Paula Ukwenya is a painter, illustrator and creative writer. She studied Fine Arts in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she majored in Art History. Here, she talks about creating super heroes, art appreciation and more. Excerpts:
How would you describe your art?
My art is eccentric, rustic and vibrant. Though there’s still room for development, my art is aimed at resonating with youths as well as young adults. My style is influenced greatly by Japanese animators and illustrators Hayao Miyazaki, Masashi Kishimoto and of course Tite Kubo. I have always loved their works and follow their productions closely, which is why I believe I subconsciously adopted some of their traits, especially Miyazaki who uses a variety of vibrant colours for his works. Another artist who influenced my art is Hailey Brown, a portrait artist who specializes in pastel painting.
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What would you say triggers the kind of art you create per time?
My inspiration comes from virtually anything: individuals, places, objects, music, movies, and animations. My strongest influence comes from orchestra. I love it.
What would you say is your niche area?
I’m most comfortable working on illustrations, especially in a very quiet place, preferably a room. It helps me think with a clear head and allows the images flow properly.
You seem to have a flare for creating super hero characters too. What’s the story behind this?
I do! I love super hero characters! Not because they have super powers or wear fancy and cool costumes. Every super hero I create is inspired by the people around me, their strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and challenges they face every day, as well as their beliefs and the resilience they carry in their hearts. These qualities, along with a twist of creativity, makes the characters who they are. Friends and acquaintances alike are all real life super heroes to me.
Do you hope to author a comic book anytime soon?
Oh yes, definitely. What good are the characters you create if you don’t use them to tell all the stories holed up inside. It’s taking a little time, but a comics series is a priority that I have taken up.
How did making artworks begin for you?
It began with a simple colouring exercise during an art class in Primary One when I was about five years old (laughs). I won’t forget how I scribbled all over my colouring sheet and was curious about my neighbour’s method. I decided to paint patiently and it turned out well. Over time I began to take a very subtle interest in art but I never felt the need to voice it out, so it wasn’t really noticed. In JSS One I was literally plunged into the world of art when I met the Visual Arts teachers of Zamani College, Mr Oladotun and Mr Ozomata. At a point I wanted to give up. When I told them of my decision to pursue another course in the university once during my final days at school, I got an earful. It would have been a big mistake. From then onward, with the support of family, teachers and friends, I went on to study Fine Art and I’m sure now more than ever that I made the right choice, especially when I accidentally came across a sketch I did as a child. My mother is truly amazing. She kept all the sketches I did and documented them. Also, my biggest gratitude goes to my teachers in The Fine Arts Department of Ahmadu Bello University.
What was it like working on your very first professional piece?
It was interesting. The creating process was under the tense environment of my first painting exam in 300 Level. I didn’t like painting initially, in fact I hated it up until my years in the University. I let my instincts kick in and I went into what artists would describe as the zone, a place where you leave all the noise and chatter of your environment and sink your mind into your work. The surprising thing was, I did the painting and didn’t really finish it and still managed to get an A. It felt really great.
Aside drawing and painting, you are also into creative writing. How has that worked out for you so far?
Creative writing was not really part of my plan after getting my degree, but I felt compelled to create stories for every piece I made. Thanks to the quality of English lessons taught by English teachers in Zamani College, those lessons kicked in when I first decided to put pen to paper. It’s been both thrilling and challenging, what with learning techniques, writing styles, different genres and how it’s applied differently. Writing opens up another world, connecting strongly to Fine/Applied Arts, and that’s something I have really enjoyed while exploring it.
Between writing and drawing or painting, which takes most of your time?
Writing does, strangely enough. Drawing comes quick and easy most times, so if I begin a sketch, depending on size and detail, I finish up relatively quick. However, a critical thought process has to be applied to writing, especially when mistakes are very easily and quickly made with diction, punctuation marks and the like. When writing a piece, I have to proofread thoroughly along with a second opinion on the side before releasing it out to the public, and even then, I would still run through it again.
How lucrative would you say life as an artist is?
Art is a very lucrative business. Artists can and do make a good living off of art. We just go to where our skills are greatly needed, and appreciated, directly or indirectly. It’s really a matter of following the trends of other sectors, such as media, entertainment, fashion, politics and much more, and drawing inspiration from them.
Recently you have been doing a sought of promo where you offer to sketch people at an affordable rate. How has patronage been like?
It’s been great. I approached it as an experiment and decided to use this opportunity to push past any sceptic belief concerning the art business and grow as a business woman. It’s quite stressful but the experience is definitely worth it.
What are the major challenges you encounter as an artist?
One major challenge every artist faces is the lack of appreciation of art in the African Society. When we artists do our work, it’s either we don’t get the support we need from those around us based on their desires to have works done for free, or endure rants from customers about high pricing. Materials used for the creation of art are very expensive, which is what customers don’t seem to understand. The reality is that if you want great services, such as an art piece from a skilled artist, then you must be willing to pay the price offered, and unfortunately art isn’t cheap both in terms of production and sales.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m exploring African Pop Art. Pop art has been transformed into an art style that connects very well with millennials of this growing technological age, and as nice as it is to be up to date on the latest trends of the 21st Century, we as young Africans are leaving vital aspects of our ways behind. Moral and cultural ethics are being greatly trivialized in the age we live in. I’m working on adapting African teachings and proverbs into my current project as a means to communicate social values to younger and future generations, which is a necessity.
When you aren’t working on a piece of art, what would you be found doing?
I’m usually reading books, stories or updating on any Anime or Manga Japanese comics that I have neglected while working. I’m an ardent fan of Anime. Also, hunting down new releases of Orchestras.
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