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Meet Erum Khalili

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erum Khalili.

Erum, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve had a passion for art and creating ever since I was a child. I used to make costumes out of used rice bags and paint on cardboard boxes. I even remember creating a mural inside my closet when I was ten years old; in retrospect, I don’t think chalk pastels were the best medium of choice. I went to UC Irvine and earned my degree in Economics with a minor in Education. Alongside coursework for my major and working, I would take as many art classes as I could and was two classes away from finishing my second minor in Studio Art. I regret not taking those classes but the stigma made me undervalue pursuing what gave me joy; South Asian culture has different standards for what is considered an “acceptable” career. I worked a corporate job a few years, which I enjoyed, but after having my third baby, I decided to take a step back and spend more time with my children. As I grow older, I realize that people’s opinions of me matter less. I’m in a place in my life where I’m really enjoying what I do. I get to spend quality time with my kids and create the life I’ve always wanted for myself.

Once the COVID pandemic hit, our family’s schedules and daily routines changed drastically. Don’t get me wrong, arguing over whether Carol Baskin fed her husband to the tigers was a great use of time, but I knew I had to fill my free time with more meaningful activities. I started waking up about an hour earlier than the rest of my family and began starting my day with a cup of tea, headphones, and my sketchbook or iPad. I learned pattern design and grew in the digital arts field. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, was in April 2020 this year. As I was searching the web for Ramadan and Eid gift wrap, there weren’t many options. I saw a few typical stars and moon designs, but I wanted something bright, modern, and unique. I decided to create a print for my family and friends. I posted the gift wrap on Instagram and I was surprised at the level of interest people had in it. I decided to launch a gift wrap line with three designs and within a matter of days, I had an unexpectedly large number of sales. The interest in my designs really motivated me to keep going.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I believe everyone has their struggles, and humans are built to withstand a lot. When I was nine years old, my mother passed away. She was pregnant and due to complications in her pregnancy, she lost her life at the age of 30. My whole world changed after that and I grew up fairly quickly. I was (and still am) in my head a lot. The interesting thing is that I became the funny kid, the one who’d crack jokes and had a lot of friends. But people didn’t know I was constantly thinking, worrying, and being angry. My anxiety-ridden brain found comfort in the activities I used to do with my mom as a kid. I guess that’s where my love of art comes from. I was always in awe of my mother’s many talents and artistic abilities. When I am drawing or painting, my mind is at ease. I get so immersed in the process that my worries seem to melt away. I suppose my struggles are what led me to this career path.

Please tell us more about your art.
I recently launched my own website – ErumKhalili.com. I’m currently selling my artwork on prints, mugs, and, of course, gift wrap. I’ve also been doing some freelance and commissioned work on the side. My vision for the future is to teach classes and license my artwork. It makes me so happy to be able to share my work with others. When someone purchases my pieces, I feel humbled that they chose to put my artwork up in their homes. Just thinking about this puts a smile on my face.

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