While growing up, Peter Kivumbi and art were inseparable. He loved drawing and could use any time available to him to draw something. He loved to play with the pencil and a paper but he was always discouraged from doing what he always wanted to do right from his childhood.
Teachers in his Primary School tore his books in class where he drew his art pieces with a motive of keeping him focused on other subjects such as science and mathematics.
However, he kept on pursuing his talent for he believed one cannot fight nature and passion because artists appreciate nature.
“Much as I had other talents such as football, art was part of me. I discovered myself more when I joined high school because the subject was there. My teacher Mr Joseph Ssendi nursed my talent even more. He would get me on board and we would do certain projects together such as the reading compounds of different schools,” he shares.
Kivumbi kept on consulting his teacher with a motive of getting better at what he was doing. The graduate of Industrial Art and Design at St Lawrence University came up with a dream of starting Versatile Artists in 2014 while he was in his first year.
He shares that he found himself doing a lot of diverse art, interior designing, fabric designing, painting, jewellery making, adding value to clothes and exterior products so he wanted to get a general name which describes all the things he does hence Versatile Artists.
While in his first year, Susan Nalwoga who was teaching him a course unit called Fabric Design was also a good art entrepreneur. Kivumbi sought guidance from her on how to better make a living from his talent and she expressed the desire to help him.
Kivumbi shares that his first capital was the material he had as course materials for his degree at the university. He explains that starting his course, one had to have a laptop, technical drawing art books, brushes and paint.
“If you have a laptop, you are 45 per cent equipped because you can always design logos and catalogue. I used my laptop to come up with a logo and theme dubbed ‘Ideas and Infinity’. I then opened up a Facebook account to promote my stuff. I started with adding value to clothes I would get from the market,” he says.
With initial capital of Shs300,000, Kivumbi bought 50 plain T-shirts from Owino market, paste, a tambour frame and branded them with Versatile Artists logos and slogans.
His first customers knew him for T-shirts but he would tell them about his other products when they came to him. People identified him with the t-shirts that acted as moving billboards for him.
He took part in most exhibitions at St Lawrence, CBS Pewosa, and the Lugogo trade fair which helped him showcase more of his works since he used to take all his products for the exhibitions.
“I love my job a lot and at times I find myself doing sleepless nights of work. I ensure the time I tell the client will be enough for me to do a fine product and deliver on time,” he says.
Kivumbi explains that it is possible to start up a business with less input. Most of his raw materials are recycled products such as brooms, papers, wood, water bottles, bottle tops, polythene papers and wine bottles. The paints range between Shs10,000 and Shs50,000 depending on the colour and texture.
Kivumbi sells the portraits between Shs350,000 and 500,000. Paintings (landscape and seascape) go for Shs350,000. Branded shirts and jumpers go for Shs50,000 and Shs100,000 respectively.
He sells mirrors between Shs100,000 and Shs200,000 depending on the size and material used in finishing.
The wall clocks are between Shs100,000 and Shs150,000. A set of oil drum seats goes for between Shs1.5m and Shs2m.
Kivumbi explains that making money from art requires patience as the business is very seasonal.
“A month can go when you have not sold anything and you have just produced a lot of work. However, there are those good months where I can sell different pieces and earn a good profit of about Shs1.5m from all my art ventures,” he says.
Away from handling normal orders of T-shirts, jewellery, portraits, jumpers for clients, Kivumbi has done branding of signage for different companies. Some of his notable clients are Aga Khan Kindergarten, St Lawrence University, Churchill Safaris, Global HealthCare Public Foundation and Toyota Uganda.
Most of these have been referrals from friends and recommendations from his lecturer.
Aside from meeting high profile people such as the Kabaka, Nabaggereka and Katikkiro, Kivumbi shares that art also helped him win the Mr and Mrs Job Creator of St Lawrence University in 2014 where he was given a Toyota Progress.
“I was also selected among the six artists from Uganda who represented at the 150 years of Mahatma Ghandi in India. I won a fully paid trip to India and while there, we were tasked to come up with a piece of Ghandi that tells a story. I did a portrait of him and his top 10 inspiring quotes,” he says.
The artist shares that most art products stay long on the shelf yet the investment in the piece is a lot.
“Some clients order for pieces and later fail to pick up them yet I have invested in the production process. Our work is also undervalued by people who do not appreciate art,” says Kivumbi.
Kivumbi hopes to build an art brand to reckon with. He wants to be a one-stop-centre for all art related products.
“I am also working towards helping mentor future artists and inspire them, this I hope to do through an art talent search among youth and children during holidays. I don’t want them to be like me who was discouraged from pursuing my talent in my infant stages,” he says.
Kivumbi shares that starting a business calls for patience, self-discovery and identifying one’s niche.
He advises prospective entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams, be disciplined and trustworthy because it is key. “It is also good to associate with people who add value to you. Persevere and do not give up on the very first attempt. Fronting money is not good in a business, it is relationships that sustain a business. Look at money in the long run since quick money has challenges attached to it,” he shares.
He encourages them to believe in themselves and not to allow anyone to stop them from chasing their dreams and passion down.