Experiencing the world in brushes of colour

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • He sold the art to friends, family and clients who came to him through referrals. He also made notebooks for corporates.


  • The returns from this venture were high enough for him to afford to sponsor himself for a degree.


  • “I was a government-sponsored student so my fees for a year were around Sh12,000. I could easily settle this amount,” he says.

Musyoka Martin, 27, is a visual artist. His studio in Karen Village is littered with electric tools for his woodworking projects, different surfaces to paint on such as canvas and paper, a bucketful of brushes, different colours of paints, drawing mediums like linseed oil for oil paints, inks, watercolours, and mark pens. His is a life of a developing artist. 

His current exhibition dubbed Mtaani 10  has been running since September and will end in December 2022. His other exhibitions include Creative Millennials at Alliance Francaise in January 2020, Marejeo/Renaissance of a Vision at The National Museums of Kenya in July 2021 and Behind the Brush Stroke -Shift Eye Gallery in December 2016. He has conducted art workshops at Braeburn school, Jaffery Academy and JD Tennis Academy, among others. He also won the fifth Prize for Under 25, Mask Prize Award in 2018.

Photo credit: Pool

Painting, Musyoka says, starts with a clear mind. This is how you figure out what you want to paint and what you'd like to communicate, regardless of the art form you choose.

“Visual art entails painting, sculpture, and photography. I have been experimenting with different forms of visual art but I am mostly known for painting. I also do sculptures and woodwork in the form of making frames for art, chopping boards and rolling pins,” says Musyoka who studied fine arts and design at Kenyatta University.

When Covid-19 struck, he briefly diversified into the utilitarian forms of art to survive the economic effects while at the same time bringing beautiful aspects of art into day-to-day houseware. 

“I went for basic things that people could afford at that time such as rolling pins and chopping boards. It was also my way to get back into sculpting. I have always been fascinated by wood so that was my chance to learn while earning,” he says.
Besides painting, Musyoka teaches art in both local and international schools to supplement his income. His love for art started when he was a child.

“I enjoyed drawing objects and line work (drawing an item without shading or adding colour). After high school, I met a neighbour who was making paper art. I started learning the technique. I came across origami, a Japanese technique of folding paper without using glue. My interest in paper art grew and I started making cards. I also used glue to make different kinds of success cards.” 

He sold the art to friends, family and clients who came to him through referrals. He also made notebooks for corporates. The returns from this venture were high enough for him to afford to sponsor himself for a degree. “I was a government-sponsored student so my fees for a year were around Sh12,000. I could easily settle this amount,” he says.

An initial lesson he learned while working with paper was that while he was passionate and talented, there is a business angle to art. “This realisation has put me ahead because I now know how to balance books, how to replenish my supplies, pay my bills on time and so on. I do not waste my money,” he says.Musyoka has been in the art scene for close to 10 years now and says the industry has evolved significantly.

“There are now more opportunities for artists to sell their work through platforms like Facebook and Instagram. There are also many art groups like Contemporary Artists in Kenya, Affordable Art, and Nairobi Artists, which are additional selling points. We also have many online galleries. Artists are also able to connect with buyers and collectors. In the past, one would just paint and then hope to sell. There was no clarity about how to approach the market,” he says.

Another aspect which has extended access to markets include the increasing number of art galleries.

“Hotels and international schools also promote artists by letting them display their work on weekends. This also attracts more clients. Even pop-up markets have become a good way to attract clients and buyers. Companies and corporates also engage artists to make company-specific artworks,” he says.

But Musyoka says taxation is quite high and there is a shortage of supplies because the art scene is growing and resources are limited.

“Sometimes the quality of supplies is not the best. People who supply at a lower rate compromise on quality. This affects production.” So, how is Musyoka able to sustain his livelihood purely through art? Through consistent exhibitions.

“The more you exhibit your work, the more your reputation grows. An artist is a producer. When you produce and send the work to the right places, it puts you ahead of artists who do not share their work. People will always get to know you and your work and this will make them curious to find out more.” 

He shares his work with his mentees who also share the work within their networks.

“When I started, I charged Sh5,000 apiece, then adjusted to Sh10,000 apiece. Now, a single painting can fetch me up to Sh100,000.” 

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.