Whenever she got a flash of inspiration, Nour Ayoub would pick up a Post-It and sketch. Often, this would happen in the office where the illustrator makes her living as a graphic designer.
“I’d be working, then I’d have an idea, so I would doodle it or write it down. It became more like a sketchbook for me. By the end of the day, I’d just grab these notes and put them in my bag,” she says.
The notes contained Ayoub’s quirky musings (“Boys as Apps”), everyday observations (the different patterns of phone screen cracks) and bursts of memory (an illustrated list titled “things I’ve abandoned”).
“Eventually, I built a collection,” she says.
When Ayoub tried recreating these drawings on paper, she realised it was their improvisational nature that gave them their charm. "The first attempt was always better than my attempt at recreating it, so I would cut out the Post-Its and arrange them.”
With that, the Beirut-born illustrator found her visual style – minimalist cartoon collages filled with diaristic reflections. “Eventually, it stopped being doodles and I thought about how this style helps me express my ideas,” she explains.
Some sketches are closely tied to Lebanese culture and society, with a few works chronicling the ongoing protests in the country, for example.
Others are more personal, even mundane, though written and rendered in such a way that they become even more interesting because of their familiarity. “I think the more personal something is, somehow the more universal it is. The more people relate to it,” she says.
In one work, How's It Going?, Ayoub depicts a stilted text conversation between two individuals – a snapshot of our strange reality amid the pandemic. "It's alright," the chat begins. "Yeah, fine," the second person responds. "But so surreal," is the reply. "Pretty absurd," writes person two, volleying back.
While she has been developing her Post-It collages for two years, she previously focused on digital illustration. Her older work carries much of the same wit and simplicity as her recent illustrations.
Ayoub’s one-liners and quips are likely influenced by her background in creative writing. Her playfulness with language is part of what makes her work memorable.
“I used to think that writing is separate and art is separate. But whenever I would write, I felt like something was missing. When I was drawing, I felt it needed something else. When I went into the cartooning genre, I found that the combination of the visual and verbal is the perfect way to express myself,” she says.
Ayoub shares photographs of her collages and sketches on her Instagram page titled Things That Gather Dust, a reference to a line from Jack Kerouac's On The Road: "Houses are full of things that gather dust."
Last year, she exhibited a multimedia installation with the same name at Beirut Design Week. It was the outcome of the Fantasmeem Programme, a residency on creative entrepreneurship initiated by the Goethe Institute in Lebanon.
Her work featured a four-metre frame with one side containing an assemblage of memorabilia – photos, handwritten notes, old phones and CDs. “I’ve always collected things. When I was younger, I would collect tickets from concerts, polaroids, notebooks, postcards,” she recalls.
Towards the other side, the frame eventually fills with Ayoub’s illustrations. “I wanted it to play out a life story,” she explains.
The work, which the illustration refers to as a “visual narration”, maps the transition from adolescence to adulthood through objects of memory. Ayoub highlights our collective habit of holding on to things as we too try to gather our own narratives.
“I collect less objects now,” she says, pointing out the shift from the physical items to her drawings. “It’s more about collecting my interpretations of specific things”.
In her confessional-style work, Ayoub joins the ranks of many illustrators who harness their personal experiences and voices – as well as social media following – to establish their practices. These include Liana Finck, Haley Weaver and Mari Andrew, whose works Ayoub says she admires. Andrew built her career on Instagram by sharing daily illustrations that tackled dating and relationships with a millennial view of adulthood and independence. She has more than a million followers on social media and her 2018 book Am I There Yet? is a bestseller.
Ayoub hopes her work progresses in this way, too, though she is cautious of the way she uses and consumes social media. “I’m not forcing myself to produce so much or have a large voice taking up so much space on Instagram,” she says.
Instead, she makes some of her prints available online or through commissions. Eventually, she says, she hopes to build her ‘collection’ of ideas, stories and insights into a book, where her unique voice – informed by her personal and cultural experiences in Lebanon – will stand out.