Illustrator Radhiah Anis captures fictional spaces with a surreal twist

The Singapore-based illustrator takes inspiration from the buildings around her and set design from the past to create her colourful architectural drawings

For Singapore-based Radhiah Anis, a career in illustration was never something she saw for herself. “I had always just been doing it for fun, until I started posting my work on Instagram and receiving some commissions,” says Anis. “At that time I was waiting to get into a communication design degree at the Glasgow School of Art (Singapore). After graduating I tried a few other things before deciding to focus on freelance illustration after landing a gig to illustrate a children’s book series.”

Anis’ work is neat, carefully considered and reminiscent of architectural drawings of the past. She often explores the nature of objects and surreal, fictional spaces, capturing thoughtful details and fuzzy textures. “I prefer the ideas within my personal work to be subtle and interpretative, rather than obvious and literal,” she says. “My visual style mainly uses certain soft earth colours, I always use a recurring beige and ivory tone.” 

Giant Rubik’s. All images: Radhiah Anis

Right now, Anis is also starting to incorporate bolder patterns and colours and adding to the surreal nature of her work. She creates her works digitally using Procreate and Photoshop, but still wants to make her drawings look as traditional and hand-drawn as possible, adding in texture and depth where she can. Inspiration for Anis’ works comes from the architecture and structures around her, while also looking to places and spaces further afield. “I love looking at photographs of faraway places and studying the set design of the films and TV shows that I’ve watched – I get a lot of influence from the film Toys (1992). I also admire the drawings of Denis Andernach and Ettore Sottsass,” she says.  

As well as personal work, Anis enjoys taking on editorial commissions, and has the New York Times and health mag Elemental among her clients. “I really love the collaborative relationship with clients and art directors,” Anis says. “When I’m just doing personal work, the decisions are always mine to make and I don’t usually get to see someone else’s perspective during the process. So I enjoy listening to their feedback and seeing things from another viewpoint.” 

Cabin in the Woods

When starting a new brief, Anis likes to collate key points and ideas while researching before sending over sketches for approval. This allows the illustrator to gain a clearer direction of where the illustration needs to end up.

For personal work, Anis takes a more exploratory outlook. “I approach it with the mindset: ‘take a line for a walk and then see where it takes you’. I will start simply drawing whatever interests me in that moment and figure out the direction as I go along,” she explains. “I love it when I’m met with pleasant surprises or when I end up with ideas I never would have thought of in the first place.” 


Anis finds the biggest challenges of being a freelance illustrator are self-promotion and also managing the business side of her practice. “We have always focused on improving creatively while studying in school, and they never seem to teach us about the business aspects!” Anis says. “So far, it seems that the only way to overcome these struggles is to just dive in and fail forward. Eventually the experiences that come with time will hopefully make me better at running my business.” 

Despite the ups and downs, Anis feels sure that this is the path she is meant to be on. “I hope the happiness I felt while creating the work somehow reaches those who view my work,” she says. “And that it might be a small catalyst for them to pursue what they love doing too.”