Today, the 25th of October, is International Artists Day and in recognition of the day and to honour its mandate (“To celebrate the contribution all artists make to society by promoting and raising their credibility and visibility locally and around the world”), I invited Nigerian pastellist Damilola Opedun to join me as a guest on the HowToPastel blog.
Opedun’s work first came to my attention when he began posting on the Pastel Society of America’s group page on Facebook. One of his pieces was included in my monthly round-up of pastels in May. I have been so impressed by his drawing skills, his use of colour, his great compositions, his handling of the medium, his understanding of values. And then, one day a short while ago, Opedun posted this statement on Facebook:
“I not only desire to be one of the best Pastelists in the world, now I also strongly desire to have pastel shops in my country and Africa, selling only quality pastel products. I believe this is possible, because, there is nothing like that at the moment, and we’ve got fantastic pastel artists in my country and having these shops will help many to creatively express themselves more.”
Well, both of those ambitious goals and lofty dreams caught my attention. We in North America tend to be most focused on our own artists (although of course the internet is changing all that so rapidly!) and so I thought interviewing Damilola Opedun would be a marvellous opportunity to see the life of an artist in a country we may not think of in contemporary artistic terms. And hey, I myself was curious about this young pastellist from Africa of all places who had blazed so recently onto the pastel scene.
And so I approached Damilola to join me on the blog, to share his life as an artist with you. Happily he agreed! So please enjoy our question and answer session below. But first, let me whet your appetite with one of his pastels:
Gail: Please give us some background information about yourself eg. where you grew up, your art schooling etc.
Damilola: I am Damilola Moses Opedun. I am from Akure, the capital of Ondo state, South West Nigeria. As a child, I was encouraged by my mother, who made sure that I never lacked drawing materials so as to be able to draw at all times; she observed that drawing made me so happy and relaxed.
I received my basic and senior education in the city of Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria and later moved to my hometown, where I met Mr Olumuyiwa Adejimi, a professional painter and art teacher, who mentored me from 2002 till 2006.
In 2006, I was accepted into The School of Art And Design, Auchi Polytechnic, Edo state, Nigeria and graduated in 2010 as the best graduating student in my year group with Higher National Diploma (HND) in Painting.
After school I moved to Lagos, the business center of Nigeria, and worked in a motel to support myself while I worked to improve my painting until January 2015 when I finally left the job to focus only on painting, becoming a full-time studio artist. And I got married this year: 25 April 2015. I currently work as an art educator/teacher and a painter.
G: How wonderful that your mother encouraged you – was this surprising in any way? Are there any artists in your family history?
D: It was somehow surprising to her. I remember her telling me that she had always loved to know how to draw, but she failed Fine Art in high school over and over again. And now that she has a son who is an artist, she saw that as God’s way of compensating her.
Nobody is an artist in my family really, I only know that my parents have good handwriting, especially my dad. Talking about artistic tendencies, my elder brother is a gospel singer, also my younger sister, and my younger brother is a guitarist.
G: What made you decide to go into art making?
D: I have always derived pleasure or gratification from drawing as a child so I guess I just evolved into being an artist.
G: How long have you been working in pastels? Why pastels? How did you discover them?
D: I have been using pastel since 2006 but it became my major medium in 2014. I consider pastel to be very flexible and expressive, it suits my nature of working, it’s easy to carry about and it is a unique medium of painting.
I did a lot of drawings early in life with pencil and ball point pen, then I moved to charcoal drawing. But, after awhile, I discovered that no matter value key I chose in my charcoal drawings, my drawings always had a sober feeling in them and I was not always happy with that. I wanted the exciting emotion only color could give. Then in 2002, when I met my first art teacher Adejimi Muyiwa, I saw some works of pastel he did – that was when I first fell in love with the medium.
G: Tell us about about the pastels and paper you use.
D: I use Rembrandt and Winsor&Newton pastels on chip board paper. Most of the colours you see in my paintings are mixed by combining the primaries together. I have about 16 sticks of soft pastel on my palette. The beautiful pinks you see were generated by white, alizarin, and yellow orange and a bit of raw umber.
G: How easy is it for you to access supplies like paper, pastels, and anything else you use in your paintings?
D: The most painful part of my pastel romance is the fact that quality soft pastels are not readily available in the Nigerian art shops. The only brands we have to taste are Rembrandt and Winsor&Newton pastels.
Also we only have these pastels in sets so whenever I exhaust my favorite and frequently used colour, I will have to buy another set in order to have just that single colour. Also the only shop that sells selective soft pastels cannot even guarantee you of getting a particular tint or colour you have just discovered on the tray again.
This has a way stifling creativity. It is also psychologically painful to pastel artists. That is why I am so interested in having pastel shops across my country where only quality soft pastels and pastel products would be sold. There are fantastic pastel artists in Nigeria and many up-coming ones. Many also have abandoned the pastel medium for other medium which they find readily available in Nigeria, though that is against their wish.
