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Society & Success

Graphic designer taps technology in digital art venture

Digital artist Brian Omolo displays some of his works during his Viongozi exhibition at Kuona Trust Gallery, Nairobi in February.
Digital artist Brian Omolo displays some of his works during his Viongozi exhibition at Kuona Trust Gallery, Nairobi in February.  

Even after going about his business for four years, Brian Omolo does not consider sitting in front of a computer screen to work on a new project a real job.

“I still feel like a college kid playing around with ideas and concepts. It’s an adventure because you never know what you are going to come up with or if it’s possible, and then once you are done you feel over the moon,” he says.

Omolo is a digital artist. He works on album covers, corporate branding, logos, posters and advertising campaigns in his distinctive colourful art.

Away from his work, he organised a solo exhibition — Viongozi — early in February at the Kuona Trust Gallery in Nairobi where he displayed digital art portraits of the presidential candidates who participated in the March 4 General Election. He had planned to exhibit art based on the local music industry but changed the theme to march the political events at the time.

“So far, the response has been great. People seem to like the work so I’m really happy. No plans for another show yet, just working on a few of my own projects, experimenting and stuff,” he says.

Currently, 60 to 70 per cent of his work is digital art, mostly driven by his passion and love for experimenting on new themes.

Omolo was not always a digital artist. Back in high school, he considered pursuing fine art. Taking his parents and mentors’ advice, he took up graphic design.

He enrolled at Academy of Graphic Technology for a course in graphic design and later secured an internship position at a publishing house. While on attachment, he did basic graphic design, scanning, cleaning, Photoshop, and drawing illustrations for mathematics textbooks.

As a student of graphic design and illustration at Coventry University in the UK two years ago, he discovered digital art. At the time he had developed two different styles — hand drawing and colouring as well as working with vectors on Illustrator and Photoshop. He perfected his second skill at the university with the help of a lecturer.

“I noticed when I worked solely with the computer it would only take me so far and it did not come out looking original,” he says.

“Then one night I came across a few tutorials by artists who were able to mix their computer and drawing skills. When I tried it, my work improved a great deal.”

He says his “hard-to-please” lecturer liked his digital art more than illustrations. Omolo says the university exposed him to different cultures and experiences, helping him appreciate all forms of creativity.

His background in fine art keeps his art unique, says Omolo, adding that anyone with a computer and few tutorials can recreate anything but sketching or drawing before manipulating the art digitally produces unique work that cannot be duplicated.

After he returned from abroad, he secured a job as full-time graphic designer at a local company where he worked on user interface for websites, logos and posters. However, the burning desire to pursue digital art and inspiration by British digital artist Olly Moss as well as local artists and photographers like Jim Chuchu and Mutua Matheka pushed him to resign six months ago.

“You feel like they are certain things you wanted to try but you are not able to try,” he says. “The desire to try out something new was burning in me, so I thought let me try it.”

Omolo then organised the Viongozi exhibition to showcase his work and style. He says a wide range of themes inspire him including people, movies, especially those featuring super heroes, music and the Internet.

“But personal experiences are best, if I go through something awesome or learn something cool I want to make an artwork about it hoping that it will inspire someone else,” he says.

Some of inspiring moments, he says, happen when he is unwinding and having fun. Whether he is hanging out with family or friends, playing video games, table tennis, basketball and soccer, in this mood, he says, ideas or solving design problems become easy.

“It’s like a 24/7 job you never know when the next idea will come. So I just stay loose, enjoy the process and connect things together,” says the digital artist.

Over the years, his work has changed as he pays a lot more attention to the detail and making the work look “handmade and organic”.

Omolo knows that the digital art space is not big in Kenya. It is growing gradually, especially online where most local digital artists upload their work on sites like behance.net and get noticed by international curators like africandigitalart.com.

“It can be challenging because Kenyans do not really buy art work. But that it is not my number one way to make money, I usually try to get commissioned jobs,” he says. “It is something new. I feel like I’m always testing the waters to see what is going to happen.”

Omolo feels that digital art will soon get the recognition it deserves in the design industry with big players appreciating its role and ad agencies embracing it as a way to attract clients and for brands to tell their stories.

mwikalilati@gmail.com