My love of pencil drawing gives me space among kings

Anthony Kinyua (right) and a client pose with
Anthony Kinyua (right) and a client pose with one of his portraits in Marsabit. PHOTO | BD CORRESPONDENT 

In the heart of hot and dusty Marsabit town, at Iqra shopping centre, a crowd is watching Anthony Kinyua at work.

The 23-year-old is drawing pencil art portraits, earning a living off what he says is a hobby he started in secondary school.

His first work was a painting of the late former South African president Nelson Mandela three years ago.

He has since painted portraits of other key political leaders in his county in an enterprise from which he earns more than Sh25,000 monthly.

“I started drawing when in school. Little did I know I would turn my passion into an employment one day,” Mr Kinyua told the Business Daily last week.

“I started painting as a full time job after I realised my full potential. It’s my full time job now and it is bringing food to my table.”

Last year, the county government recognised him as the best fine artist and took home a token of Sh10,000 from the department of sports.

“The award propelled me to a whole new level as several county officials requested me to draw their portraits,’’ he said. In his portfolio of portraits is that of Marsabit governor Ukur Yatani.

Other county executives have also been captured: the tourism and culture secretary Grace Galmo, Stephen Labarakwe (health) and Stephen Katelo, the chief officer for youth and sports. 

But the highlight of his young career was in April when deputy president William Ruto visited Marsabit.

Mr Kinyua thought about drawing the DP’s portrait and presenting it to him during the visit.

He approached the NHIF chairman Mohammed Mohamud Ali to forward his request to the deputy president and the young artist’s wish was granted.

“Mr Ruto was delighted by his portrait he took it and paid me Sh20,000 at the dais in Marsabit Stadium,’’ he told Business Daily.

Mr Kinyua who looks up to Gado, an editorial cartoonist, is the only child in his family from Runyenjes, Embu County. He was raised in Nakuru County.

Between 1999 and 2006 he was at Lenana Primary School in Nakuru and joined Upper Hill High for his ‘A’ level between 2006 and 2010.

He has not pursued higher learning but has “immersed myself in the arts business, hoping to make a career out of it.”

He exhibits his work across the country while he combines it with sign-writing, which assignments are fund among schools.

One of his main challenges, he says, is pricing his portraits since many residents think they are expensive.

An A4 drawing retails for Sh500, A3 Sh3,000 while A2 goes for Sh4,500, prices Mr Kinyua says are fair given the time spent and resources invested to come up with a single portrait.

“It takes patience and practice to draw and paint but it can make you dine with kings,’’ he said.

Mr Kinyua challenges the youth to make use of their talents to earn a living rather than wait to be employed in white collar jobs, which are becoming distant dreams.

In Kenya, there are an increasing numbers of artists who specialise in pencil drawing, which are shared with other art lovers and potential buyers on social media.

Self-taught artists

Some of the pencil artists are professionally trained. They include Nuru Bahati (who also draws with biro pens), Nadia Wamunyu (who often works in charcoal as well as pencil) and Paul Njihia (whose pencil caricatures are popular. He also works in oil and acrylic paints).

Many more so-called self-taught artists are emerging on the web.

Most are quick to declare they have been doing pencil drawing from a very early age and still do it now since they’ve got a passion for it and the “humble pencil” is their preferred tool of trade.