Drawing from Life: Interview with Palestinian Canadian Photographer and Animator Nour AhramWritten by Chelby Daigle
Palestine Canadian Nour Ahram is a creative juggernaut. She is a professional animator and photographer who also dabbles in graphic design and Islamic calligraphy.
Her interest in drawing started young and was influenced by the talents of both of her parents. “My mother told me that I was drawing ever since I started walking,” Nour shared, “I would grab paper and a pencil or crayon and start scribbling, doing circles and stickman figures. Then I started drawing buildings, and lots of stairs. As I got older, I started drawing cartoons. I used to draw portraits of my uncle and grandfather a lot, I don’t know why, I liked to draw people I really loved as a child I think.”
Like many in the Palestinian diaspora, Nour, born to a mother whose family fled Jaffa in 1948, and a father whose family lives in East Jerusalem, grew up in several Middle Eastern countries until finally making a home in Ottawa, Canada in 2006.
A formal Arts education was something that just was not available in Abu Dhabi where she spent most of her school years, “At my school they stopped teaching Art Class at Grade 6 so I just continued drawing on my own and my family really encouraged me to keep it up. My teachers used to be very inspired by my work and said I had a gift so they encouraged me to pursue it.”
When Nour applied to Algonquin College’s competitive 3-D Animation Program she was accepted based on the merit of her portfolio despite the lack of education. And she managed to survive the intensive program when many others did not. “My class started out as about 150 students in 2-D and 3-D,” she stated, “When I graduated we only had 5 people in my 3-D class and 20 in the 2-D class!”
People often drop out in first year when they realize that animation is very hard work. “Animation requires a lot of patience,” she explained, “It can be very repetitive. You have to just stay cool and keep drawing. Every second of animation you have to draw 24 drawings. So imagine with a 9 second project 24 drawings times 9! And animation is all about timing. You have to draw your drawings along a beat. Imagine if you have a character walking down the street - you have to think about the walking cycle, how it starts, how it ends. You have to follow where the knee is going, where the head is going, where his arms are going. And if one drawing is out of place, it can throw everything off.”
Nour works in Ottawa’s small animation industry and has contributed to projects for Disney, Comedy Central, and CBC. “You need to understand that as an animator, you are not just drawing your own style. You have to get used to drawing other people’s styles and love doing it. I have realized that from each show I learn a new style and I add it to my own style. It has broadened my vision for my own work.”
Nour also feels that being a good animator involves more than just drawing skills. “They say that an animator is the behind the camera actor, because you have to act out the character as you draw, you have to think about how to make the character come to life,” she stated.
Nour is now a Professor of Animation at Algonquin College, teaching 2-D animation to second year students. Her advice to students is that to survive the program you need to manage your time. “You need to be talented and you need to manage your time wisely,” she explained, “You also need patience.”
Nour feels that her talents as an animator also enhance her work as a professional photographer. “When you do animation, you are the director, you have to figure out the angles, where the lighting is coming from, where the shadows should go, from what perspective you want to draw from,” she stated, “You are thinking as a photographer, as a videographer, and as an artist.”
While studying animation, Nour also took courses in photography at the Ottawa School of Art. Nour does photography for weddings, events and family portraits. “I do everything, family, children, even newborns,” she explained, “It’s so beautiful. I also do a lot of Eid Photo Shoots for Families. They are really fun!”
In 2011, after becoming a Canadian citizen, Nour was able to visit her relatives in East Jerusalem and she used the opportunity to take photos of Old Jerusalem. “It was such a dream to go home after such a long time, 16 years we were not able to go because we could not get a visa,” she shared, “As a Canadian, it was so much easier. I stayed in Jerusalem with familyand I was able to explore the city. Inside Old Jerusalem-it’s like an entirely different city than New Jerusalem. All kind of religions are there, Jews, Muslims, Armenian Christians, and other types of Christians. Just walking between the streets you see synagogues, churches, mosques.” Nour focused her photography in this area in order to highlight an aspect of the region which is often not captured in mainstream media. “I wanted people to see the good side of our culture, our history, and our people,” she shared.
Nour hopes to someday develop her own cartoon with a Muslim audience in mind. “I would really like to do something for kids,” she shared, “We don’t have really good Muslim cartoons. I want to incorporate our religion, our traditions, our histories, and our cultures into a cartoon for kids.” Skilled in drawing backgrounds for animation, Nour hopes to also incorporate the beautiful landscapes and cityscapes of the Middle East.
To learn more about Nour Ahram’s work visit here
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