Maria Qamar on How She Turned her Passion for Art Into a Sustainable Career

Toronto-based artist Maria Qamar began doodling all through conferences whilst running as a copywriter. After posting her comic-book taste illustrations of South Asian ladies on Instagram below the deal with Hatecopy, she won a following and attracted global consideration. In March, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto introduced its debut NFT collaboration with Qamar. Here, she tells CB how she made a occupation in artwork occur.


I’ve sought after to be an artist since I used to be 3 years previous. Drawing used to be at all times the best way I preferred to keep up a correspondence my concepts. I began taking it extra critically when I used to be enrolled in an artwork magnificence as a child and met this woman who used to be in point of fact just right at drawing the genie from Aladdin, I were given weirdly aggressive about it—I sought after to be higher than her at drawing the genie—so I went via a segment the place I drew the nature over and over. My brother and I had been additionally in point of fact into making comics in combination rising up. I feel to a point all children are artists, after which it roughly fizzles out in maturity. But I simply saved on doing it.

Despite my pastime for artwork, my folks—who’re scientists—inspired me and my brother to get into medication. They sought after me to grow to be a pharmacist, so in highschool, they helped me get a gig shadowing one close to the place we lived in Mississauga, Ont. I lasted two weeks sooner than I were given fired. I used to be checking out tablets once I sliced ​​my arms with scissors and bled in all places—together with at the medication. (My brother did finally end up turning into a health care provider, despite the fact that.)

Career-wise, in highschool, I sought after to be an artwork director. It used to be my concept of ​​a compromise, as it used to be inventive however apparently business-y sufficient for my circle of relatives’s liking. But once I proposed it to my folks, they weren’t inspired as it nonetheless had “art” within the identify. They sought after me to select a occupation the place I might be financially safe—and their concept of ​​an artist used to be any person who turns into a success after they die. I settled on copywriting, as it used to be the nearest I may just get to one thing inventive whilst convincing my folks I had an actual activity.

I landed my first copywriting gig in Toronto when I used to be 20, running on scripts for TV and radio, in addition to billboards. I used to be in point of fact prepared to get all my creativity out however temporarily realized there have been a minimum of 30 folks reviewing my concepts sooner than anything else were given licensed. During that point I might doodle all through conferences: I made it seem like I used to be taking notes however I used to be in reality drawing the individual in entrance of me, or myself with squiggly eyes. Sometimes I might publish those drawings on my Instagram, below the username @hatecopy, which I selected as a result of I did not need my co-workers to seek out me. My place of business used to be proper beside George Brown College, so I might paintings till 7 pm then take a demonstration magnificence till 9 pm I stored up cash to shop for a Surface Pro pill so I may just draw at the display and right away add my illustrations to Photoshop. After that, I discovered myself drawing at paintings at all times—or staring at Youtube movies of lovable canines—till I were given laid off in 2015.

I had sufficient cash stored to waft me for 3 months. I used my loose time to attract and publish my illustrations to Instagram. At first, I used to be simply doodling ladies however in the end I advanced a mode comparable to comedian books the place the protagonists had been at all times South Asian ladies like me. The first comedian I drew that in point of fact resonated with my family and friends used to be a lady within the taste of a Roy Lichtenstein portray, pronouncing “I burnt the rotis.” My good friend despatched me a message pronouncing, “Dude, this is hilarious.” But after a couple of days of waking up at 3 pm, I spotted I in point of fact had to get a “real” activity. I began surfing ConnectedIn on a daily basis for hours, making use of to roles that did not even make sense for my enjoy, like the top of a way corporate in Germany. I used to be racing in opposition to the clock till cash ran out.

Instead of discovering full-time paintings, I began taking over copywriting contracts with businesses whilst proceeding to attract. My Instagram following grew and I began getting global consideration for my paintings: I used to be profiled by the BBC and Vogue India, In March 2016, I gave the impression at the quilt of ELLE Canada mag for my artwork along Wondagurl and Lilly Singh. My employer used to be like, “You’re at the quilt of {a magazine}? What are you doing right here? Go pursue that.”

At that point, I realized I could use my skills to build my own brand. I started posting my artwork regularly on Instagram and took every opportunity, like showing my work at coffee shops, that came my way. A lot of people reached out to me asking if they could buy prints of my work. I was still drawing in a sketchbook, so I decided to level up my sketches into paintings, take a photo of them, bring the photos to a printing shop and make posters for everyone who wanted one. There was enough demand that I made a website on Squarespace and started charging around $35 to $40 per poster. I sold quite a bit at first, which I didn’t expect.

I went to zine fairs and art markets with a stack of posters to sell. Then I got an offer to curate an exhibit at Soho House in Toronto. The fact that people were interested in my work really gave me the self-confidence to continue doing art as a job. My whole life, I was told that art wasn’t a valid career path, so it was really hard for me to gain the confidence that I could succeed in this.

In 2016, I got an email from someone who worked at the TV series, The Mindy Project, asking for some of my prints to hang in Mindy’s apartment on the show. At first I thought it was spam, but I Googled the person’s name, found their LinkedIn and it turned out they were legit. By the time I responded to the email, the person had already placed an order on my site. I ended up sending them a bunch of free stuff anyway.

After a few years of finding success as an independent artist, I was approached by a talent management agency after an interview I had done with the CBC on The National, Gaining representation allowed me to focus on doing art while having someone else run the business and e-commerce side, which allows me to make art a sustainable career.

Earlier this year, my solo exhibition, Dhamakedar, Superstar! opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, or the MOCA. I painted a number of images of one woman who is obsessed with a pop star. One of the paintings, In Pyaar With a Superstar!, was also turned into a limited edition NFT. I never imagined I would have my own exhibition at the MOCA. I thought I would only end up at a museum after I was dead. But even though my career is going well and I definitely make more than I did as a copywriter, I still have this voice in the back of my mind telling me to get a “actual” activity.

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