Brooklyn-based digital artist, Sheeba Maya, specializes in fantasy art, and is a prominent figure in the Afrofuturism movement. Afrofuturism is defined as an artistic movement that responds to and challenges the exclusion of people of color, specifically of the African diaspora, from the traditional science fiction genre. For generations, this exclusion implied the erasure of Black people and culture from the future, which is obviously extremely problematic.
Within this movement are many sub-genres, including Afro-Fantasy Realism, which is how Sheeba describes her own style. “I also like to think of it as Ancient Futurism, the fantasy depiction of the earliest peoples as they would have expressed their ideas on future technologies and postmodern cultural advancements. This depiction celebrates the presence of Black bodies, their intellectual contributions, and their spiritual involvement in ancient history as well as the distant future. This is especially important in a society and culture that really only acknowledges Black history as it relates to American history (a 400-500 year stretch). While unpacking and honestly/accurately recording the history of the African Slave Trade is hugely important, it is not our entire story. The truth is that Black cultures existed long before Africans became enslaved, and will continue to exist deep into the reaches of the future.”
Inclusive illustration & women of color in the industry
Sheeba laments that there is still a considerable amount of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the like for women of color to deal with on a regular basis in the commercial arts industry. “Honestly, it’s hard not to feel that “diversity” is just a buzz word is being thrown around. It’s not the warm fuzzy feeling of brother- and sisterhood where we are genuinely offered inclusion. Luckily, however, there are many more online platforms to leverage than ever before. It’s possible for the independent artist to be seen and supported, and women of color are able to navigate, or even circumvent, the traditional route to success by leveraging these platforms. And since there is such a huge lack of representation in media in comparison to our white hetero counterparts, there is this massive audience begging for the content they aren’t getting and a ton of room for independent artists to fill this gap. These platforms are now available to help push this content out there and this opens up different opportunities that allow us to make our voices heard and make a fair wage with our art.”
A gift of love. A lifetime of art.
Sheeba’s first Wacom was an Intuos3, a gift given to her by her father who is very much into the arts and gadgets. At that time she was primarily doing graphic design and was unfamiliar with using a tablet. In 2009, a series of terrible circumstances landed her in New York, with nothing but a week’s worth of clothes and her computer equipment. Then in late 2011 Sheeba met an incredibly prolific artist who became her mentor. “I watched him paint digitally and I knew instantly that I could do this process too. I was hugely inspired, because this meant that I could return to my art after a long and depressing break, and that even though I did not have much, I did have that Intuos tablet and a laptop.” Sheeba returned to her studio inspired to try digital painting, and dedicated herself to learning how to use the tablet until it became a natural extension of her creative energy. By early 2012, she was well on her way to mastering her craft, and was using her tablet almost daily. Although Sheeba says she owes a lot of her professional success to the tablet, we know that it is her hard work and dedication that got her to this point in her career.
Goodbye trusty Intuos 3. Hello Wacom Intuos Pro
Sheeba’s first Intuos 3 tablet was a loyal device that outlived so many other electronic tools she’d used over the years. But when she upgraded to the Wacom Intuos Pro last year, Sheeba says she was in heaven. “It has so many functions I didn’t even realize I needed until I started getting familiar with them. The customizable buttons are incredibly flexible and I can keep my hands at the tablet and my eyes on the screen instead of dancing back and forth between them and the keyboard. The touch gesture options are also pretty useful at times and since touch gestures are part of the tech interaction that we’ve become very used to, it seamlessly works into my workflow. And when I don’t need it, it’s very easy to turn it off. It all just seems to make sense, which helped make learning this device a very smooth process for me. I also enjoy its portability, since I can pack it up with my laptop when I travel. Slim. Sturdy. Reliable. But most of all, I’m in love with the feel of the texture and traction of the stylus against the surface of the tablet. It feels so much more like pencil on paper than any other device I’ve ever tried. Because I like to approach my digital painting and drawing the way I do my traditional art, I enjoy that the action of drawing feels so organic to a traditional process. It lends itself to a really natural, intuitive, and enjoyable experience.”
On Wacom Intuos Pro vs iPad Pro
“I find that there are advantages of the Wacom over the iPad. For one, the iPad is dependent on the apps that are available on that operating system. While there are some amazing apps out there that I use for digital painting, nothing compares to having access to the full range of functions available on the full version of Photoshop. The Wacom allows me to apply the graphic design and photo editing tools to my illustrations in one incredibly dynamic program. I’ve also found that because the Intuos Pro’s surface has a bit of texture, it feels more like pencil on paper, as opposed to the iPad ,which is smooth plastic against even smoother slick glass. My lines are easier to control with the Wacom Intuos Pro and the learning curve for using the Apple Pencil with the iPad was much steeper by comparison. It took a much longer time and a concentrated effort to learn to control my strokes on the iPad. Also, I tend to grip the Apple Pencil tighter to achieve this control which causes a fatigue after hours of work which i don’t experience with the Wacom stylus.”
About Sheeba Maya
Sheeba Maya is a Brooklyn based illustrator, portrait artist, and arts educator specializing in fantasy art and digital painting. As a prominent artist of the Afrofuturism movement, Sheeba’s distinctive, painterly, and masterful digital artwork is recognized for its delicate attention to detail and the surreal, energetically-charged nature of each illustration. Her work has been featured in Imagine FX, Niobe: She Is Death, The Society of Illustrators Museum NYC, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her recent ongoing projects include the Zodiac Series, The Spectrum Series, and a published collection of sketches entitled Within the Chrysalis.