G: Who has influenced your work the most i.e. who are your teachers/ influencers – and how have they helped you?
D: I love this quote by the English painter and poet William Blake: “I myself do nothing, the Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.” This may be strange to know, but to me, The Holy Spirit is my greatest teacher. He gives me ideas and teaches me how to handle it in painting.
My influencers are as follows: Dan McCaw, Ramon Kelley, Jove Wang, and Charles Reid. I learnt from these masters – design, color and composition. I learnt from these artists from books and on the internet. Also my teacher in the Polytechnic, Kent Onah, who taught me never to settle for less, and my Ghanian friend, Jonathan K. Aggrey – he was the angel who advised me to concentrate on using pastel.
G: How do you choose what to paint?
D: I choose any subject that allows me to show in a visual form, the idea I have within me.
G: Do you work from life, photos, imagination?
D: I mostly work from life and photo but depend mostly on my imagination in the process of composition and painting to be able to be as expressive as possible. The paintings “Idumota II” and “Idumota III” show this point.
G: What is your process in painting i.e. from idea then start through to finish?
- Idea stage: this stage is where I receive the concept of the painting, what it would be about. This also includes the choice of my subject.
- Structure: In this stage I choose a proper armature to hang all my big shapes on. Some of the armatures I use are: the L, V, Triangle, T , H, etc.
- Movement: Here I plan the line of movement in my painting, the path that the eye will follow. This is usually achieve by contrast.
- Format: I need to determine the appropriate picture format that will allow me to accommodate my idea. I either use a square, horizontal, or vertical format for a specific painting.
- Shapes: This is actually my subject matter, not things or objects.
- Details: This is where I paint the form of some of the things or objects I find important to my picture.
- Assessment: Lastly, I check the work to make sure it’s not ordinary, making sure it does not lack drama.
G: What are your greatest challenges in using pastel?
D: It is the unavailability of my frequently used pastel sticks in the art shops in my country, that is my biggest challenge. For now, getting a studio space is a major challenge, for my practice and to accommodate people that eager to learn pastel painting from me. I currently paint in my living room.
G: You work as a full-time artist. Please tell us more about that, for instance, where do you sell your work? Also how do you structure your day to paint as well as do the business of art.
D: I became a full-time studio artist in January 2015. For now only the Alexis Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria sells my paintings. I get commissioned works at times and I have been enjoying the patronage of some of my Facebook friends both in the UK and the US. When I am not working on a commissioned work, I paint for myself. “Ile Tiya” has just been sold to Mary Ann Hales, (a Facebook friend) in the US.
G: What is the price range for your work? What is the approximate shipping cost to North America? To Europe? To Australia? How do you take payment? How do interested purchasers contact you for more information?
D: For now my biggest size is: 61 x 45 cm (24 x 17 3/4 in) which range from US$1000 to $1,500. The smallest size is 23 x 31cm (9 1/8 x 12 1/4 in) priced at between US$250 and $300. The shipping costs about US$100. I take payments by bank transfer and interested people can email me at email@example.com
G: You mentioned you are also an art teacher. Can you tell us more about this? How do you balance your teaching days with producing art?
D: I actually don’t teach as an employed personnel. The Lord Jesus Christ put it in my heart last year to go into a ghetto community called Makoko in Lagos and teach kids that are artistic inclined but has no support or helper to nurture this gift. So since the beginning of this year I have been going there every Thursdays to teach children from 4pm-6pm free of charge, even the materials everything comes to them freely till date.
The other days I paint and the teaching has no negative impact on my creating paintings.
G: Wow, that’s a wonderful thing you are doing. Would you mind taking us through a typical day?
D: I wake up around 8am. After sayings prayers, I habitually study or read the Bible or any other Christian literature. I NEVER rush through this moment, because this is my real time of meditation and rest. After that is my breakfast, then to painting till around 5 or 6pm. Around 6:30pm or 7pm my wife returns from work, then we decide how we will spend the rest hours together. I usually sleep late thinking of the way forward or reading.
G: What has been your greatest success as an artist so far?
D: Being able to quit working in a hotel to focus on paint, becoming a full-time studio artist is a huge success for me. And the privilege to be able to teach the kids to understand is another success that is note-worthy.
G: I congratulate you Damilola on having the courage and confidence to work as a full-time artist. Knowing your work, I know you will be successful! Thank you so much for sharing with us.
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I loved being able to share this info and so many of Damilola Odedun’s paintings with you. Which is your favourite piece? I’d love to hear from you. If you have more questions for Damilola, be sure to leave a comment so he can reply.
Thanks again for being here. It means so much to me!
Until next time,
PS. Curious about the places in Nigeria that Damilola Obedun mentions? Can’t help myself, I’m a map person. (Sorry there aren’t any distances!)