Policeman who embraced art out to change society

Elijah Gakuya

Elijah Gakuya, policeman who likes drawing in his free time and a pencil portrait he did of famous actress Lupita Nyong'o.

Photo credit: Pool

Elijah Gakuya had just graduated from Kenyatta University with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Chemistry in 2016 when he came to learn of a police recruitment exercise meant to happen in a few days.

He showed up for the recruitment and, luckily, he was among those selected.

“Growing up, my dream was to join the Kenya Air Force to train as a pilot, but I didn’t quite perform well in physics. So when I got this chance, I felt closer to my dream,” says Gakuya.

In May 2017, he was posted to Ngong Police Station.

Soon, he decided to revive his childhood hobby of arts.

Gakuya was looking for something that could keep his mind occupied.

“While in primary school back in the village, I used to draw sketches of famous individuals like President Mwai Kibaki, musician Sean Paul and some other artists. I would also be called upon to draw geographical illustrations like maps and other diagrams in class,” he recalled.

In 2020, he came across a Youtube video that reminded him of his love for drawing. He purchased some materials and immediately resumed his journey.

Since then, he has done over 100 pieces of art including portraits of famous individuals and for clients who place orders through referrals and the social media.

“I believe art is a way of expressing oneself in a passionate, yet simple way. But again, for one to do art, you have to be passionate,” he adds.

Gakuya adds that he found good fortunes in art as many people embraced his work.

“It supplements my salary as a police officer. In simple terms, art pays. Depending on your skill level, it pays handsomely,” he says.

“I use several pencil grades, both charcoal and graphite, blending stumps, tombow mono zero eraser and kneaded erasers, among other items. I I also use acrylic paints on canvas,” he says.

Due to the many cases of mental health challenges faced by police officers, he has also taken on himself to teach colleagues the importance of using talent and passion to relieve stress and supplement income.

“During some of our meetings, I try to introduce the subject of using talent as a means to financial freedom. Sometimes it works, but there are those officers who brush the whole idea aside,” he adds.

He adds that the price tag on any art piece depends on the size, type of frame, and whether it's a painting or pencil drawing.

Pencil drawings are generally more affordable compared to paintings.

“For the pencil portraits, I charge Sh1,900 for an A4 size, Sh2,800 for an A3, Sh4,500 for an A2, and Sh7,000 for A1. These prices are inclusive of a frame,” says Gakuya.

Depending on the complexity of the art, it takes Gakuya between five and 15 hours for a piece.

On average, it takes six to seven hours to do a normal A3 portrait.

“As one gets better, the time taken to do the pieces reduces. While starting out, it would take me about 14 hours to complete a portrait, but now takes half that time,” he says.

Gakuya hopes to use talent to transform society.

“I believe talent can greatly reduce mental health issues. Stress, drug abuse, and financial instability are the three main contributors to mental instability. Talent can actually solve the three negativities simultaneously. I’ve seen drug addicts even outside the police service reforming just because they decided to follow their talent,” he adds.

He says his greatest motivation is the fact that there’s always a second chance even after failure.

“No matter the failures of today, tomorrow comes as a clean slate, a chance to write and rewrite history,” adds Gakuya.