I knew I would be lucky to work with Olusayo Ajetunmobi on Bride of the River God the moment I saw this image on Instagram, and I was absolutely correct. The beadwork on this image alone has me swooning! I enjoyed this chance to catch up on what else she is doing, I hope you do too!
What is your background in art? How did you get started?
I got started just trying to show what was on my mind without actually telling anyone anything. Art was a way to give my emotions plausible deniability. As a teenager, I did not know how to process any of my feelings without art and besides drawing that also involved stories, poems, dance and music. Eventually, I got enough compliments on my drawings that I started training to improve my skills, and at some point, people started offering me money for my work.
Can you tell us a little about what your creative process is like? How do you move a project from an idea to a finished illustration?
That really depends on if the project is commissioned or not. If it is, I love to get in the mind of the client, so clarity in communication really helps. I always aim to pull the picture out of their imagination, so I pay attention to the details of their vision and iterate where needed. If it is a personal piece, I go on a spiritual journey into my subconscious mind first. The actual production process may vary depending on the medium I am using and what I am trying to achieve. I might sketch a lot or just go straight in on a canvas. Regardless of how the artwork comes about, I lean heavily on my intuition. I don’t think too much until after the concept has been formed. When things are taking shape, that’s when I ask questions and research. Through my studies, inspiration is transformed into enlightenment. That allows me to become more deliberate and makes the work refined.
I love the piece in your blog on illustrating hairstyles. Is there any significance to the braids Anene is wearing on the cover to Bride of the River God?
The hairstyle is culturally common in itself, but the accessories are very much significant to Nigerian traditional spirituality. The contrast between the symbolisms of white cowries and red coral beads is definitely worth exploring.
Do you have a favorite color or palette?
For my art? Not consciously, but I intend for my illustrations to generally read as warm and vibrant. I pick the colors that I think will achieve that.
How do you challenge yourself to continue growing as an artist?
Making commissioned art actually helps me explore new frontiers with my work. It’s always interesting to explore ideas that I might not have thought about in my practice. I also improve general social skills when working with clients, like communication skills and time management. These practical aspects are also a very important part of growing as an artist. I believe that If I stop growing as an artist then I stop growing as a person, so I am always expanding my practice by trying new mediums as well.
You have an interesting collection of commissioned work on your website. I am so curious about Behind the Drape — how did that project come about?
So this is a funny story, I replied to a Twitter thread calling for illustrators for a project. The project eventually got scrapped but someone from the team referred me to a friend who was working on a book. Behind the Drape represents black people in anesthesiology and is also a recreational learning resource. There are word searches, coloring pages, and an appendix with definitions.
You posted a Lucille Clifton poem on twitter a few weeks ago, which coincidentally was the weekend I was finally reading one of her collections for the first time! It made me realize how often you post poetry. Does poetry affect your work in a way you could talk about? Do you have a favorite poet?
I just love poetry, I see it as one of the highest forms of art. I say this because of the impact that reading poems have on my inner world. I hope my paintings can be as elegant as great poems. I read Nigerian poets more and more, I love Logan February and Precious Arinze.
I love that you have gotten into writing your own stories! Can you tell us about The Greedy Ostrich?
I’m coming up with new folktales to replace the lost and forgotten oral stories of my people. When I was a child, my mother would tell me so many stories under the moon, but a lot of them I have forgotten already, and she has forgotten many that she was told by her mother as well. I don’t want future generations of children to grow up without folktales. Especially folktales that capture our culture and traditions and beliefs authentically. In my story, I talk a lot about Nigerian food, and the animal characters bear traditional names, as a way to remind children that we knew these animals before we knew English.
What are you doing when you aren’t creating art?
Ideally, chilling on the beach!