This past December, YouTube interaction designer and illustrator Arman Nobari made the decision to create one drawing per day for an entire year, often from subjects found on Instagram and other social media. These minimalistic, cross-hatched illustrations all came about because he and his family were grieving over the death of his grandfather, Feridoun. Upon his passing, Nobari immediately dropped what he was doing and headed to his hometown to participate in the Muslim funeral ritual known as Ṣalāt al-Janāzah.
Despite not being religious, Nobari found himself both surprised and mesmerized by the rites. Afterward, he thought back to a few years ago, when he gave his grandparents a Christmas gift of Arabic calligraphy with religious significance —a drawing in front of which his grandfather prayed five times a day. Five months into his year-long drawing ambition, Nobari is still going strong.
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Nobari tells Creators that he originally began making ink portraits during a rough period in college. His grades were terrible, thieves had ransacked his apartment, and he was flat out broke. Years prior, Nobari had undergone chemotherapy for an aggressive form of lymphoma, and he had since been experiencing intense, disorienting waves of “chemo-brain” that derailed school and work. This, along with the burglary, left a lot of pieces in his life that needed to be put back together. Drawing, even just with Sharpies and plain paper, helped in this process.
Early on, Nobari found influences in the clean line-work of old woodblock and crosshatch drawings he found in history books. For him, the idea of just a few angled lines turning into a face, with a great deal of negative space, was fascinating to no end. But it was Danny Yount’s title sequence for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes that really pushed this interest into full-on obsession.
“I had found an old travel DVD player in the closet after the burglary, with that movie still inside, while sorting through the aftermath,” Nobari tells Creators. “I must’ve watched just the title sequence a hundred times, trying to reverse engineer the high-contrast face detail mixed with sketched elements.”
Nobari now only uses ink, and always begins each drawing by first working on the eyes. For him, it is a way to infer a lot of information about a person’s face, such as size, direction, and emotion. Sometimes he nails it on the first try, other times he has to do several pages of studies to get it right.
After finishing the eyes, he frames the face’s cheekbones and jaws, then begins crosshatching in the details. He leaves as much negative space to imply details like shape, complexion, and expression.
As for where Nobari finds the subjects for his portraits, they come from a variety of places. Occasionally he’ll find reference photos from friends or people on Instagram, while other times he searches online, or through old magazines, if he has a very specific pose or idea in mind. Nobari has even worked with photographers and models to repurpose their work.
“I’m curious to see what trends appear when looking at the year—the first year, anyway—as a whole,” says Nobari. “I recently noticed that the paper I’m using started as damaged little scraps and unconsciously trended towards whole, undamaged sheets and book pages over time.”
“I’d love to put all 365 pieces up on a wall and see what other patterns emerge, or what patterns other people notice.”
Click here to follow Arman Nobari’s year-long ink drawing journey.
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