James Kato Damba, is a 28-year-old Fine Art teacher at Seeta High School Mbalala campus who is making a living from his unique art pieces.
For this interview, I found him completing an art piece of zebras that hung on a straight board against the wall in his art studio.
As a business venture, Kato decided to major in painting and drawing and this has earned him money that supplements his monthly salary as a teacher.
Kato says he was inspired by his friends who had gained a lot from painting.
“My first commercial painting was about the life of an African woman where I portrayed her daily life, I remember selling it at Shs400, 000,” he recalls.
Kato adds, “I took the painting to one of the art galleries in Mukono where it was displayed, a client was so impressed by its uniqueness and bought it,” he says.
Areas of interest
It is not just about painting when it comes to Kato’s artwork, he incorporates creativity which brings about the uniqueness thus getting good market for his work. His area of interest is wildlife and the African life.
Kato reveals that he invests in research which helps him understand what his clients would be interested in. This way he can concentrate on pieces that have high demand. He shares that the costs incurred are very low compared to the profit made.
“Paint that costs Shs100, 000 can produce pieces worth Shs7m,” he states.
Finding market for art pieces
Although he does not sell every month, Kato makes sure to work on at least three art pieces at the end of the month.
Even with no orders available, Kato paints the pieces and waits for a lucky season.
The cost of these art pieces range between Shs300, 000 and Shs900, 000 depending on the size.
“The market is good during festive seasons such as Easter and Christmas seasons. During these seasons, I can make between Shs4m to Shs7m,” he says.
Kato reveals that his other clients are those who want to decorate their houses. He also sells to hotels and tourists and people with events such as introduction ceremonies and weddings.
“The most expensive piece I have sold so far was Shs1.3m and this was after being exhibited in a gallery outside Uganda,” he says.
What makes Kato’s work exceptional is the compositions he comes up with, the technics he applies when painting thus producing a quality product. It is because of this that his business has developed and earnings have grown. He has gotten opportunities to exhibit in both national and international galleries such as Nommo and Umoja galleries in Uganda, Diani Gallery in Kenya, and National Cultural Heritage Center in Tanzania, among others.
“Because of art I am, now known in and outside Uganda and it is through art that I have managed to pay school fees for some of my siblings as well as taking care of my parents,” he says.
The nine years of art have not been without challenges like the fake paint on the market and difficulty in finding consistent market.
“When you use fake paint, the work produced fades in no time sometimes even before it gets to the market,” he says.
Kato plans to start his own gallery where his art work will be exhibited. He also dreams of becoming one of the great and famous artists in Uganda.
“I am looking forward to setting up an art academy so that I can train young people in the field of art,” he intimates.