Embracing the Artist Within
Edmonton-based Riyaz Sharan turns his art hobby into a viable side business
By Haley England
Less than two years ago, Riyaz Sharan’s art and photography were collecting digital dust on his laptop. “I’ve always been a creative individual, since I was a little kid. Growing up, you’re always told that you can’t make a career out of art. So in my mind, it was a hobby,” Sharan says.
With a mindset focused on separating passion and profession, Sharan taught himself photography, illustration and graphic design on the side. His art served as an outlet for depression and anxiety and provided an opportunity to sit with his feelings as he brought his concepts to life. “I wasn’t always in a position, workwise, that brought me creative joy, so I started putting my energy into learning and then creating, and that brought me joy,” he says.
Despite his incessant passion for art and creativity, Sharan was hesitant to release his art into the world until those close to him gave him a little nudge. “It was my husband and a close friend who eventually pushed me to share what I was creating,” he says. “In the past, I didn’t have the self-esteem or opportunity to put my creative ideas out there. They stepped up and told me that it was time to do it.”
This push sent Sharan to the printers, and then, to his first art market. “I had never shown my illustrations before that day, so that was a unique time for me. You’re hearing all these positive things, and with art, it’s you on display in your work and it makes you vulnerable because you’re always hearing the positives and the negatives of what you do,” he says.
Today, Sharan has won 20 awards for his work and received accolades and nominations for many of his pieces. He pays homage to Edmonton with much of his art and hopes to elevate the broader perception out there of his hometown. “As a person who lives in Edmonton,” he says, “the stereotype was that there wasn’t much to do during the winter and there wasn’t a lot to do during the summer unless you wanted to be at the festivals.”
Sharan’s work celebrates the everyday wonders of the city and his work can be viewed on his website
. “If you look at my illustration of the Garneau, it’s an iconic theatre. But the way that I portrayed it kind of gave it that mid-century modern vibe that brought you back to what the Garneau was like back in the day. Or when you look at my High Level Bridge piece, it’s romantic, with the full moon and the colours. You can envision yourself being there,” Sharan says.
Sharan’s active Instagram account and social media presence have provided insight from his followers. By using polls and requesting feedback, he is able to mix his own inspiration with what his audience is looking for. With people staying home more during the pandemic, for instance, he has turned some of his
iconic Edmonton scenes into puzzles that have been so popular, some designs have sold out. “The puzzles were a suggestion I received. I was shocked it was so successful,” he says.
It was my husband and a close friend who eventually pushed me to share what I was creating
Interacting with his followers has guided Sharan in his artistic journey, eventually leading him to create pieces for Pride Month as well as other festivals and charitable initiatives. This is a far cry from the novice artist once hesitant to print his work. Just last year, Sharan raised nearly $1,500 by donating the proceeds from his art sales to charities like Rainbow Refuge, the World Wildlife Fund, Christmas Bureau and Santas Anonymous. “I’ve worked to build a community on my page with my art and my definition of community is also uplifting and supporting others,” Sharan says.
With different series featuring animals, natural phenomena and photography highlighting lands near and far, Sharan can look back fondly on his first art market knowing that his passion has become more than just a hobby.
An example of Sharan’s illustrative artwork