The Lines Are Drawn: Amrit Brar

Fin Murphy

As we love illustrators and championing lesser-known talent, we present you The Lines Are Drawn. In this regular feature, we aim to bring you the most eye-catching scribblers from around the world who purvey their work through books and zines.

Today we meet Amrit Brar. Amrit is a Canadian-Indian illustrator and student based in Toronto, whose prior work has investigated themes such as the relation between LGBTI politics and race. Her current work is a pared back, grimly humourous take on that newspaper-staple based on outdated astrology: horoscopes. Covering the topic for three zines and with no signs of letting up, her work has also gained a lot of steam online.

We spoke Amrit about her tools of the trade, her South Asian influence and her efforts in publishing.

Hi Amrit. Where are you from?
Hey! I grew up in Brampton, Ontario, I study Illustration at OCADU in Toronto, and I publish all of my zines under the penname Musterni.

I spend my free time reading and writing a lot, particularly comics and graphic novels. I’ve liked to mess around with mendhi since I was a kid, and still do regularly. I’m also hoping to go back to makeup school to specialize in SFX and prosthetics.

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Is there any particular equipment you rely on?
I’m pretty consistent. Higgins Black Magic ink, a Hunt 513 EF or Hunt 56 nib, 65lb white cardstock, a pad of lined paper, and an ancient little light table. For touchups and formatting I use a Wacom Cintiq and Photoshop. I always print my covers on Stardream metallic textweight and my interiors on plain 50lb packaging kraft paper.

From blank page to finished piece, what’s your process?
I start by brainstorming the actual written content, and I typically just draw inspiration from scraps of writing I have lying around. I’ve kind of amassed a huge body of work since I’ve been making up stories since I was about eleven - I was that one weird kid writing a bunch of fanfiction. I’m kind of unrepentant about that though, because it brought my writing pretty far.

I’m not very precious with my drawing process. I start out by doodling on lined paper, and typically just brainstorm based on the text. Sometimes the writing gets scrapped because I’ve come up with an unrelated design that I’m happier with, so I’ll come up with a new caption instead. Once I’m okay with a loose sketch I’ll throw it on a light table under a sheet of white cardstock. If it’s a quick ink job, the whole process typically only takes about twenty minutes to a half hour per design. Once I’ve done that I just scan the inks, clean up the linework in photoshop and slap some shading on.

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How do you apply digital manipulation to your work?
Pretty minimally. I scan ink washes, sometimes, but I largely just rely on photoshop for shading my work quick in a single layer. I use it to format all my zines for print as well.

I am not a typographer and my hand-lettering is pretty abysmal, so I stick to the same two fonts pretty consistently for the Horoscopes series. There’s something so dry about Arial Narrow, I don’t know what it is. It just makes the delivery of such bleak content somehow worse. I love it.

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Working in 2014, how do you think utilising social media and making ‘zines has affected your career? What’re the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Zines and social media have allowed me to share stories and images that I wouldn’t have found a platform for otherwise. Not only that, they’ve allowed me to actually build a regular audience that probably never would have gotten acquainted with my work through an agent or a third party. So much of the work I’ve made and want to make has to do with topics like racism, queerness, sexism and gender identity, so those are all things I want to touch on with this series.

The amazing thing is, I’ve already got a growing group of people that is familiar with my work to relay new work to now, even if I branch off from the series. I’ve managed to make an identity for myself by doing something I genuinely like doing, and writing things I genuinely like writing. That’s really important to me, and both platforms have allowed me to do that.

Zines also let me connect with people on a personal level the way the internet can’t - which is why I’m such a huge fan of doing alternative press and book fairs. It’s awesome to get to meet new people and hear firsthand how they feel about my work, it’s an experience you can’t really put a value to. But I am going to pin this huge resurgence in zine-making on social media, in a way. They just don’t exist in a vacuum anymore, you don’t necessarily need to be a member of any scene to know what a zine is.

The sole reason my horoscope series gained nearly as much notoriety as it has is largely due to tumblr. The only real issue with the social media aspect of it all is that that is that the content spreads very quickly, to places that are entirely unprecedented. A lot of people will end up interpreting your work in ways that you never expected, which usually isn’t a con so much as it is interesting. There’s also the risk of your work getting ripped and used without your permission, but I guess that’s just something you take into consideration when presenting to such a large audience.

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In illustration and beyond, what’re your influences?
Mendhi designs influence me in a huge way, I was fortunate enough to grow up around a wealth of beautiful patterns. I’m also really drawn to the tattoos that I’d spot on elderly Punjabi men playing cards in the park in my neighbourhood, I think that’s why I get told a lot of my work translates into a very tattoo-esque feel.

I’d definitely say I’m inspired by the supernatural and the occult - specifically as far as South Asian horror stories are concerned, most of the early zines I produced were centered on them in some way. Anatomy, flowers, teeth, my uncle’s awful sense of humour, there’s a lot to draw from.

As far as artists are concerned, I came across Edward Gorey’s illustrations in my local library when I was really young, Amphigorey Also and The Gashlycrumb Tinies hugely influenced my pen-and-ink style. I’m also an enormous fan of a lot of manga artists, namely Yoshihiro Togashi, Junji Ito, and Hiromu Arakawa. They all deal with macabre and occult themes in their work, and their line quality is beautiful.

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Anyone you’d like to shout out?
Fiona Smyth. She’s a Toronto based illustrator and one of the best professors I’ve ever had at OCAD, and is one hundred percent responsible for introducing me to zines in the first place. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without her.

There’s also Eddie, Eric Levitt, and Geoff - they’re the organizers responsible for the Toronto Queer Zine Fair, which just celebrated its second year in the summer of 2014. It was the first zine fair I’d ever tabled at by myself during its debut, and the experience was so amazing that I got into regular zine-making.

Check out more of Amrit's work at!

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