A Week in the Life of a Fine Artist Who Refuses to Be Disrespected

October 18, 2022

A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


Fine artist Renike Olusanya has always excelled in art, but several years ago, when she got her first commission of ₦25k, she didn’t realise her life was about to change. In 2022, she’s illustrated for international brands and publishing houses and sold a tonne of remarkable art. She tells Zikoko how she navigates work-life balance as a freelance fine artist, her frustrations dealing with clients and how she’s focused on building friendships. This is her life in one week.

MONDAY

I used to sleep around 3 a.m. — which is normal for artists because we’re all messed up — but I don’t want again. These days, I try to sleep between 12 and 1 a.m. I believe in gradual changes as it’s more realistic to go from sleeping by 3 a.m. to 1 a.m. than 10 p.m. I usually wake up around 9 a.m, but today, I woke up at 6:30 for some reason, and it was hell.

I like to respond to my inquiries and emails on Sunday nights so I won’t be under too much pressure on Monday. I also schedule emails for different times of the day depending on the time zone of the recipient. First, I write a to-do list, eat breakfast and get to work. I just started eating breakfast two months ago because I’m trying to build lean muscle and maintain healthy habits.

I like to eat overnight oats, which is funny because I used to hate [cooked] oatmeal until I discovered the beauty of overnight oats. I make it by soaking rolled oats in oat milk with chia seeds, Greek yoghurt, grapes & peanut butter and storing it in the fridge overnight. So in the morning, I just wake up and eat. Sometimes, I eat it with fried eggs. 

I work from home as an artist, so it can be difficult to get into work mode. I like to act like I’m going to work. When I’m done with breakfast, I freshen up, dress up formally and head to my home art studio for the rest of the day. By midday, I’m fully in work mode, and I work until 5 p.m., only pausing to stand up every hour when prompted by my Apple Watch. While working, I love listening to podcasts like The Archetypes by Meghan Markle and No Stupid Questions by Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth.

By 5 p.m., I get out of my work chair and change into gym clothes. I recently bought a treadmill I put in my studio because I neither have the strength for Lagos gyms nor a car to make daily trips. I also don’t like going out. I used to work morning till night without standing up. But that’s unhealthy, and I recently decided to become more physically active, I bought the treadmill and some dumbbells to work out in the evenings. I also do yoga until 7:45 p.m. 

Renike's home art Studio
Renike’s home art Studio

Afterwards, my Mondays can go either of two ways. I either eat dinner, read articles or a book, scroll through Twitter and TikTok and watch a movie, or I go to Obi’s House at Hard Rock Cafe — but this is once in a blue moon. Tonight, I’m staying in my house. Before I go to bed, I love those quiet moments when I just apply skincare products to my face.

TUESDAY

It’s funny how people only notice you when you’re out there and seem to be doing well. Sometimes, I get so caught up in trying to move forward I forget how far I’ve moved from the early days of my career. But today, I woke up thankful. And while eating my overnight oats — I can’t get enough of it — I took a few moments to meditate on my journey. 

In 2016, when I was in Unilag, someone reached out and asked me to supply prints of my artwork to a guest house. When the money entered my account — ₦500k — I was just looking at the alert like, I’ve used talent to escape the trenches o! Which is funny because my first commission was so random. I had a mentor — a pastor who used to encourage me. He commissioned me to paint his wife and paid me ₦25k. 

My first book cover was also a commission from a friend. She paid ₦30k for the illustration, and I was more than happy to work on it because I loved everything about her poetry collection, from vision to execution. I kept creating and putting out my work and not long after, I got a gig that paid £500. Just imagine the gap. And then, the gigs just kept coming….

As I finished my oats and prepared for the day, I knew I was going to absolutely slay it. 

WEDNESDAY

As a freelance fine artist, the nature of my job lacks structure, so I have to consciously decide to stick to a routine every day of the week, and a to-do list is my greatest tool. Knowing what to do before I start each day has helped my artistic process a lot because I track my activities and progress on projects for the day.

As a full-time fine artist, I draw what I like and sell them. Sometimes, people want me to draw things for them, and for a fee, I do. I get book cover commissions from either a self-published author or publishing house. When a house reaches out to me to design a book cover, it could be because the author saw my work somewhere and liked it. Like when I designed the cover of Nicola Yoon’s book Instructions for Dancing, one of Penguin’s creative directors reached out to me and said Nicola Yoon saw my work on Instagram — it’s always Instagram — and thought I’d be a great fit. Of course, I was interested. There’s usually a process that makes collaborating easy: a creative director reaches out, I do my work and get paid. 

A photo of a woman Renike posing with some books she designed covers for
Renike posing with some books she designed covers for

But with independent authors, there’s a lot of back-and-forths because I ask a lot of questions, and sometimes, they don’t really know what they want, so I have to guide them through. I’m the illustrator as well as the consultant. I can ask for a non-disclosure agreement to protect their work if they feel reluctant to tell me certain details of their story.

I used to have a fixed price list, but not anymore, because I often sold myself short, especially when the projects evolved or derailed. Right now, I have a base fee and add extra depending on the complexity of the project. Painting someone’s head will be different from painting someone’s hand, for example; the same goes for half-body vs full-body portraits.

