If you look through these images and think “these can’t be drawn, they must be photographs,” you are giving this young artist a great compliment. After coming across these images on facebook, we had to find out more about the man behind the canvas, so we did a little Q&A with Kelvin Okafor. Kelvin was born in Hackney, North East London to Nigerian parents. He studied a year course in Foundation Art & Design at City & Guilds – London Art School, and then went on to graduate from Middlesex University with B.A. Honours in Fine Art. He has recently exhibited his artwork at two prestigious exhibitions in the UK this year, The Mall Galleries for the Threadneedle Prize Exhibition and National Open Art Competition with four exhibitions at The Minerva Theatre, The Prince’s Foundation, Pallant House, and The Science Museum.
Q. When and how did you discover your artistic talent? Do you focus on pencil drawings or do you also explore other artistic mediums?
A. I was 15 during my studies at St Ignatius College when I discovered I could draw to a noticeably skilful degree. It became apparent to me that I had a talent or skill to draw by the reactions of my teachers and peers. I can comfortably work in any artistic medium such as sculpture, glass, printmaking, painting, and casting, but it was the pencils I fell in love with. I focus solely on pencils because I want to master the technical use of it. And it’s also due to the fact that from a very young age, I’ve always found the pencil to be such a humble instrument. It amazed me, that with only one shade of lead, you can create so many tones and textures, almost creating the illusion of colour.
Q. What inspires you as an artist? Describe your aesthetic.
A. The idea of progression inspires and motivates me, not just as an artist, but as a human being. Productivity makes me happy. Being able to produce and create art for people to engage with. To prompt and arouse emotions, making people feel inspired and encouraged is what gives me great joy and satisfaction, and in turn inspires me to keep creating. The kind of art that moves me is one that is challenging technically, emotional, intense, and one that has the quality to speak to you in words that can’t be described.
Q. What got you interested in photorealism and how did you go about mastering your craft?
A. It‘s said “A true artist draws from life, not from a photograph reference.” As an aspiring “photo-realistic artist,” I do agree with this statement. But what exactly is your definition of life which you create art from? Wouldn’t one agree that the artist’s aim, whether they be a painter or sculptor, is to arrest motion (which I call life) and have it captured eternally so that every fresh pair of eyes that sees it, relives it, and experiences that moment you captured as motion (life)? I consider myself a very precise pencil artist. Working from reference photos is of great help to me, especially when drawing a person as a subject model. With a camera you capture an expression/motion – a moment in time which can be used as tangible proof of the exactness of that moment. The photo can be used as a source of inspiration. When drawing from a photo, an artist has the opportunity and the option to make an exact replica, or loosely use the photo as a guide to depict an emotion which they would want pronounced, projected, or exaggerated. The emotion could be sensitivity, a sense of presence, personality, mood, or character. Working from “life” you can achieve the same results and even more since you’re viewing things in first person. But working ample amounts of time on a detailed work of art, the exactness of light, composition, and presence will change. And that exactness you wanted to capture will suffer in terms of proportion and tonal value.
Personally, I don’t think I have mastered my craft or ever will live to see it mastered. It’s like the term “perfection.” Perfection is an illusion. But as an artist and even in my personal life, I strive in doing and being the best I can to the things I love. I set goals and standards which would seem unreal to accomplish or achieve. But it’s not achieving the goal that is important to me, it’s the efforts and what it will make of me to achieve it. That is what got me interested in photorealism, and this is the mindset I have in trying to master my craft.
Q. On average, how long does it take you to finish a portrait? You mention numerical stages as you work? Can you explain to us what you mean by “Stage 7,” “Stage 48”?
A. On average, it takes around 80 hours (3 weeks) to complete a portrait. In the process of completing a portrait, I take around 60 pictures of stages in its progression to show viewers how I create a drawing from start to finish, Stage 1 being the first scratch on paper and Stage 60 being the final result.
Q. Is art your full time career? If so, how was the transition from passion to profession?
A. Art is my full time career. The transition from passion to profession was a difficult road. Whether it was approval from parents, finding studio space, or funds for art supplies, it was an unrealistic ambition to have. But perseverance and commitment pulled me through. With belief, hard work, dedication, and developing a better philosophy about life, I have been able to make the transition from a burning passion to a vivid reality.
Q. You have over 5,000 fans on facebook. Why do you think people are drawn to your art? What do you hope they see when they look at your work?
A. I am deeply humbled by this. I think it could be the fact that my drawings could be mistaken for photographs and viewers probably appreciate the fact that they are actually hand-drawn images. I hope that what people see when viewing my works are images of passion, love, and emotion. My drawings are very personal to me because in every one, a part of me spiritually and emotionally has been purged onto paper.
Q. How do you hope to have developed your artistry in the next five years?
A. I hope to have developed my artistry in the next five years by setting more goals to achieve. Setting higher standards. Working in a variety of mediums. Remaining focused and disciplined in my field of art and in areas of my personal life. And also seeing more of the world for greater inspirations.
Q. What is your advice for young artists who would like to take their art to the next level and find their place in the art world?
A. My advice to young artists would be to study their craft, whether that be through self, or education. Remain patient, faithful, and consistent in their field or endeavour. Decide what exactly they want to achieve, and persevere through it when times get hard. Utilize their gifts fully because talent can only take you so far. We’re all talented! The ones who stand out and have a better chance for recognition and success are the ones who are more skilful. They should discipline themselves by learning more about their craft. Visit galleries and museums for inspiration. Practice more and set goals to achieve.