If you are crazy about cartoons and comics in Nigeria, you probably grew up watching foreign cartoons and loading up on Disney, Archie comics, and the storylines that didn’t match the culture that was your reality. In the last couple of years, however, with the flow of technology and digital tools + the Internet providing accessibility, we are beginning to see this narrative change. More Nigerian and African characters, cartoons and stories are being created.
At the top of the creators of this new narrative seats Awele Emili, who has the most vibrant, colorful yet realistic characters and stories you have ever seen! You have to wonder how her mind works and how everything comes together.
For Creative Girls: Your work is fascinating and your characters are so alive! How do you come up with the characters you create?
Thank you. Some characters are solely from my imaginations and some are based off a typical Nigerian household which I feature on the Ijournal web series. I observe things unconsciously and sometimes actively when it piques my interest so I create characters from that.
You’ve mentioned on your website that growing up watching shows on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney have influenced your work. I find that inspiring, not everyone goes ahead to create from that influence. What do you think has enabled you or spurred you on to create from that space of childhood inspiration?
I still have the memory of when I asked my self how they made their cartoons while I watched a show on cartoon network. it was so clean and they could move, I was maybe 7 then, I already drew stuff on paper but it wasn’t as good as the tv shows I watched plus I only used pencils, so it wasn’t even colorful. My curiosity pushed me to start creating and getting better at it.
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You’re a self-taught digital illustrator and animator. Can you walk us through how you started learning and teaching yourself?
Drawing has always been a part of me, I’ve always wanted to create art that could compete with the shows I watched on TV as a kid. So to do that, I knew I had to get better. In primary school, I and my friends started making storybooks by cutting new notes, turning over the hardback cover and using it as the cover of the book. I’ll illustrate and come up with my stories and they’ll all come up with their stories which we include in the book, anyone that had crayons would color then we’d give the finished books to our favorite teachers. Same thing in happened Junior secondary. All of the books we made weren’t digital, they were hand-drawn on paper and didn’t look as good as the Disney or Enid Blyton books. So, in senior secondary, I started researching on how to create Disney-type cartoons, I found out it was called digital illustrations. I didn’t focus on it too much then cause it required getting software and gadgets that my parent wouldn’t get for me cause they’ll label it as a distraction so I had to stick to traditional art but I still drew every day. When I was in university in 2014, I started using my phone to draw with those app store drawing apps and that’s when I started digitizing my sketches. I got better gear and watched tutorials about Softwares and techniques on youtube and also read web articles. It’s been a process and I’m still trying to get better constantly.
Asides from the Cartoons you saw growing up, what else influences your work? And what mark do you hope to leave with your work?
The fact that most Nigerian books are poorly illustrated. When I was growing up, I didn’t want to read them cause the illustrations made the books look dull and boring. My parents didn’t even buy them, they’ll rather buy Disney books or Enid Blyton or Archie comics and that was what everyone had in school. Now, I want to change that, we have interesting stories in Africa, I want to create art content that can compete with International contents. I want Nigerians to buy African storybooks for their kids instead of foreign storybooks. I also want to use my art as a medium to communicate and create awareness of social issues and stigmas such as Gender equality, corruption, racism, women empowerment, the Health sector, politics, the education sector, and others.
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You studied Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics at the University of Lagos. Do you plan on practicing Medicine?
Everyone keeps asking me this lool. Still debating, just finished NYSC this year so there are a lot of choices to make.
On the economics of your work, it seems like the demand for Animators is increasing especially with Social Media and the embrace of Science Fiction. What are some of the things you think will take shape in the coming years?
Nigeria being one of the top countries that create African animations which can compete with other global brands, we are already on our way there, we have amazing and talented creatives paving the way.
Getting started can be tough. How did you start getting commissions and clients?
I’ve been fortunate enough to get amazing clients who reach out to me after seeing my works on social media, some are from referrals.
So, Social Media is a great avenue! Cool. What other advice would you give to the newcomers in this field?
Create art because you love art, everything else would follow.
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Your favorite tools, resources, websites, etc?
Wacoms are great and Ipad pro’s cause you can take it everywhere. software like Adobe creative suite, Procreate and clip studio.
How do you define creativity?
I think it’s using a piece of you to make something you love.