Exclusive: Meet Anoosha Syed, the Artist Inventing Modern-Day Disney Princesses

Anoosha Syed is a Pakistani artist living in Toronto and working primarily as a character designer for animation, although she also illustrates children's books as well. Under her belt, she has collected clients such as Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, BOOM Comics, and recently, she worked on a preschool show called "Dot," based on a book by Randi Zuckerberg.

MAKERS caught up with Syed in an exclusive interview to find out all there is to know about the 23-year-old artist.

Q: What inspired you to become an illustrator? What's your process?
A: A series of accidents mostly; I wanted to be a writer for most of my life (I was your typical book-obsessed kid), and was even on the school paper in high school. As the only one on the team who could kind of draw, I ended up doing the weekly comics. Because of that, I realized I wanted to work in the arts. It kind of worked out since I'm still technically working in the publishing world, just the designing side of it!

As for my process (for books), after reading the manuscript I'll start with rough concepts for characters, going back and forth until we find something we like. Then I'll be given prompts for the illustrations; (usually super open-ended, giving a lot of freedom for the artist) and then I'll sketch those out. Once they're approved, we move onto the final! 

Q: We love your modern-day Disney princess series; can you tell us more about it?
A: I think it's been two years since I drew those princesses now! It was always just a fun little stress reliever amidst all the art school homework. I love Disney movies, and the princesses even more! I had seen quite a few renditions of 'Modern' princesses (maybe to the point they were a cliché) but it was usually a cynical rendition, like Belle being obsessed with plastic surgery or once I saw Jasmine as a terrorist (yikes!). Which I thought was a sad takeaway from the films, even some of the older one like Snow White or Cinderella who get bashed quite often for being antifeminist (but I feel have traits that women in our time can still learn from, like kindness and patience). I thought it would be interesting to reimagine these girls, with their same aspirations and passions, and put it in a more relatable setting. So, I drew each of the princesses along with an accompanying backstory; for example, Jasmine in her movie is an over-protected princess with a tiger who wants to see the world, so I described her as being a jet setting travel blogger and an animal-rights activist who is a total cat-lady. I also drew her wearing a hijab as with this series I also wanted to focus on more diversity as well. 

Q: What does being a 21st century woman mean to you?
A: Having the power to be whoever you want to be and making those childhood dreams come true. And especially now, being there for other women who may not have the same freedom you do and fighting for that right for everyone.

Q: What is the message you hope to send young girls with these Disney princesses?
A: It was important for me that each of these princesses was passionate about something, and I tried to make their aspirations diverse and include careers that aren't seen as feminine. So while some girls are written with in interest in the arts or literature we also have athletes and scientists and entrepreneurs. We need to support young girls who want to be creators and thinkers and remind them that the have the power to be the change they want to see in the world. And if seeing some artwork that takes something they grew up with and relate to, and being able to see themselves in that work empowers them, then I'm doing my job.

Q: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
A: Definitely! 

Q: Define #BEBOLD.
A: Being strong and proud of yourself, waking up in the morning and knowing you love yourself and that you're going to kick butt in whatever you're going to do that day!

Q: How are you bold in your everyday life?
A: Growing up as a Pakistani Muslim girl, I didn't really see myself in any media I took in. Now as an illustrator I strive to make my characters as diverse as I can, especially for my children's books. It's important for me that anyone who sees my work can find a part of themselves in it, no matter their race, gender, shape or sexuality. 

Check out a few more of Syed's modern-day Princesses below: 

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Anoosha Syed