Egypt Pulse

Egyptian artist defies odds with Photoshop's newest cover

Article Summary
After having his artwork featured on the cover of Photoshop's latest edition, Amr Elshamy hopes to transition from digital art to animated movies.

The millions of people worldwide who will likely open the latest version of Adobe Photoshop, the leading image-editing computer program, will be greeted by a splash screen depicting an image from “Falling … (Round Things),” by Egyptian digital artist Amr Elshamy. Against all odds, Elshamy, also an aspiring filmmaker, has become the first Egyptian and first Arab artist to have artwork featured on a Photoshop splash screen. The happy-go-lucky Elshamy never imagined that “Falling” would produce a reaction contrary, so to speak, to its title — i.e., rising to the top of the digital art world.

“Falling” consists of three panels that depict, respectively, a girl appearing to fall from the sky toward a circle of trees, a boy standing amid circular mountains, and the two preceding images combined. Adobe selected the image of the boy alone for the splash screen of Photoshop CC 2017.

“Once I found out, I felt like my mind stopped working for a while,” Elshamy told Al-Monitor. “I was over the moon.” Indeed, one can imagine how Elshamy must have felt given some of the setbacks in his pursuit of his art. Elshamy had hoped to attend Egypt's Higher Institute of Cinema to study filmmaking and animation, but he revealed, “My applications were rejected three times.”

In continuing to follow his heart despite rejection, Elshamy began posting his artwork on Facebook. To his surprise, Elshamy said, “I received sharp criticism I never expected from people.” He removed one image he titled “The Family,” which depicts a lost boy and the monsters who tried to help him, after receiving comments calling it “nonsense” and “illogical.” Elshamy, who has a degree in tourism, said his dreams are his source of inspiration, and in his art, he tends to present monsters as friendly creatures who try to help people. 

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Brushing off comments that he was wasting his time, Elshamy began publishing his designs on DeviantArt, an online community for artists and art enthusiasts. There, comments like “fantastic” replaced those of “nonsense,” and Elshamy took his first step toward global recognition. It was work he posted there that caught Adobe's attention. The software company then asked him to open an account with Behance, which it owns, and post some of his work on that site.

In 2014, Adobe asked Elshamy to take part in a project that brought together 16 digital artists from around the world to design a banner for an international campaign. In April 2016, Elshamy finished “Falling,” and in August of that year, Adobe asked if it could use it for the version of Photoshop CC to be released in November.

Although digital art is popular around the world, in Egypt it is still under the radar or something of a sideshow. Mai El-Batran, a member of parliament's Communication and Information Technology Committee, and her colleagues, however, are hoping to change this situation with government support.

“The committee has presented a comprehensive plan to boost this field,” Batran told Al-Monitor. “Digital art is like an ocean, and innovative young people like Elshamy are perfect divers.” Part of the plan is to provide scholarships for talented digital artists to help them hone their skills.

Digital art, Batran explained, can provide countless job opportunities for Egyptian youths with innovative spirits. “Elshamy's achievement will give his colleagues as well as officials a glimmer of hope,” she said. “Such a step, surely, [represents] a milestone in the nation's digital art industry.”

El-Sayed Qandil, a professor of graphics at Helwan University, said the government has already helped pave the way for digital artists to create and innovate by hiring them to work on promotion campaigns. “Switch on the TV and watch the Egyptian creative advertisements,” he suggested to Al-Monitor. “Go to any international conference held here and see how Egyptian artists have left their mark.” Qandil claimed that Elshamy's achievement shows that Egyptian youths can compete internationally in the field.

Many talented Egyptians, however, were not born with silver spoons in their mouths and often face assorted hurdles that lead to their talent being wasted. For instance, difficult living conditions can overload them with financial responsibilities toward their family, meaning their talents must take a backseat to survival.

Elshamy's start was bumpy, but he managed to persevere. His inclination toward art, including photography and drawing, has been the escape and means for overcoming financial stumbling blocks.

“Once, I didn't even have a piaster in my pocket, but I didn't give up or let my talent waste with time,” he recalled. “I learned digital art techniques on my own.” He taught himself Photoshop by watching YouTube tutorials and experimenting on his own.

Now the tables have turned. “Digital art schools in New York and California teach my tutorial in which I explain how I have made the “Falling” illustration,” Elshamy said proudly, adding that he is known more abroad than at home, at least until now.

“My ideas flow spontaneously,” he explained. “Anyone can use Photoshop techniques. All I did was that I used them in a different way.”

Commenting on themes in his work, he said, “I always dream of monsters and creatures from the other world. I just bring these creatures to real life through visual art.”

Elshamy is now embarking on a new adventure, hoping to achieve his wildest dream — making animated movies that can compete with those from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. “I know it is difficult and needs a huge budget, but I'm sure I can do it,” Elshamy said. “I will keep on dreaming.”

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Found in: software, social media, internet, entrepreneurs, egyptian youth, computers, art

Amira Sayed Ahmed is a Cairo-based freelance journalist and full-time editor of local news at The Egyptian Gazette, Cairo's oldest English-language daily. She has been involved in writing about political, social and cultural issues in Egypt since 2013.

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