whenever I feel like trying changing things up a little in my everyday wear!

Style Theory is all about style- and self-exploration, accepting that we’re all a work-in-progress, and being open to surprises and new discoveries. Were there any times during the subscription that you felt closest to what the brand stood for? Could you walk us through that?

The brand kind of forced me to try out some styles that were out of my usual repertoire, haha! But it was a happy challenge, and what I’ve realised is, it’s really how you wear things, how you “WORK IT” that makes you, you! Different people will have their own interpretations of the same piece and that really makes style so fun and fascinating.

How would your family and friends describe you? 

Idealistic, crazy and… ambitious?

What’s your personal mantra?

There’s no time wasted in life. The thing about working with time and not against it is that it’s not wasted. Even pain counts, and even bad mistakes can be necessary mistakes.

How do you describe your personal style? How did you come to discover/create your personal style?

I like to mix and match prints and I love colours. My parents say that my fashion sense is wack, but I embrace it and wear what I want! 

What’s your favourite quote?

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them” by Karen Blixen. 

What are some of your favourite off-duty activities? 

Reading, or drawing for fun. 

We’re at the mid of 2019, what are some resolutions or changes you have made recently and have still kept to it?

Generally, I hate making resolutions, because I don’t keep to it. I just want to do everything better than the last.

It takes about a hundred projects to do a good one. So I just do everything to the best of my abilities and just welcome the sheer amount of work.

What are some things you want to try in 2019/2020?

More installations and directing projects because that’s where I realise I’m not the only one handling the project. I have to work together with the team, let go of some responsibilities and trust the team in making a project work. 

You did not really find your calling for arts until JC (around age 17/18), what would you say to those out there that are still figuring out?

You don’t have to make a decision now, embrace whatever you have.

  1. Trust your own voice and exercise it. 
  2. Just do the first thing that comes to mind. 
  3. Be open and try out new things. You will know what you want to do along the way

Remember that no time is wasted.  

Inspired by Aida’s style? Rent her picks from the Infinite Wardrobe:

Know more amazing women like Aida with stories to share? Drop us an email and share your nomination!

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