Samar Ziadat | March 27 2016
Nuhad Butros is a 51 year old Jordanian artist of Palestinian origin who is currently based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She’s had a passion for art ever since she can remember, but she considers her practice to have most seriously developed in the past fifteen to sixteen years. Nuhad dardashat with Samar about her most recent venture into digital art, how she stays inspired when working creatively, and how she escaped the Egyptian revolution with cat in tow!
What was the first artistic medium you ever used?
I would say play-dough as a child, endlessly squishing and molding it into little figurines – loved the stuff! Later colouring pencils and coloured chalk on a blackboard. More seriously, though, oil on canvas.
Recently you’ve been creating a lot of digital artwork. How did you start?
Just this past Christmas I started using a program called Procreate – it’s a whole new world. You open a page and paint away creating all sorts of things with help of the many tools it provides you with. My daughter Haya gave it to me as a gift this Christmas, along with the digital paint brush that comes with it!
Do you sketch your designs out on paper before working digitally?
I have always been an impatient person, so I do all my art free hand and hope for the best. One piece can change many times before I am done! Digital art allows you to go back in incremental steps, so you can always go back to the point in your drawing where you were happiest. I use both memory and sometimes photographs as my initial ideas.
Why portraiture? And are these portraits of people you know, or people you’ve seen before?
I do anything and everything depending on my mood. Having said that, I love watching humans and faces, elderly people fascinate me. Eyes are the windows to the soul. My heritage often pulls me back to my roots and I feel that my art gives me the freedom to experience and express all these emotions. Mostly they are not people I know but I have crossed paths with similar faces often in my life.
Has your family always been supportive of your creative endeavors?
Growing up, my family always believed that focusing on my studies was most important. Art was just a hobby. Years later when I started producing art, they were on board and became very supportive and encouraging.
What first encouraged you to make art?
When I was 12 my mother bought me a blue easel and I painted that whole summer. However, my artistic talent remained hidden until I moved to Cairo in 2000 as an adult. Living there and meeting the right people at the right time brought out the true artist in me. Being surrounded by creative souls, I tried my hand at everything from painting on wood, designing and making custom jewelry, oil on canvas and finally my true passion, watercolor. I call art my yoga, it brings me peace.
When you lived in Cairo, were you there when the revolution began?
Yes, my husband, two daughters and I lived in Cairo for eleven years between 2000 and 2011. We stayed in Cairo for the first few days of the revolution, but as time progressed we felt the need, for the safety of our daughters, to leave for a couple of weeks and go home to Amman.
What was it like?
It was a cultural shock to say the least but the cultural experience and exposure that we all went through during that time helped mould us into the people we have become today. We did experience the revolution and saw the nation rise and were very proud of the Egyptian people in the early days of the revolution. The days leading up to it were both thrilling and intimidating at the same time. The way the people came together and protected each other was amazing and inspiring and touched our hearts. In the absence of police, Neighborhood Watch groups were instantly formed and each group stood watch around the clock protecting their neighborhoods.
Was it difficult to leave?
That was no easy task since, apparently, all the expatriates in Cairo had the same bright idea! The whole family moved at that time, including our beloved cat Cocoa – there was no way that we could leave him behind. The airport was packed solid with people pressed together into what felt like a human wave. The hardest part was trying to take Cocoa with us; people, after all, were busy with a revolution; the last thing they cared about was our cat.
– Habiby Cocoa!
We always had Cocoa’s papers ready and waiting just in case we had to go on a runaway adventure! We tried to get his papers stamped at the airport but it was such chaos at the time that it was impossible, so we just kept him with us and hoped for the best. It was a very long 14-hour ordeal at the airport with Cocoa in tow. Once we got to our gate we informed the airline that we had a cat with us. Naturally, they were not pleased. We were asked why we had not declared this at the check-in counter to which we replied that we couldn’t reach a check-in counter, let alone find one to declare a cat. We were told that Cocoa can’t leave the country and we should leave him behind at the airport – it was horrible. After a lot of crying and much begging for dear Cocaty’s life, we convinced them to let Cocoa (who had all his legal papers with him and his immunization up to date!) be allowed to travel with us in cargo – usually no animals are allowed on board a plane in the Middle East anyway. My family and I, and our dear Cocoa, made it through that trip and back to Cairo two weeks later.
What is your advice to aspiring artists when it comes to staying inspired?
I explore and learn new techniques and experiment with different mediums. Of course, I have phases. Sometimes I paint every day and sometimes months pass by when I don’t touch a brush. There are also many artists, musicians and authors that really inspire me. I love Monet, Dagas, Van Gogh, Banksy and Ismail Shamout. I also really enjoy authors like Jubran Khalil Jubran, Jane Austen and Mitch Albom. And of course, my favourite musicians are Um Kultoum and Fairouz. Oh and I also love Adele! I do my best art at home with my favourite music blasting away.
Samar Ziadat is a postgraduate student in modern and contemporary art history at the University of Edinburgh. When she’s not ranting about intersectional feminism, she’s either curled up with a book or her cat. You can follow her on instagram and twitter, or read her articles here.