On Becoming a Digital Artist: Nigerian Illustrator Anthony Azekwwoh shares his journey into art

On Becoming a Digital Artist: Nigerian Illustrator Anthony Azekwwoh shares his journey into art

Hello, my name is Anthony Azekwoh. I’m twenty years old, I’m from Lagos, Nigeria and I’m a digital artist and writer. 

My journey into art is a funny one mostly because I mostly stumbled into it more than anything else. I was actually just a writer first, then about four years ago my laptop broke and suddenly, I couldn’t work anymore (my handwriting is a recurring nightmare), and because I really needed to do something creatively, I started drawing with some ink pens on A4 paper. I remember showing my mother and she looked at them like they were the most beautiful drawings in the world, and that really gave me the confidence to move forward with it. The thing is, I couldn’t draw, and that was a major obstacle for me. I had never felt that I could, even in school. 

The early stuff I did were mostly vector illustrations that didn’t really scratch the itch I was feeling. I saw this painting by Etubi Onucheyo that he did for an artiste and I was blown away. I wanted to do that, and I spent days trying to recreate it in Adobe Illustrator, but it just didn’t look right. That was when I discovered digital painting, and Photoshop. And when I decided to start learning how to draw. I reached out to another artist, who is now a friend of mine, Tola Oyefodunrin and he really helped me through those initial stages with the art. But, the earlier drawings were, without a doubt, horrible. 

Then, I noticed something: horrible as they were, the more I did them…the less horrible they became. The next drawings were ever so slightly better. And so, balancing it with my writing and school, that’s how I think I became an artist—shitty drawing after shitty drawing. And I’m still learning, still trying to become better at what I do everyday.


For me, my process echoes how I think of creativity and the process of making art and what I’m trying to say. In short, in my experience, you will almost never get it right on the first try. It will always need work, it will always need more. But that’s fine. I’ve learnt that if I stay with the process, sticking with it through the end, even when it doesn’t look good, sometimes I can even surprise myself. 

Because I’m self-taught, in the beginning, I just mimicked my favourite artists and their own process. Mixing and matching and seeing what worked for me. I think that if your art is honest and true, it will always reflect who you are on the inside. 

When I started writing, maybe seven years ago, or even drawing and painting about four years ago, there wasn’t even the promise of money. I didn’t even think that people like me could actively make money off art. I started doing art for the reason I still do it: I love it. It can get frustrating sometimes, but I always find my way back to this, to the love I have for the craft.

I feel like all art, honest or dishonest, contributes to society in some way or the other. You see, our senses are incredibly bad at doing their job–sometimes we see things that aren’t there, or hear things that don’t exist, and yet, we depend on these senses because our perception of the world is actually the world that we understand. So, if you can create work that can, even just a little, shift someone’s understanding, then you’ve changed their perception. 

You’ve changed their world. 
And, I can’t think of a greater contribution to society than that. 

 I think that a lot has happened in the present and with our history with colonialism that it’s become so hard to define what it means to be African, and even what African Art is.

The answer is, honestly, in the air. Because really, what is African art? Is it art made by an African? Is art made by someone who exalts what we’d call “African values”?

African art is precious to me, and not just me, but the whole world. Everyday we find our influences in pop culture and centering the ongoing dialogue of human creativity. And, for me, Africa is always reflected in my work. It’s the only home I’ve ever known, so even unconsciously, it still creeps up.

In the beginning, I was never good at anything in particular in secondary school. And I was never particularly special. But, I found out, through so much trial and error, and endless videos and books, that art wasn’t just this innate special gift, it was also a skill, a craft, that had to be built up like a muscle. Everyday. That’s how I started writing. Day by day. 
I read everyday and look at art everyday, so even when I’m not actively working, my mind still is. Putting together things that I’m not even aware of. 
Honestly, I think my work is presentable, at best. I feel like I still have a long way to go, but I’m thankful for the support. 
I practice, and I work at it:  that’s how I live, and that’s how I became an artist.

I find inspiration everywhere. In books, in movies, in weird marks on walls. Anything and everything is inspiration, you just have to be open to it. 
And so, the biggest influence of my process is definitely Sam Spratt along with golden age illustrators like Norman RockwellAlbert Dorne and Howard Pyle, and also academic painters like William Bouguereau and Jacques-Louis David. And then more contemporary artists like Duksart, Duroarts, Mumu Illustrator, Omotola Oyefodunrin, Chigozie Obi…I could keep listing for days. These artists were/are extremely methodic in their approach. Howard Pyle even, would make hundreds of thumbnails and sketches before he even started working on the artwork. 


I’m also inspired by rappers like J Cole, and athletes like Kobe Bryant, filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, and writers like Neil Gaiman. Along with comedians like Dave Chappelle.

For me, art is this wide spectrum and there are so many things in the spectrum, and I’ve learnt so much from these artists: filmmakers, athletes, writers, musicians, comedians, and finally, other artistes. 
When I enjoy an artist’s work, I go full in and study all I can from them: books, interviews, performances, anything I can get my hands on. Like Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, once said, “Let your loves be multiple. Don’t be a snob about anything.”