UnderStated__EP003 ___Ranaa

Interview and Creative Direction by Cyril Edet
Photography by Christine Dang

Heavily inspired by her adolescent interests, Ranaa uses nostalgic references to document lived experience. Following her largest project to date, we caught up with her at home to discuss her work, and what’s next.

(Ranaa in her bedroom, November 2023)


Cyril: How did you get into art?

I've honestly just drawn ever since I was a kid. Like for as long as I can remember I've just drawn on different things. Art class was always what I was the most into. I always rejected every other subject and was just so into art. My mom recently found these stacks of binders of all these old drawings that she had kept over the years. And there's some that are from when I was like four. And it's so interesting to look back at.

Cyril: And so how did you settle on your current style?

My current style actually came from drawing myself. I used to be very into hyper realism. Like, I would make graphite portraits. I would draw myself in my current style in these self-deprecating portraits,and it was reserved for that. It was only for me. And in those old portraits, you can see there would be eye bags, it was very clear that it was expressing how I saw myself. But that kind of just snowballed. And I started drawing myself or drawing my friends and just using it a lot. I think that I got really into the art style because it was so much more creative than doing graphite portraits, because I was able to actually articulate the way I saw things, you know? But yeah, that's how it all started, which is kind of funny that it started as self-deprecation. And then now it's definitely my love language.

Cyril: I remember you mentioned the Tim Burton, Corpse Bride influence as well.

Yeah. Yeah. I feel like, honestly, all of the media I would absorb as a kid. I was so into cartoons as a kid. Like, I loved SpongeBob. Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom - literally whatever was on TV. I still now love cartoons and animation. I think I subconsciously gather  inspo from it and apply it to my art, which is cool.

Cyril: If your art had a voice, what would it say?

I think it just would say whatever the viewer who is absorbing it would say. My intention with my art is to put it out into the world, and for people to take it and give it their voice. I want people to see themselves in it. And so that's why I'm always hesitant to give it too much context or narrative, because I feel like sometimes it can affect the natural way that people make associations with it. That's what I was trying to say. *laughs*

Cyril: What's your favorite project or piece that you've worked on so far?

My favorite artwork that I've made recently was a sketch of me and three of my best friends. We were out on my friend's birthday, but something about that night felt so... impactful. And it's interesting because it was Danny's birthday and we just went out. But there's something about that night that felt special. And the next day I was thinking about it. I loosely made a drawing, and ended up spending hours on it. And the way that it encapsulates that night, I see it and I feel like I'm transported back to it. So it's really special to me. Even though it's a small drawing and it wasn't for anything, that's how I want all of my art to feel like. I want it to feel intentional. Yeah, Yeah. That one was special. That one was really special to me. And now it's hung up in my friend's house.

Cyril: I think that's the thing I love about art. It gets to mark a place in time because you look back at it, and it's like, "this is what I did at this point", "this is what I felt" and it's like a physical manifestation of that.

Ranaa: Exactly. Yeah. Even looking back at, like, my self-deprecating portraits, that's how I felt at the time and it's very accurate to that time period. It's cool. I feel like that's also why I try not to plan things out too much. People are frequently asking "okay, what do you want to do now?", "what do you want to do next?" And I feel like the way that my art flows, it's based on exactly how I'm feeling in the moment or what I'm experiencing.

Cyril: Yeah.

Ranaa: And I feel like that drawing that I made of us, that is how I want all of my art to feel for me.

Cyril: Describe your art using three words.

(Ranaa surrounded by her art and supplies, November 2023)
Ranaa: Adolescent. Melancholy. And... authentic

Cyril: Why those three?

Adolescent, I gather so much inspiration from what I liked as a kid, and from media that might be geared towards teenagers or kids, like, as I said, cartoons and stuff. And also there's a certain edginess, I think, to it a little bit. It feels like I create for my inner child or even for my teenage self. And I feel like it can have a sense of melancholy and nostalgia because sometimes I create very bright, like, images and it looks like a kid's cartoon. But sometimes I can create from a very dark place or heavier themes.. And like you can still feel it in some way. Yeah, you can kind of gather that, I think. And even if other people can't gather that, then that's just how I feel when I create sometimes... 

Authentic I think just because I create from life experience a lot. So it's like me and my friends...

Cyril: It's personal.

Yeah, it's super personal, like I'm really protective over it. It's really personal because if I'm drawing a caricature, even if it's not a specific person, it still feels like a version of my friends or my peers or community. And I take so much inspiration from the people around me and the creative community in Toronto. So, yeah, I don't know, authentic to me, I guess
Cyril: What gives you the most joy as an artist?

Just creating. Making something that feels good. Creating for myself specifically and being in the flow state of spending hours on something and not even noticing the time go by. That's the greatest joy that comes from it. And also giving art to my friends gives me so much joy because I'll have some pieces and I'll just give it to my friends because yeah, it's ultimately inspired by them. And it makes me happy sharing it.

Cyril: Which spaces do you feel most comfortable creating in?

