Illustrated Identity: Harutyun Tumaghyan's Journey to Creating Impactful Children's Books
Get to know Harutyun Tumaghyan, an illustrator, author, concept artist, and our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Sep 1, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Harutyun Tumaghyan, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Meet Harutyun Tumaghyan, a 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and a versatile illustrator, author, and concept artist from Armenia. His artistic journey began at the Hakob Kojoyan School of Fine Arts and flourished through his studies at the esteemed summer school of the Royal College of Art. Over the years, Harutyun has illustrated numerous educational and children's picture books, collaborating with publishers across Armenia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Most recently, the artist has been working on a captivating children's book, Sevanik, which delves into themes of nature, friendship, and individuality within a fairy tale world.
Enjoy our exclusive interview with Harutyun Tumaghyan, as he walks you through his dynamic artistic career, uncompromising values that fuel his creative vision, and vision for the future of arts and culture in Armenia.
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a visual artist.
My visual language has come a long way. As we know, everything begins in childhood and environment: from family, school, and, in my case, art school, which is where my professional journey began. Later, I studied architecture and graphic design at the university. In visual arts, it was very important for me to understand materials and how to work with them. Then I wanted to preserve the qualities of physical and tangible mediums in the digital world, embracing tools like paint, pottery, soldering, and enameling.
Since my student years, animation and gaming have been integral parts of my life. It was during that time that I discovered my fascination with movement in the field of visual art, which unfolded immense possibilities for storytelling and captivating audiences. To me, storytelling embodies movement. My aspiration was to communicate stories through a visual language.
Later on, while mastering different tools and employing various visual techniques, I drifted from animation studios to children's books, from games to contemporary literature, and eventually returned to urban planning. All these experiences helped me gain a better understanding of the environments and characters I am portraying in my work now.
"What inspires me the most is the vibrant interplay of multi-layered and interdisciplinary collaborations..."
Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
As an artist, I emerged during a culturally and politically transitional period in Armenia. Our complex past was laid out in front of us, vividly and clearly. We were eager to leave that past behind us and bring new values to life. These were years marked by a struggle for change and a search for novelty.
That complicated phrase became one of the cornerstones of my creative work, consistently resonating in my visual art and finding new expression. What a visual story conveys, examines, criticizes, or queries holds great importance to me. Together with my colleagues from diverse backgrounds, including civil society representatives and cultural practitioners, I persistently supported the struggle for democracy using my art, trying to communicate ideas about human rights and freedom through visual means.
In light of all these events, I gave great importance to my formal education in architecture and urban planning, which I obtained from the National University of Architecture and Construction of Armenia. Along with my work as an illustrator and director, I actively engaged in various urban projects. Despite the subsequent transformations, my architectural education remains crucial to my work. It has allowed me to deeply comprehend the dynamics of the city, environment, and human relationship with space and portray these concepts through visual arts.
What inspires me the most is the vibrant interplay of multi-layered and interdisciplinary collaborations, which not only opens new horizons but also helps me question familiar phenomena. Engaging in diverse collaborations with architects, urban planners, writers, animators, anthropologists, and cultural practitioners offers a profound understanding of different phenomena and promotes innovative solutions to cultural and social issues.
Throughout your career, you have worked on over 20 educational picture books for children collaborating with Armenian, Ukrainian, Czech, and German publishers. How do you go about developing a distinct visual style for each book?
Back when I was still a student, I took part in a small competition that gave me a chance to illustrate an animated book of Courageous Nazar. That is when I realized the immense responsibility that was entrusted to me. Developing a new visual language and approach was difficult because that tale has been illustrated by multiple artists before. It was a big responsibility for our team, but we did our best to combine animation and digital book formats.
Engaging in this project and gaining experience taught me that visual storytelling cannot exist in isolation from texts and concepts. Illustrated books became the perfect media for expressing myself because each text contributed to shaping a unique visual language. That in its turn resulted in a more vibrant and evocative narrative. As part of numerous festivals and projects, I also had a chance to collaborate with writers and publishers from different parts of the world.
All of these creative challenges have consistently shaped my artistic approach; refined and enhanced it. I managed to stay original and captivating. Each publisher has its own perceptions, perspectives, and most importantly cultural background that serve as a foundation of their creative process.
You are currently working on a children’s picture book Sevanik, exploring the concepts of nature, friendship, and individuality, which you also want to turn into a film later on. What attracted you to the story? What important lessons do you hope readers will take away from the book?
While collaborating with writers and publishers from Europe, I noticed that in these countries illustrated literature addressed many different subjects. The medium is now even being integrated into the school curriculum. Sadly, there are not many children's books in Armenia that tackle subjects related to the environment, environmental preservation, equal rights, educational opportunities for children, women's and minorities' rights, and various other topics. Such literature is just emerging and our book and animation Sevanik attempts to address these important issues.
Sevanik allowed me to explore the ideas I have cared about and worked on for many years. The book and animated film primarily revolves around nature, how we see it, and the harm to the environment caused by humans. With the book, I also want to introduce Lake Sevan, its wildlife, and the surrounding natural environment to a global audience, as a place that has accumulated cultural memories, traditions, legends, and stories of the entire country and region.
"Every person at some point feels misunderstood, not accepted, and isolated. Sevanik brings up these social and psychological issues..."
Diversity is a prominent theme in Sevanik. The main character, a one-of-a-kind mythical being, embarks on a journey, trying to fit into the environment of their birthplace. Written in collaboration with scriptwriter Armen of Armenia (Armen Ohanyan), the book explores the relationship between individuals and their environment.
Nowadays, embracing diversity is a global challenge, as societies become more and more polarized, alienating individuals who are perceived as unfamiliar, foreign, and outside the norm. Consequently, every person at some point feels misunderstood, not accepted, and isolated. Sevanik brings up these social and psychological issues, showing the importance of overcoming fears, taboos, and stereotypes. In its essence, Sevanik portrays a harmonious environment, where diversity and peaceful coexistence can be achieved.
What do you plan on doing as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and, later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?
In the modern world, it is extremely difficult to get support for cultural projects. It gets even harder when our local artists try to address contemporary Armenian issues and integrate their artworks into the global cultural framework. The role of the Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellowship is truly invaluable. I am very grateful for the acknowledgment of my creative work and for the opportunity to realize Sevanik. It is a great responsibility to address delicate and sensitive issues in Armenia, raise awareness about them through education, and ultimately promote solutions.
This project is the first step towards a difficult yet important journey. I believe that through our joint efforts, we will successfully publish the story of Sevanik and make it accessible to children in Armenia and abroad. I am confident that through our collaborative and dedicated work as well as the powerful language of art and culture we will solve current problems and achieve new heights.