How Twine turned hobby into source of income

Twine with Denis Lanek, the President of the association of gospel musicians in Uganda during a TV show. Gen Muhoozi’s piece is yet to be picked from the gallery. PHOTO | GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Edwin Twine Omujuni had never visualised himself as an artist but a turn of events driven by the Covid-19 pandemic has secured a seat for him among the big boys. He paints portraits from a corner of the bar and wants to inspire other youths through the pencil.

Edwin Twine Omujuni is a visual artist who studied as professional architect holding a national diploma from St Joseph’s Vocational School, Mbarara. 

Eddy Jack is the name he uses to earn a living. It is the one he uses on social media platforms - Facebook and Twitter.

He finished high school in 2015 and started working as a newspaper inserter at Pepper Publications in 2016 from where he graduated to become a sales agent while at the same time he was studying at the International University of East Africa (IUEA).

Mathematics, Fine Art and Technical Drawing, which he studied at high school was to become a cornerstone of his career in art yet it was something he thought he could do just for fun.

Until 2020, when Covid-19 hit, he had not discovered his talent in art. He was still a sales executive and lived comfortably on his average monthly earnings of Shs800,000.

There is a place for every artist in the industry. He is not among the big boys and girls, but many people continue to support his hustle.

Although there is growing fascination with African art that is rich in colour and expression, Twine is obsessed with human nature. 

He finds beauty in the everyday life producing renderings of people’s portraits in what he calls human art.

“I am not into any other form of art. It is only recently when I got a deal for a painting. But painting takes a lot of time and much more concentration. With pencil art, I can easily work on one piece and move to another. My motivation right now is to earn money. So, I want to finish as many pieces as possible,” he says.

Perfecting the art

Although there is a saying that a mistake in art is a design, Twine says this is not true in portraits. 

“When a person’s nose is presented badly, for instance, the customer will not like it and you will not tell them it is just art. My art is so much about perfection,” he says.

He has worked to perfect his art through the times improving his skill and arsenal.

Everyone had his Covid-19 moment, so did Twine. He had more time to stay home and that is when he embarked on this journey.

“At first I was not looking at art as a career. Never. I was used to the media where I would meet stars in the entertainment world and I felt very comfortable. During Covid-19 lockdown, I spent all I had saved. There was this illussion that we could be opened in two weeks. I always knew businesses would open soon and that is how I ended up blowing all my savings,” Twine, who takes care of his two siblings, said.

His daily routine during the lockdown was to jog around, have a meal and then sleep. But he realised he could do something more productive.

He did not have money to buy materials for painting such as brushes, fabric and paints. So he chose to buy pencils and reawaken the passion in him.

He first painted free work for friends just to kill the boredom. Because most people were on social media, many saw his status updates of his paintings.

“Some liked what I was doing. Of course it was not perfect art. It was something showing a few features of someone but friends encouraged me to do it. I would take more than two days to finish one piece thinking the lockdown was about to be lifted,” he says.

He then asked them to pay for the frames charging them Shs50,000. Instead, he had to use the seven A-3 frames at home to start off. This earned him Shs350,000 from his deliveries.

“Those for whom I had done the pieces hyped me on social media and I started getting more orders,” he says.

That is the time he decided to organise his business and set prices for his work. He initially charged Shs70,000 for the A-3 frames and later increased to Shs100,000.

Twine, who now uses an electric rubber for neat and quick work, says his portraits can tell the story of a life. He charges clients up to Shs500,000.

“Portraits reflect back at us a person even when we are gone or when someone is no longer familiar,” he says.

Kyeyo fantasies collapse

Twine had limited presence on Twitter and Facebook before he discovered a way to turn his WhatsApp number into a marketing tool for business posting his pieces on his status.

Initially, his clients were mostly young girls booking pieces for boyfriends. One of them connected him to her uncle who booked eight art pieces for which he charged Shs200,000 each. He made a profit of Shs160,000 saving Shs1.2m.

Until now, Twine did not consider himself as an artist. He sold all his household property including the phone and topped with savings to raise Shs3.8m to travel to the Middle East for kyeyo. He had been promised to earn Shs3.5m monthly.

During the course of the process, he borrowed from friends to facilitate the trip. He stopped taking any orders.

“Some people were unhappy with my decision despite the pieces being shabby by then,” he says.

The agency he had used was under the chaos of Covid-19 and the deal collapsed. 

On June 19, 2021 UAE suspended entry for travellers coming Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda starting June 11, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

On deadline day of entry into UAE, Twine was meant to travel yet the agents disappointed.

“I went to the airport with my bags after the agency promised to send me the air ticket in time for travel. I checked in but the contact person did not pick his calls until he switched it off,” he recalls.

Hopeless and now homeless, he cried as he waited for his fate. Twine says he sat at the airport for several hours until his brother sent him transport money to return home.

“I did not speak to anyone for almost a week. I would view people’s statuses and switch off the phone,” he says.

As fate would have it, he contracted coronavirus a few weeks later. He got recommendations from friends and took concoctions since he did not have money for treatment. Thankfully, his brother did not catch the virus and he got better in two weeks.

It was during this confusion when one of his former clients, a teacher at Entebbe Girls School placed an order for four art pieces. But he did not have materials. As he was preparing to go for kyeyo, he had burnt all the papers and pencils.

“I did not want to work for her and asked for Shs180,00 thinking that would put her off. Yet she agreed. She sent Shs400,000 to book the work. I was so excited. I went out to Café Javas and bought a milkshake, tea and food worth Shs100,000. I made sure I ate it because that was the first decent meal in many days,” he says.

This was the time he resumed work and orders started streaming in. His highest number of bookings was 20 pieces in August last year from which he saved money to buy a plot of land in Nansana.

He tried demanding his money back from the agents that were taking him to UAE yet they did not budge.

New hope

A friend at the Ministry of Defence opened for him new windows of opportunity when he advised him to start selling passion fruits to the officers during the lockdown since agriculture was a priority sector. It has since become a side hustle that earns him an additional Shs200,000 every week. He now reserves Tuesday and Thursday for the passion fruits business.

He was now a busy man after he introduced to some people whom he supplied passion fruit. One high-ranking officer gave him a booking of two pieces at Shs300,000.

Life was good and for the first time he celebrated his birthday eating a whole cake with his brother.

He is now getting more connections and referrals. His connections with the army people helped as the labour agency refunded Shs2m after they saw him post an art piece of an army officer.

But all that glitters is not gold as some portraits remain unclaimed. Among them is one for Lt Gen Kainerugaba Muhoozi whose order was made by a friend who has never picked it.

“I was excited that maybe if the art piece reaches the General, I would maybe get a hashtag,” he says.

He has contacted individuals close to Lt Gen Muhoozi including Arinaitwe Rugyendo to no avail.

“The more I got orders from such people, I got more orders. Maybe the General did not see the work but I am happy,” he says.

But meeting Rugyendo was a blessing as it attracted more Twitter followers and engagements.

Turning point

On June 19, 2021 UAE suspended entry for travellers coming Zambia, the DR Congo and Uganda starting June 11, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

On deadline day of entry into UAE, Twine was meant to travel yet the agents disappointed.

“I went to the airport with my bags after the agency promised to send me the air ticket in time for travel. I checked in but the contact person did not pick his calls and eventually switched his phone off,” he recalls.

Hopeless and now homeless, he cried as he waited for his fate. Twine says he sat at the airport for several hours until his brother sent him transport money to return home.

“I did not speak to anyone for almost a week. I would view people’s statuses and switch off the phone,” he says.

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