Gizem Vural is an illustrator who, unlike most, never knew she wanted to illustrate. Instead, Vural thought she wanted to be a graphic designer—that’s what she studied, had trained for, and had always imagined she would do. But when she moved from her home town of Istanbul to Ithaca, New York, Vural realized she wanted to draw for a living instead. Now, her unique and vivid explosions of color can be seen in the pages of The New Yorker, MIT Technology Review, and the Boston Globe; Vural has also been recognized by the prestigious Society of Illustrators and American Illustrator. Drawing is an unexpected calling that evidently suits her very well.

As a student in Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Vural was drawn to the fantastically bold, energetic, and whimsical styles of Witold Janowski, Karel Vaca, and Jerzy Flisak, and she would often mimic their compositions for her graphic design assignments. With posters, she’d experiment by overlapping broad brushstrokes with smaller, curling lines, making them collide like a dazzling firework display. This was when her interest in the world of illustration began to take shape. Vural was always carrying small notebooks in her pockets, and she found that instead of planning assignments in them, she’d sketch abstract shapes that evoked her feelings, emotions, and daytime observations. When Vural was hired for her first commercial job by a big chain shop in Istanbul, it was the spontaneous illustrations she created for the project that she found the most intriguing.

“That’s when I began to realize it was finding solutions to problems not with design, but drawing, that I most wanted to do,” says Vural.

Now in New York, Vural has honed her skills with a lucid yet sketchy style that can be recognized instantly. Lines slip into one another loosely so that everything is skeletal, ephemeral, and blissfully suggestive. This all makes sense given Vural’s process: when approached with a brief, she begins by daydreaming, forming together loose connections in her mind, and creating an image in her head before putting pen to paper. In the past, Vural was interested in life drawing, but now everything she creates has been conjured up purely in her imagination.

“I always start drawing in my sketchbook first,” Vural explains. Then, after scanning the sketch into her computer, she’ll add digital components and embellishments. Occasionally, Vural will begin directly on screen, adding extra hand-drawn elements and patterns later, which she scans in one by one. But whether she begins analogue or on the computer, a handmade feel is always crucial—layering planes and backdrops she learned during her original training as a graphic designer.