Ahmed al Refaei‭, ‬32‭, ‬is a Kuwaiti graphic designer and illustrator that grew up with a fascination with the world around him‭. ‬Inspired by his environment‭, ‬Ahmed was curious and interested in drawing characters from his own imagination‭. ‬Along the years‭, ‬this hobby transformed into a combination of design‭, ‬illustration‭, ‬and sketching‭. ‬It took lots of time and effort to develop his own artistic style‭, ‬which is clearly shown in his work‭.‬

With his wide imagination‭, ‬he likes to take reality one step further‭. ‬In his piece‭ ‬“Oldies Station”‭, ‬Ahmed was fascinated with how the older generation listen to vintage radios pressed against their ears‭. ‬“They love the radio very much that if they could get a chance‭, ‬they would actually sit in it‭,‬”‭ ‬he said‭. ‬So he illustrated a drawing of an old lady and old man sitting inside a radio with a pot of tea‭.‬

As Ahmed grew up in Kuwait and entered high school‭, ‬he developed an interest in graphic design‭. ‬He focused on getting his own clients for a while and neglected illustration to focus more on his newfound interest‭. ‬Illustration and graphic design wasn’t something he saw merging together until about three years ago‭.


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A post shared by Ahmed Al-Refaie أحمد الرفاعي (@owaikeo) on

After graduating from university‭, ‬Ahmed joined a graphic design agency and began freelancing simultaneously for two years‭, ‬describing it as harsh‭. ‬“Back then‭, ‬people don’t pay‭, ‬or they don’t know what to expect‭. ‬Being a freelancer is much more convenient now‭,‬”‭ ‬he said‭.‬

Once he felt he should move on from freelancing‭, ‬Ahmed joined Studio AIO‭, ‬a local design agency‭, ‬as Art Director and has been in‭ ‬the position for the past 6‭ ‬years‭. ‬Ahmed works alongside the Creative Director to manage design for clients in an artistic way‭.‬‭ ‬Studio AIO provides clients with services such as packaging‭, ‬printing‭, ‬branding‭, ‬illustrations‭, ‬and photography‭. ‬

Many clients that approach Studio AIO are restaurants‭, ‬and Ahmed believes it can be challenging creating new concepts for clients in the same field‭. ‬It can also be challenging when clients don’t have the vision or passion‭, ‬or when they approach the studio with no clear concept‭, ‬and therefore they are required to create‭ ‬an entire concept‭.‬

The artist is popularly known on Instagram as‭ ‬“owaikeo”‭, ‬a word Ahmed created out of his own imagination with no significant meaning‭. ‬He posts images of his artwork that present new ideas and approaches to once familiar symbols of culture‭. ‬An example of this new approach is an image of‭ ‬“gummy bears”‭ ‬that have been changed to‭ ‬“gummy camels”‭ ‬and this type of art gives viewers a unique perspective of something so familiar to people who live in the Arab Gulf‭.

Once Ahmed is struck by an idea‭, ‬he starts with a basic sketch on his iPad‭. ‬“I’m inspired by everything around me‭,‬”‭ ‬he said‭. ‬Ahmed then researches the topic to learn more‭, ‬to get inspiration‭, ‬to look at different visuals in order to create a comprehensive image‭. ‬The final step is illustrating on the computer and then adding color‭. ‬Sometimes‭, ‬Ahmed spends hours figuring‭ ‬out what colors he wants and how they would work together‭. ‬

Inspired by the Arab and Khaleeji culture‭, ‬nostalgia‭, ‬and folklore‭, ‬Ahmed says‭ ‬“Arabic art is associated with camels‭, ‬patterns‭, ‬or the desert‭, ‬but it’s so much more than that‭.‬”‭ ‬His art focuses on the past with a modern twist‭, ‬it’s a breath of nostalgia with a slight change‭.‬

Ahmed has also created a series of artworks focusing on villains based on Emirati and Moroccan folklore‭. ‬These are stories that‭ ‬parents used to tell their children that are purely based on mythical creatures and tales‭.‬

Involving himself in the local creative community‭, ‬Ahmed teaches an online course at dawrat.com‭, ‬an online Kuwait-based marketplace that provides users with courses‭, ‬workshops‭, ‬and seminars in various fields‭.‬“The course takes what you know and teaches you techniques I use to create artwork‭,‬”‭ ‬he said‭. ‬The online course is for designers who are familiar with Adobe Illustrator‭, ‬and want to further improve their artwork‭ ‬with Ahmed’s techniques‭.‬

Throughout Ahmed’s journey through illustration‭, ‬his biggest challenge was when he decided to drop everything he knew and start over‭. ‬When he first began designing during high school and college‭, ‬his art was incredibly complex with painstaking details‭. ‬He now wanted to create something completely different and to enjoy the minimalist process‭. ‬His work is now simpler‭, ‬with a mindset of less is more‭ ‬as he focuses less on the details‭, ‬and more on the colors and overall look of the image‭. ‬

Ahmed’s advice for aspiring designers is to love what you do‭, ‬because that is the driving force that makes you better and shapes your‭ ‬career‭. ‬He explains that if you pursue a career you’re not interested in‭, ‬it will become difficult to succeed‭. ‬

It’s important that aspiring designers challenge themselves‭, ‬not blindly follow tutorials‭, ‬and add their own artistic touch‭, ‬according to Ahmed‭. ‬“When I look at my artwork‭, ‬I always think of ways that I can improve aspects of the illustration‭.‬”

“Creating designs and illustrations is a long journey‭- ‬and never-ending‭. ‬You should always be a student‭,‬”‭ ‬he said‭.


Words‭ ‬by Ghadeer Al-Aradi‭ ‬

Images‭ ‬Courtesy of Ahmed al Refaei

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