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Welcome to the ninth issue of The Featured Image newsletter, a place where writing meets art. As a reminder, the goal here is to add visual creativity to our work and gain inspiration from those already doing it.

I first stumbled on Salman Ansari's work when Nate Kadlac (our first interview!) recommended his newsletter, the Quick Brown Fox. It's full of fantastic writing about creativity and embracing your inner polymath. Salman also illustrates his newsletter and essays with an amazing and distinct visual style.

His writing is full of personality, wisdom, and a great sense of visual creativity.

He inspires me to try my hand at more personal essays, something I haven't dabbled too much with over the years (and to illustrate them of course!).

Two of my favorite quotes from the interview that serve as inspirational takeaways:

1) "I struggled to keep drawing regularly given how much time I spent on writing. So, I decided to use blog posts as a prompt for drawing — I try to draw a comic for almost every essay now."

2) "Mostly I’m so tired from all the writing, that I try to get the comic sketched, illustrated and colored in less than an hour. It’s not very clean, but I’ve found that the message matters a lot more than the perfect lines."

Please enjoy the interview below where he talks about his background, process, tools, and advice for creators.

Creator Interview: Salman Ansari from Quick Brown Fox
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Drawings by Salman Ansari

Tell us about the creative work you do.

I work part-time building software at a friend’s AI startup, but the majority of time is split across a number of creative projects. Given that I have “free reign” over these, they vary a lot from week to week. A key part of my lifestyle is embracing my inner polymath, and pursuing lots of different interests. Most of my creativity goes toward writing (newsletters, essays, short stories, lots of tweets) and drawing (illustrations, comics, animations), and finding ways to combine them.

How long have you been visually creative?

I’m not sure! I used to draw a fair bit in art class in elementary school days… but I never kept up with it. Then, a few years ago, I was taking an extended period of time off after startup burnout. I am a huge fan of animation (both in terms of film, as well as implementing animations in software I build), and so I really wanted to learn how to animate. I decided to learn how to draw first, and really got into learning a lot of different areas of illustration. That led me to draw comics, and eventually some short GIF-style animations.

What was your thought process for incorporating original visuals into your work?

I started with drawing comics for fun. I’d just have silly ideas for a joke or punchline, and make a comic and share that.

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Example of one of Salman's comic sketches

In parallel, my writing momentum had picked up and I was publishing newsletters and essays consistently. I struggled to keep drawing regularly given how much time I spent on writing. So, I decided to use blog posts as a prompt for drawing — I try to draw a comic for almost every essay now. I would describe the art style for those as “characteristically messy”.

Mostly I’m so tired from all the writing, that I try to get the comic sketched, illustrated and colored in less than an hour. It’s not very clean, but I’ve found that the message matters a lot more than the perfect lines. People tell me it’s my “style” now, and I giggle.

What tools do you like to use for creation and publishing?

I spend a lot of time taking notes, and have tried lots of different tools for that — Bear, Roam Research, Obsidian, etc. A regular journaling and note-taking habit is a key part of my creativity pipeline — it helps me reflect on my thoughts, build self-awareness, and make creative plans. Pretty much everything I do comes back to a note I wrote somewhere.

As for drawing, I use Procreate for almost all my illustrations. I’ve also recently resumed playing with physical paper and pencil, colored pencils, paint markers and such. I use physical tools more intentionally to take a break from devices, or when I want a physical artifact (lately I make drawings for nieces, nephews, etc.). For animations, I also use Looom and love it.

Is there one image you are particularly proud of? What was the process from start to finish on creating it?

Honestly, my fox avatar character is still my favorite: 

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I did a little thread a while back showing the process of how I got to this version, which became the mascot for my Quick Brown Fox newsletter.

I always remember the first versions that were so messy as a reminder that good things come with practice, but also that each of those was a unique character in their own right. I've drawn many other things that are more realistic or more detailed, but there's something special in creating a character you love.

A close second is this animation of Quick Brown Fox zapping away (“exit, stage left!”), in which I took an animation of Road Runner as inspiration. I love how the cloud of smoke turned out, and just the general feel of it.

Are there any creators who work at the intersection of writing and art that inspire and motivate you?

  • Ralph Ammer: His blog explores the nuances of visual communication, and the power of drawing. Lots of incredible lessons there!
  • Rekka Bellum of Hundred Rabbits: Her drawings and stories are so whimsical and wonderful. I find them incredibly inspiring when intermixed with her life’s journey and work, wandering the seas on a boat while making incredible tools and sharing ideas with the world.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to start (or continue) adding visual creativity to their work?

Just start! It is obvious advice but there really is something to be said about the power and energy that comes from momentum when you just get into something.

I’ve also collected my best advice for writing into a free online Writing Guide, which has advice for overcoming creative blocks, getting started, etc. that I think can apply to any kind of creative work.

The truth is that so many other voices are already out there filling our feeds, often without the best of intentions. And that’s why I try to encourage folks who are more thoughtful to publish their work. I recently published a newsletter video sharing this plea: Stop Hesitating, Start Publishing.

My advice on visuals specifically would be to find prompts that help you stay motivated to keep drawing. The toughest thing about visuals is that you need to practice to get better, so you need consistent prompts.

I sincerely hope to see more creators share their work, and I’m embracing my own role in supporting other creators. If you’re reading this and want to bring a question or thought that I can help with, please reach out! My DMs and email inboxes are always open.

Click to read the interview online (or to share)
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Like I said at the top, Salman has inspired me to try writing some essays. I tend to gravitate towards explainer or landscape review type articles. I think it would be a nice creative exercise, particularly to use them as a prompt for an accompanying drawing. This is of course after a few tutorials get posted that I've been working on. I'd like to get out of my comfort zone, but not yet!

I officially started the Daily Visual challenge today now that it is April. There are daily prompts, but I'll probably go between following those and following other sources of inspiration. I'm committing to 30 days of visuals no matter what. If I miss a day, I have to make it up. I'll post them all to The Featured Image twitter as I go. 

Next week I'm excited to feature the work of Sophie Lucido Johnson. I first stumbled on her writing + illustrations with How to do 50 Things . Also, please be sure to go down a rabbit hole on her fantastic website like I did. 

Other links to get creative juice flowing:

Scott Young on how you don't need anything more than pencil and paper to get started with illustrations for your writing.

Here’s How People From The Past Imagined The Future (20 Pics). I will never not click on this kind of thing. 

Lose Yourself in a Mesmerizing, Meticulous Map of the Met.

During a Twitter AMA, I asked Indie Hackers co-founder Channing Allen about the illustrations in their newsletter (which I love). This is his response
Ok, that's it for this week. Be sure to create something cool and share it with someone. I would be more than happy to be that someone :)

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