As an international student from Bahrain, Ali offers his own perspective on what OCAD is like. Having some experience in the field after earning a degree prior, he shows some of the good and bad from his OCAD experience.

 

First, tell us a little about yourself! What’s your name, year, major, and where are you from?
My name is Ali ‘Bahraini’ Al-Awadhi. Bahraini is my artist name. I’m a recent graduate with a major in Illustration and I am from Bahrain.
If you could describe your first year in one iconic sentence, what would it be?
The best title for my first year would be “Battle for survival.” I didn’t know how to draw and I was majoring in a program that required a lot of it. Many teachers were skeptic about me making it past my first semester. I also didn’t fit in within the student body as a practicing Muslim person. Many people were alienating at the beginning which I think was due to the lack of exposure to people like me. Things got better with time.

 

Give us your best horror story. Was there any point in time where you messed up bad here at OCAD?
A MASSIVE LOL!!! As an OCAD student, I messed up bad more times than I can count. From procrastinating on assignments, to getting distracted by episodes of some of my favorite shows, to convincing myself to practice art by doing personal work instead of my school work. My biggest mess up would be overestimating my computer’s capacity to process graphics while doing assignments.
I’m mostly a digital artist who obsesses over adding extreme details in my work (sometimes details that can’t be seen til you zoom in) and while doing one of my thesis pieces I added so many details that the computer jammed and Adobe Illustrator crashed multiple times due to the massive size of the file. The file was so heavy that attempting to open it would jam the computer as well. I had to restart the whole piece. This time I simplified my details but still went through the same experience.
That process of restarting and simplifying kept happening over and over. I spent four all nighters back to back until I finished only one out of the two pieces that were due that day, which meant I couldn’t submit the thesis part that was due that week in time.

Can you lighten the mood by giving us one of your best moments at OCAD?
My best moment at OCAD would definitely be when us (the Muslim Student Association administration team) with the aid of Student Union succeeded in securing a safe multi-faith space on campus that’s open to everyone. When we joined OCAD most of us had to pray in filthy and unsafe places like the stair cases or between lockers. Seeing people feeling safe to be themselves meant the world to me.

What advice can you give those fresh first years. Give us a brief survival guide.
This will be the biggest cliched answer you’ll hear, but there are no shortcuts to becoming a good artist/designer. The art and design scene is a cut-throat industry. It all depends on how badly you want to make it. I was told that I won’t make it when I was in my first year, half of my teachers suggested that I drop out or switch programs.
My stubbornness came in handy. I don’t like it when people put others down instead of helping them out, so I practiced extra hard to prove them wrong. After finishing my assignments I sat practicing drawing even more using objects surrounding me in my room. I also took extra drawing and painting classes outside of OCAD. 
By the end of second year I had two art awards in my field. When there’s a will there’s a way. The only thing I would do differently is befriending upper year students and ask them about what teachers to pick and avoid. A suitable teacher would always speed up your growth.
Always ask about the teacher’s approach instead of asking if they’re good or bad. We all learn differently, what works for me might not work for you. So, pick the teacher with the approach that suits and optimizes your learning process.
When you first started at OCAD, was it everything you thought it would be/wouldn’t be?
OCAD wasn’t like any school I’ve attended, (it was my third post-secondary education experience). Although it’s one of the go-to places to learn art, it lacked a sense of community that other universities and colleges provide. That can be more terrifying for international students who leave their homes and come from all over the world to learn in a new environment. On the other hand, I learned a lot. I didn’t expect my art to grow to the extent it did by fourth year. I achieved my fourth year art goals by first year due to the fact that I was surrounded by a supportive group of artist friends that helped me get through it and shared with me their tips and tricks.

 

How do you think your experiences here at OCAD will help you move forward?
My OCAD experience has changed my views on life and my career. I came to OCAD with a tunnel vision about how my career would turn out. The goal was to draw images that inspire and empower others.
Conversing with many supportive teachers and schoolmates has encouraged me to take risks and explore different mediums and forms of storytelling which have changed my career forever. Instead of me being an illustrator or graphic designer I am now a multidisciplinary storyteller who combines my graphic design, illustration, video making and content creation skills to execute projects that aim to give a voice to many disenfranchised communities.

Interview by Sebastián Rodrìguez Vasti and Zoe Roiati

Photography by Galen Ward