Enterprising man finds footing in the competitive creative industry
By Amos Wachira
While many young people in Kenya complain about the unending problem of unemployment, few are creating self employment opportunities for themselves and for others. One of these is Eric Muriithi, a media technology graduate who has found a haven in the creative industry.
Commonly known as Eric Sticky in the creative space, Muriithi runs an art studio at the serene Railways Art Museum, where he paints all manner of graffiti on polo shirts, shoes and canvas. Located a few meters away from the Nairobi Railway Station, the art museum is his home. It is here that he does what he knows best; painting, his preoccupation for the last four years.
“After graduating in 2012, I joined thousands of other job seekers looking for elusive jobs here in Nairobi. After a futile search I decided to utilize my talent in painting art pieces. After I perfected the art, I have never looked back. Art has become my bread and butter,” he says.
Muriithi says that he has always had that passion in the arts and the creative industry. From an early age, he could draw magnificent art pieces that could always attract admiration from his classmates. In his formative years, as well as in his later days in both high school and college, he could always paint t shirts that he could wear.
“Sometimes I designed artistic T shirts for fellow students at a small fee.”
All his life, Muriithi never imagined that he could pursue art as a fulfilling career. He had grown accustomed to his aren’t wise counsel of studying hard in school and getting white collar jobs. But his belief about white collar jobs was jolted immediately he stepped out of school to look for employment. “That is when I realised that I had to be different for me to make it in life, I banked on my artistic skills. They never disappointed.” Armed with his skills, his first stop was Patrick Mukabi’s art studio at the Go Down Arts Center. He needed to hone and perfect his skills. Mukabi, a seasoned and renowned artist helped him gain some perfection in his artistic skills. Muriithi says that meeting Mukabi was a godsend for him, because the art veteran encouraged and mentored him.
Starting out in the unfamiliar art scene was never an easy task. Muriithi says that once he decided to pursue a career in this field, he had to start from scratch.”Starting out is hard. You do not know what to draw, what to paint, where to do it, where to display, where to sell, who to talk to among other things. It is confusing especially for starters who have not interacted with the art scene before.”
One of the recurring challenges he faced while starting up was lack of funds. Considering that he needed money to buy materials like ink and brushes, he experienced a hard start; an experience that taught him a lesson or two on patience. Coming up with a complete piece of art is not an easy job. An artist has to first conceptualize an idea, make a rough sketch on paper, prepare the materials to be used and then embark on the actual job. This takes more than talent.
“As an artist, it reaches a point where talent alone does not matter. Experience matters a lot. An artist needs more than 10000 hours of practice to perfect their game. It also takes discipline, hard work and innovation to be outstanding in this field.”
For the last four years, Muriithi has been trying to fit in. experimenting with various art forms to strike a balance.
At his colorful art workshop, where he works alongside tens of other artists, he paints T shirts, shoes, canvas and murals. It takes him between three and eight hours to complete one simple art piece. For big projects like painting graffiti on walls, it can take up to two weeks working fulltime. The young artist says that art needs patience, as a simple design can take hours to design and complete. Sometimes, he says, it is all about inspiration. Some jobs can be done faster than others depending on how much they inspire him. After working on a piece of artwork, Muriithi then applies clear lacquer, a clear varnish that preserves his work from dust, scratches and water.
He says that he already learnt the ropes. He has managed to turn his passion into a business. He displays his art pieces at different art galleries like Alliance Francaise, Village Market among others. He says that selling art pieces is always hard work as most Kenyans are yet to fully embrace art. His pieces fetch Kshs1500 for painted shoes and up to Kshs70 000 for large canvas paintings. Kenya has a vibrant creative sector with a long and distinctive history. The creative sector is part of the informal sector which employs about 84 per cent of Kenyan workers. Despite our rich history in arts, most Kenyans still feel that art is still expensive. This presents Muriithi and his fellow artists with a challenge; small market for art. It therefore goes that most of their clients are foreigners who not only appreciate art but also pay top dollar for the same. As an artist, you have to know your market well. He does not only rely on displays to make sales. Sometimes, through word of mouth referrals, he gets assignments from friends.” I get many orders from people who see my work at any of the exhibitions. Sometimes I get commissioned to do graffiti and other art pieces. Art pays, but only when you concentrate on what you do and perfect your skills.”
But his most potent marketing tool so far, he says, is social media. He displays his art pieces on Facebook and Twitter where they attract thousands of people. Most of these call him to commission customized pieces of art. “Social media is a powerful marketing tool for us artists as we can reach a large audience without travelling,’ he shares. So far, mainly because of increased awareness about art, most people are warming up to art, giving Muriithi and other artists a new lease of life as demand for their art pieces goes up.
His artistic journey has been dotted with challenges, most of which he has successfully overcome. For instance, joining the art industry in Kenya, which is highly competitive means that all artists must produce the best to remain relevant in a fast evolving industry.
While competition improves the artistic’s quality of work, counterfeiting, a common problem, threatens to knock them out of business. He says that with new technologies sin 3D printing, it is easy for artists’ to lose their work through counterfeiting.
“Sometimes copyright protects our work, but other times, people just copy and when we try to pursue them for damages, we reach a dead end. Copyright laws are not well enforced in this country.”
He advises young artists to get mentors if they want to succeed in this area.
Already, he is walking the talk. Muriithi mentors school children who frequent his workspace over the weekends to learn more about art and painting.
“On most weekends, I open doors to children who come here to learn. I let them play around with paint for them to develop and grow their talents.”
So far, the young entrepreneur says that he has had a good experience as an artist, and he is delighted to see his small venture grow with time. Recently, he teamed up with a partner and together they create amazing art designs for popular shoes which they paint, and make them limited editions. The best thing for him is that people are willing to buy limited edition shoes at a higher price, something that fuels his desire to become the best artist that he can be.