Honestly, my room. I feel very good painting and drawing in my room. I also love bringing a pen around with me and drawing on random shit that I can get my hands on, like if I'm at a restaurant, like writing on the receipt or a coaster or something. As long as I'm comfortable, I feel comfortable making art, I think. Like, if I'm in a good space with people I trust and love, I'm more than likely to feel comfy making art. My boyfriend who's a musician, he'll see the way that I just bring a pen around with me everywhere. And he's like, "Damn, I wish I could just bring it with me everywhere". But yeah I love keeping that shit in my back pocket. For whenever I need it. For whenever inspiration strikes.

Cyril: I feel like it's one of the most mobile forms of art.

Definitely, yeah. Because I'll just bring a pen with me and not my sketchbook or anything, and I'll still... I'll find something, you know, whether it's like a napkin or a wrapper, or garbage. Something that someone would throw out. I'll use it as a canvas. And that's one of my favorite things, honestly. Because when you're drawing on something like that, there's context there already. It feels authentic for that moment and time frame.
                                (Books from Ranaa’s room, November 2023)

(Mural on the Bather store by Ranaa, October 2023)
Cyril: Which mediums are you most drawn to?

Ranaa: Um, I think it switches all the time. Right now I'm most drawn to acrylic paint because I've been teaching myself how to recently and also spray paint. I taught myself how to spray paint as I was making my first mural.

Cyril: The Bather one?

Ranaa: Yeah. I had never spray painted before to that extent, like here and there, but never to that capacity. And it's such a fun medium. Like, it's so fun. I really want to use it more. Acrylic paint is cool too- we didn't get along for a long time, but I'm finally coming around to it and increasing my skill as it comes, hopefully.

Cyril: Oh, and how did you end up doing the Bather mural?

Ranaa: My boss, Kyle, who's the owner of Bather. He knew I was an artist and I think he just suggested it to me. He was like, You should do a mural on the back wall. And I was like, Okay. I had never done anything like that ever. But I was like, okay, I'll learn how to do it, which I feel like I do a lot. Like my friend came to me with an idea for a stop motion. And I had never done anything like that before. And I was like, okay, bet we'll figure out how to do it. But yeah, with the Bather mural, I made a mockup and he liked it. And then I did it and it was so cool. Kyle's really, really cool for that. And he's very supportive of art, which is sick.

Cyril: What's your dream project?

Ranaa: I have a bunch of little dream projects. I definitely want to make a big sculpture of some sort. I also want to have a solo exhibition soon. And I want to make my art move. I want to make it tangible. So I want people to be able to touch it and interact with it. I want to give it motion and movement, and then the solo show- I think that'd be really cool because I post my art on Instagram so much. But when you see it in person, you just feel different. Like it invokes something different. So it would be super fun to have an exhibition of some sort.

Cyril: What was your biggest learning experience as an artist?

Ranaa: Honestly, just trusting myself. And I have to remind myself that every day, because there will be times where I'll be going through a phase where I will need external validation a lot more, where I'll be sending pictures of what I'm working on to my friends constantly and being like, "What do you think?". But I continue to remind myself that because it's my art, I need to trust my inner voice and not question it as much and just trust myself and the process and not be so self critical because I feel like we're taught that being extremely self critical helps your art. But in my case oftentimes it actually just makes it harder to flow. But yeah, I'm still learning that every day.

Cyril:  I think you end up nitpicking when you're too self-critical because with the validation thing you mentioned, it's a lot of you want somebody else to tell you that this is good because you started to convince yourself that it's not.

Ranaa: Yeah! I'll be looking at something like "this is shit!". There's a painting hung up in my boyfriend's room that I hated when I made it. I really didn't like it. And he's like, “I want it. If you don't want it, I'll take it” He loves this painting and I was like, yeah, take it. I don't like it. And now I see it hanging up in his room and I'm like, "this is kind of fire.". Like, I think looking at your art in different environments helps a lot.

Cyril: Sometimes the more time you spend with something or sitting on something, you start to hate it. But then the more time you spend away from it, when you return to it, you're like "okay this is kinda nice."

Ranaa: Literally, I used to have such a problem with putting things away for a period of time. I convinced myself that it would make my momentum not as quick or it would slow  down, but it actually just gives you space to absorb different things and come back to it with a fresh mind. It's like eating ginger between sushi, you cleanse your palate.

Cyril: So what's next for you?

Ranaa: I don't know, honestly. I always use this example when people ask me that: Last spring, I was really into watercolor. Watercolor was my thing for a while and I was teaching myself how to use it. I didn't have any watercolor paper left and I was going to New York, so I got there and I was like, "fuck, what do I draw on? what do I use?" And I bought a pack of stickers and some markers. And that just became my canvas for the week that I was there. And it drastically changed my art style, even coming back home. That took me into a direction that I wouldn't have taken if I just bought watercolor paper with me. So I'm always open to those things happening. Honestly I don't know what's next. Hopefully just continuously evolving and not putting myself in a box and just making things for myself and my friends and the people I love. As long as I have that... because tomorrow I could randomly stumble upon something that inspires me to make like a claymation, or something so random. So I'm never going to be like, "okay, this is the next step" and "this is the route I need to take". I never want to make myself feel too...

Cyril: Boxed in?

Ranaa: Boxed in. And married to an idea because then it stops things from happening, you know?

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