By Isaac Ssejombwe
The ball point pen is not usually a natural option when it comes to medium for fine artists but for one Able Mukundane, it is an instruments he holds dear.
Mukundane, 22, works exclusively with blue and black ballpoint pens to draw portraits.
He also uses both pencil and paint to add that vigour to his work.
What makes him tick?
His attention to fine details in his portraits is what has won him admiration from his clients.
“I ensure my work captures the moods and every little detail about the client. Being an artist requires high levels of versatility. The realism has to come out clearly,” says Mukundane.
Nurturing a dream
The artist has always been good with his hands and as a child, he drew, painted and made crafts. He first toyed with the idea of drawing in his childhood when he spotted his younger brother doing it.
“I came home one day and found him drawing using a pencil and I developed an interest. I have always loved everything about art, sculptures, graphic design and pottery,” he says.
It therefore naturally followed that in high school he would pick art and design as one of his subjects.
In the four years at Cleverland High School in Masaka District, he learnt the more elaborate elements about pencil art which included paper balancing and toning.
His journey to fine art was not paved with gold. He joined Kyambogo University to study interior and landscape design in 2017. For two years he toiled in class but there was one problem; he was not interested and rather unsettled.
“I rarely attended classes and my academic performance was poor. Eventually, I spent most of my time at the university art gallery which has amazing works on display. It was one of my earliest inspirations,” he says.
After graduating last year, Mukundane turned the passion into a fully-fledged business by posting some of his works on social media. He began marketing aggressively on his social page and through word of mouth.
The strategy worked and customers began trickling in. By now he had tried out biro art, moving away from the all too common pencil work.
His first A3 sized portrait earned him Shs100,000. “I drew it on a special material, the watercolour paper which is durable and softer than the normal paper.”
His determination and hard work finally paid off when he drew a portrait of music icon Mozey Radio.
“I earned Shs200,000 for that beautiful piece of work from Wombo restaurant. That was the turning point because I got many jobs later,” he said.
His customer base was growing and this demanded that he gets a bigger space for his work. With the money he bagged from previous drawings, he moved from his mother’s house and rented a room in the same neighbourhood where he could work comfortably without the constraints of space. He also bought a drawing table, frames, drawing papers and glass.
Working at home, he says, is not any different from working in an office as you can shut distractions out of your mind. “When you begin your work day at home, you know that you are there to work. It’s all in the mind,” he says.
With an A3 portrait selling at Shs170,000, size A2 for Sh250,000 and A1 going for Shs350,000, Mukundane makes between Shs1.8m and Shs2m a month. The amount is usually higher during special holidays such as Valentines Day, Easter and Christmas Day. In a low month, he earns about Shs900,000.
The A3 work is complete within four days while the A2 is done in 10 days. The A2, which is the biggest in size, is done in about two weeks. His customers are mostly couples and individuals. “A nice work of art is always a winner on any given occasion. My skill as an illustrator also makes me a realist because art is interpreted in its actual appearance. The commonest question is how I am able to draw without erring. It keep them coming back,” he asserts.
He comfortably settles his bills, saves and pays his employee who frames the portraits.
Covid-19 has disrupted many businesses and it hasn’t spared Mukundane’s earnings either but he has managed to manoeuvre around it by working from home and delivering to the customers around Kampala. Besides that, he says art is a seasonal activity which can’t bring in clients all the time.
“Artists are rare in the world and not everyone can draw/paint so if you have a talent, utilise it as much as you can and if you are good at something don’t do it for free,” says Mukundane who further states that passion is all one needs to start up an art career because with passion, there is some guarantee of success.
Like any other business or career, there should always be a vision and his is setting up his own art gallery and to host exhibitions.
He is currently working on a portfolio of prominent people that he will use as a display.
“I will be just like Pablo Picasso the Spanish painter who curved a niche in his painting and left a mark among artists worldwide,” he says, adding: “I am looking at millions in a few years’ time as my proceeds.”
He is also working on opening a training centre for artists who want to succeed in their work.