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Childhood hobby that became a career

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By DAISY OKOTI
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Vincent Lilechi, 24, credits his mum for the artist that he turned out to be. His company, Lilechi Creations, produces handmade cards, caricatures, portraits and administers art classes.

“When my mother realised that I loved drawing, she bought me the stationary I needed, including pencils, crayons and paper, and she even allowed me to hang my drawings on the walls at home. Visitors would marvel at them, which encouraged me to continue drawing,” he says.

And so it was that at the age of 10, Vincent began exhibiting his drawings in his mother’s living room, which he fondly remembers as his first gallery.

He started by drawing images of items he saw around the house and eventually graduated to redrawing the pictures he saw in his text books and comics. At some point, he reproduced an entire story book, by drawing the images and copying the text, something that fascinated his teachers, who encouraged him to keep drawing.

Fortunately, the secondary school he went to paid attention to the arts.

“I went to St. Mary’s Kibabii Boys High School for my secondary education – the school happened to have a very devoted art teacher, a factor that gave me a firmer grounding and understanding of art,” he says.

While he recognised that art was his favourite subject, he paid attention to other subjects as well, scoring a B mean grade and an A- in art, which earned him a place at Kenyatta University’s school of Visual and Performing Arts, Department of Fine arts and Design.

“After I joined university, I realised that I needed to support myself and stop calling home to ask for money for upkeep and to practice my art, and so decided to try my hand at various money-generating activities,” he explains.

He started by using part of the money he got from the Higher Education Loan’s Board, HELB, in his second semester to buy a printer, with which he used to print assignments for his classmates at a fee. At one point, he took up a job at a construction site during the long holidays. He was also employed at a restaurant during one of his long holidays as a host, eventually becoming one of the pizza chefs after in-house training.

“This was how I raised the initial capital to buy my art supplies for my class projects,” he explains.

In 2015, he joined the World Youth Alliance, an organisation that works with young people around the world and which annually hosts the Africa Arts Forum.

Artist Vincent Lilechi at work.

Artist Vincent Lilechi at work. PHOTO | COURTESY

“I came across World Youth Alliance during an online search for organisations supporting youths in development. In the 2017 edition of the forum, I made portraits, and just like that, I won the AAF 2016 Award. This motivated me to fully embrace art. Soon after that, in September of 2017, our lecturer organised an exhibition for us at the Thika Road Mall. For this, I exhibited handmade cards, which sold so well.”

Over the ensuing December holidays, he negotiated for space at the Thika Road Mall for a small fee, and around this time, he saw an advertisement, a talent search at Westgate Mall, in Westlands, Nairobi, where he participated in an art gallery exhibition. It is here that he sold his first painting and negotiated for space at the mall, which he got. To date, he has been exhibiting and selling at Westgate Mall and TRM along Thika Road, on some weekends and is also invited to exhibit at the two venues whenever there are events. He is keen to grow younger artists, and makes use of the platform he has to exhibit their work.

“I invite younger artists to exhibit on my space and sell their work under Lilechi Creations,” he says, adding that he is thankful to a number of people who have contributed to the growth of his brand.

Lilechi Creations specialises in making handmade gift cards, success cards, wedding cards and birthday cards. They are also involved in event hyping through drawing of caricatures, portrait drawing in a variety of media such as pencil, pastels, oil and acrylic paints. Conducting private art classes (parents approach him to train their children during his exhibitions), mounting and framing of photographs, graphic design, and interior design through creation of space using computer-aided design software.

“I work mostly from home, and only step out during the exhibitions, mostly over the weekends. I am looking forward to buying a car to make it easier for me to transport artworks to clients or to the exhibition venues,” he says.

The other challenge that Vincent has to deal with is clients who pay deposit for work, but once the work is complete, they fail to show up to pay the remaining amount and collect their artwork.

“Art pays my bills, and sometimes during the low seasons in the market, it can get very tough,” he says.

He primarily markets his work through the exhibitions, but also uses YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, all under the under the name, Lilechi Creations.

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