The rapid advancement of digital technology brings forth diverse creative expressions, such as digital art that continue to astound and amaze us. Digital art has given a powerful voice to Africa’s emerging creative talent allowing for ta relative ease of dissemination and in the process attracting global attention towards stories and images that speak of life in a modern continent. Kenyan digital artist Osborne Macharia, founder of K63.STUD/O is one of those rising talents whose mastery of the digital medium has let to collaborations and commissions with high-profile local and global brands and agencies such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes Benz, Kenya Airways, Ogilvy & Mather, MTV Base, and Samsung. I chat to him about his work, motivations, and advice for anyone looking to forge a career in the industry.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself: your background, where you are based, and how you came to digital art and photography as a career?
I am a self-taught commercial and advertising photographer born and based in Nairobi, Kenya. My background is in Architecture as that’s what I studied on campus. somewhere in my 4th year of study when I had to sit out for one academic year, I discovered photography and that’s been my passion ever since.
2. What types of clients do you work with, and how has that impacted your work?
I mostly work with advertising agencies and sometimes directly with clients on executing campaign brief. This could range from Telecom companies to liquor brands, it all depends on how your style fits into the visual style they are going for. There is a definite co-relation especially for me between commercial work and my personal work. The commercial work funds my personal work and has helped in creating an organized workflow when it comes to executing personal projects whereas my personal projects inspire ideas when it comes to executing commercial jobs.
3. What are the key influences behind your work, and what stories do you try to tell through your illustrations and photography?
My work is influenced by 3 principles; Culture, Identity, and Fiction. These are the filter parameters I use that my work still remains relevant and impactful at this day and age. Sometimes not all the principles are represented but at least 2 of the three elements have to be present in any given project.
4. Do you have any favoured techniques, and how long did it take you to develop your distinctive style?
Lighting is key in my work. Light has to be dramatic and interesting which is brought out through strobing. I wouldn’t say there is a given time frame to what I know now as I keep learning every day, the process keeps evolving as one keeps perfecting the craft. So far I’ve been shooting for 7yrs.
5. What has been the most challenging aspect you have faced in becoming a digital artist and photographer, and how did you overcome it?
The challenges are always there, they are just different with every step. Initially, when I was starting out it was a matter of trying to get commercial work, as the industry in Kenya at that time was mostly expat driven. Things are different now and more Kenyan photographers are starting to get hired. Nowadays I face the challenge of misinterpretation of my work especially from people outside the continent.
6. The challenge of the misinterpretation of your work is an interesting and important issue you have raised, can you expand on this a bit more for us to explain what you mean by this and how you counteract it?
It is on very rare occasions. I’ll give you an example of my project Magadi that was the story of former female circumcisers turned fashion mentors. In as much as this is a fictional story and one that highlights a social shift in the efforts of women in the rural part of Kenya are making in abandoning this practice and turning towards alternative livelihoods. This project was inspired by my mum who was working for one organization that was advocating for the end of FGM and providing alternatives to the women. I did get quite some interesting questions and comments from westerners asking if I was rewarding them for their actions, comparing highlighting female circumcisers to child molesters. In terms of counteracting, I try not to defend my work. If one does their research properly then they’ll find out the context of the work and why it’s important to highlight such subjects.
7. Your website showcases a number of personal projects, why is it important for digital artists and photographers to initiate their own projects? And does this give you a freedom that you may not otherwise get with working with commercial clients?
I believe personal projects help strengthen your style and language as an artist/photographer. The more you execute these projects on your own the more you figure out a lot about yourself and your workflow that will eventually determine what you’ll be hired for. With time these projects have become my own tools of expression in that no one will direct you or influence your work as in the case with client work. You can do whatever you want how you want it as long as it’s an honest reflection of who you are as an artist.
8. What are your thoughts on the development of digital art in your country and/or the wider African continent? And what effect do you think it is having in the wider context of the global digital illustration industry?
There is so much talent in Africa as a whole. I believe we are at a point where culturally backed content that is, not the stereotypical African image is coming up, and coming up fast. Young Africans are tired of the same old and want to show the world Africa as we know it. We might be far behind the rest of the world but we are definitely finding our voice.
9. You are now an award-winning digital artist, what has the recognition done for your work?
It has been amazing. Getting the chance to showcase my work all over the world as well as get to input my creative direction in international work has been a blessing on my part. This is something I hope will carry on as I’d like to work with brands on more culture inclusive/backed content.
10. What would be your advice for someone looking to become a digital artist?
Personal projects, personal projects, personal projects. I cannot emphasise this enough. I know what this has done for me as an artist seeking to define his style as well as for my career when it comes to being discovered/getting hired for work. You have to remain thirsty to keep learning no matter where you are in your career. Research is also a key component. Find out what people are doing out there and set your standards on what’s being done internationally.
You can find out more about digital artist Osborne Macharia and his award-winning work by visiting K63.STUD/O.
[Image credits. The images shown are sourced from K63.STUD/O. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]