When I do personal art, I start with an idea, roll it around in my head for a while before I start painting. Which reminds me, the last time I did something personal was in July [2022]. I worked really hard between 2020 and 2022, putting out a a lot of work and building my reputation — and that’s why I can afford my lifestyle today. I still have ideas, but it’s been hard to find space to create personal work. Funny, I never struggle with commsioned work.

I’m thinking this as I step out of my studio at 5 p.m. today. I make a note to paint something personal soon.

Renike the fine artist posing with her artworks

THURSDAY

Today was just annoying; payment wahala here and there. The biggest headache I have these days is accepting payments. Most of my clients are outside the country so anytime I need to receive a payment, I always have to manoeuvre one issue or the other as a Nigerian living and working in Nigeria.

I’ve put my name out there to the point that people now trust me. All you need to do is Google my name and see I’m legit. But it wasn’t always the case. When I was still coming up around 2019/2020, it used to frustrate me that some international clients would just air me after seeing I’m Nigerian. 

There was a time one of these traditional banks that recently went digital kept restricting my account until I threatened to sue. I was getting paid, but I couldn’t get my money. It’s not like the money was plenty o — didn’t even have the money to sue — but I couldn’t take it anymore. 

I’m also struggling with inflation, and it’s affected the kind of projects I take on. My foreign clientele typically commissions digital art and book covers while most of my Nigerian clients prefer portraits. But right now, I don’t take as many portrait commissions or get as many requests as I used to because my base price is in dollars. With the way the naira is moving nowadays, I can’t charge Nigerians in Nigeria. It’s ridiculous to convert what was, say, ₦100k at the beginning of 2022 to more than double that. 

It’s such a struggle, and I’m tired mehn. When does one get a break?

Renike the fine artist posing with her artwork
Renike posing with one of her works

FRIDAY

A younger artist reached out to me today, complaining that they did work for someone, and the client refused to pay. I discussed with the person on how they could prevent it from happening again.

I’ve worked with too many problematic clients than I’d like, but because I’ve had a few years of experience, I can spot them from a mile away and run for my life. They always have a crazy long list of things they want done — things that’ll normally cost an arm and a leg — but never have the budget for it. 

No matter how big you are, you can’t escape problematic clients. These days, what I do is if there’s something they want and their budget doesn’t match it, instead of chasing them away, I try to compromise to find middle ground. For example, if you really want a full-body portrait of five people, and you only have enough to cover a full-body portrait of three, I can suggest a half-body portrait of five people instead. But the problematic ones don’t even want to make concessions; all they do is stress me out, so I just run away.

A few years ago, there was this lady who reached out to me for a painting. I was still charging around $500 and above at the time. We moved to the consultation stage, but after hearing all the details she wanted, I was like, ehn? This thing you want — with the whole world including heaven — is how much it would cost. Omo, this woman started ranting. What really annoyed me was when she said I’d wasted her time. I had to clear her — respectfully — on the spot.

Clients are always right o, but they should also respect people who work with or for them. She wasted my time too when she was describing heaven and earth. People need to understand that they’re paying for a service and we’re doing it in return for the payment. Our work as artists is to bring your vision to life, so you can’t disrespect us because you only want to pay a certain amount of money. I won’t accept disrespect just because I’m providing a service.

I’ve had to evolve my process in a way that demands respect, so right from the beginning, you know you’re not dealing with an anyhow person: 

  1. I ask a lot of questions and sign contracts from the get-go, so nobody will say something, and then later, say that’s not what they said, because I have the receipts. 
  2. I don’t attend to inquiries over the phone. I prefer emails so there’s a trail of communication.
  3. When people divert from the original agreement or add something or the other, I charge extra.

I always set boundaries from the beginning. I don’t work for people who refuse to respect these boundaries because my peace of mind is important to me. Once people realise that after two revisions, they have to pay extra fees, they sit up and tell me exactly what they want.

But you see clients who treat me well? First of all, they offer me good money and are polite. Sometimes, they’re even ashamed to offer the money. To me, it’s big money o; to them, it’s like, “You have all this talent, and I can’t afford you, but please, take this money. And I’m like, “Yes ma’am.” 

After I did the book cover for my friend’s poetry collection, I kept posting my work on social media, and the next people who reached out offered me £500 and were telling me they knew it was lower than what I usually charged. The way I screamed. Me that my previous job was ₦30k? Me that used to beg people to pay ₦50k, and they’d refuse? Me that didn’t even think I was good? That was my turning point.

SATURDAY

On weekends, I like to work out in the afternoons rather than in the evening. I also spend time watching and making TikToks of my art — and some fun dance routines too. Weekends are when I let my hair down and dance. But not at parties because, these days, if I do legwork in public, they’ll say Renike is razz. I do my legwork in my house, please. Dancing makes me feel really active and happy. 

Weekends are also for hanging out with friends. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I’m only starting to make them — especially female friends — in my adulthood. I love them so much and love hanging out with them. They make life worth living. When I’m sad, I know I have this group of people I can talk to, who won’t judge me. They listen to me, hype me up, dance with me, crack funny and dead jokes with me, etc.

I like to read books too. Today, I finished Colleen Hoover’s Verity, and I’ve still not recovered. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’ll sleep like my life depends on it. When another Monday comes, I’ll eat overnight oats, dress up and face the week.


Check back for new A Week in the Life stories every first Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. If you’d like to be featured on the series, or you know anyone interesting who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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