Creator Spotlight: Meet Ayo, Finance Bro by Day, Illustrator by Night

August 25, 2022

My name’s Ayo. I’m 22, and I doodle.

 I prefer to be called an illustrator, which is a bit distinct from an artist. A random thing about me is my longest streak on Duolingo was about 100 days, and I’m proud of that. When people get to know me, they say I give off white girl vibes because I’m into a bunch of stereotypical white girl things like hiking, candles from Target, matcha and astrology, interesting for someone with a very Yoruba name. 

Okay, but like how ‘white girl’? 

I was in Lagos, specifically Balogun market walking up to people to say, “Hi. How’re you doing?” They were so confused. There was a time I was in Osun for NYSC, and the indigenes kept calling other people to interpret what I was saying. I tried to speak broken Yoruba, and they’d insult me. It was tiring. I spent all three weeks at the orientation camp, trying to live the authentic Nigerian experience but I definitely won’t do it again. hard to be authentic

Skrim. They did you dirty. So, you prefer to be called an illustrator. Why’s that?

I just want to define the kind of work I do. In college, I studied art with a concentration in painting at some point, and did posters for people, in my graphic designer era. But then, I found I enjoyed digital art and drawing with markers. I wanted something that defined the niche I liked the most, and the word ‘artist’ was too broad. Still, I didn’t want people to call me a graphic designer or content creator because that didn’t fit. Even though I do create content.

Ah, I see. What sort of content? 

I don’t think of myself as a content creator, but if I made a reel of myself drawing, I find people commenting they love my content. This is interesting because I think of it as a process video, not exactly content, but I guess, everybody is a content creator now. I just like making these videos and seeing what I’m doing from an outside perspective, but I think that’s my “content”. 

Let’s go back to how you convinced Nigerian parents to let you study painting 

I scammed them a little. When I initially went to uni, I was studying economics. After my first year, my school let me add a second focus, so I added arts and did both for the rest of my three years. Doing both saved me because there were times economics was frustrating me, so I’d focus on art. Economics was the course I told older people I studied. Art was what kept me sane. 

If economics wasn’t giving you a hard time, would you have pursued arts?

I can’t lie. No. Initially, I thought I couldn’t pursue it because of the Nigerian parent mentality. You have to do something they consider serious. But after one year of fighting with my econ degree, I realised I needed something for myself. When I graduated from uni and worked my first 9-5 in finance, I was frustrated because I didn’t have art classes anymore and couldn’t find time to draw. This was the trigger I needed to create more time for art, share and publish them. 

What happened next?

I got incredible personal satisfaction from it. But it’s hard to paint when you don’t have the facilities. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and you need space. This led me to digital drawing and marker art. I also love learning new things, so I taught myself photoshop and watched lots of youtube videos. I was trying to find a better way to have an outlet and gradually became more consistent. For example, I did the inktober challenge of a digital drawing a day for 31 days. Then I posted them on my Instagram, which helped build my confidence. My friends hyped me up, so I made a dedicated instagram account for my art, and it grew organically. People could see I enjoy what I do, and they liked my work too. 

What’s the most enjoyable thing about illustrating?

There’s the challenge of getting something out of your brain and onto a tangible piece of paper, which I think every artist enjoys. Number two, I love the idea of doing whatever I want. I love the freedom, especially after working a structured job where you have to follow rules. If I want to draw a naked body or something serious about the government, I can and I’ve done both. It’s not easy to do, but it’s fun. Sitting back and admiring my work like, “Wow. I really did that,” excites me. 

Do you remember the first thing you painted that made you proud?

Two pieces for two different reasons. The first is from one of my last painting classes in school. I remember feeling depressed because I thought it would be my last painting and the depression channelled itself into the piece. It was a lot more detailed than I would usually do. It’s a self-portrait I made for my senior thesis. Looking back now, it was so ordinary, but at the time, I loved it.

And the second one? 

It was an illustration I made in 2019 about the social media bill. It had a more enormous reach than I could imagine, and people found it really useful. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is helpful and over 30,000 people saw it!” It made me proud.  I’m proud of the first one for personal reasons and the second because it was meaningful to a lot of people.

I remember seeing those everywhere. Would you like to try other art styles?

I don’t think I’ll ever make a painting that looks like a real person, but I’d like to play around with that. At the same time, I never want people to wonder if my work is a painting or photograph. I think that’s a bit too much. I like to add a bit of caricature to my work. 

What’s the best compliment you’ve received for your art?

There was a time I randomly posted something, and Mr Eazi privately messaged me that it was real work. I was shocked because how did he find it? It was something I could show my parents like, “See oh. People are noticing my art.”

Do they give you hell for doing this full-time? Do you do this full-time? 

Not anymore; I’m back to being a finance bro. I’m currently in business school but I  make art on the side, with the free time to pursue it. Plus I think my MBA will probably help with the business side of my art too. I’ll fashi this finance job at 30, after I’ve made a shit load of money, then focus on art full time. 

So right now, art’s not making you enough money?

It’s definitely a part-time income source, but I’m trying to get so good that when I charge outrageous amounts, I can justify it. I’ve seen people’s interest and gotten enough commissioned projects , so I know I have an audience, but I feel like I can improve. I want to get to a point where all my doubts are eliminated because I know I’m great at this, but I’ve also invested the time and effort to be better. I don’t know if I’d ever get there, but in the meantime, I like having a plan B to fall back on.

The starving artist life is not for you at all

I think it’s the firstborn in me that makes me this way. I’d rather be a comfortable artist.

RELATED: How To Be The ‘Perfect’ Nigerian First Born Child

Back to your parents. What do they think? 

Initially, they thought it was a cute hobby I enjoyed, so they never gave me hell. Now, they’ve been supportive even. I once had an exhibition I couldn’t attend.  They took pictures for me and helped live stream it. Another time, my mum overheard her boss talking about wanting a portrait in her house and recommended me to her. My mum even tried being my business manager, but I was like, “Thanks. Please, don’t do that”. That would’ve just put too much pressure on me. I can’t hold anything against my parents. 

What’s a dream project for you?

For two years, I’ve had an idea to create a web series like the Archie Comics about being a young Nigerian living in Nigeria, travelling abroad, falling in love, all of that. Something with a clear storyline and recurring characters. I’ve made sketches and the outline for the first story. But who knows? Maybe I’ll start properly this year or next year. 

I hope you do. I’m exactly your target audience. I loved Archie but couldn’t relate to half their struggles, so this should be cool

Exactly. I want something simple, like a weekly series. At one point, I tried to tailor it to current events. But since I’ve put this out into the world, I guess I have to do it now. 

If you could describe your art in a few words, how would you?

A colourful process. Because I try too many different things, and I don’t want to have a tight niche. As much as I love illustrations, I also love painting, drawing and digital art. I tried to use only two or three colours in my work, because I tend to go overboard with colours, but couldn’t stick to it. I love to experiment with style and medium, so yes. It’s a colourful process, and I’d like to do a bit of everything. 

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