Douglas Mutebi is a self-taught hyperrealistic artist. His passion for ballpoint pen drawing did not emerge until after spending time at a friend’s place.
After seeing some artwork done by his friend and other artists, his curiosity was piqued by their painstaking attention to detail.
Having limited resources, but equipped with self-determination, passion and a drive to become a professional artist, Douglas began developing his drawing skills and uses ballpoint pen to create lifelike sketches of people.
I caught up with him and had the privilige to learn more about his work.
Thanks Douglas, for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you tell us something about yourself and your journey to become a visual artist?
My name is Douglas Mutebi from Kampala, Uganda. Born 13th, September, 2002.
I’m an artist, I use ballpoint pens to create masterpieces of art, my art is not just about drawing, but I like telling stories, some of my drawings are telling stories about my life when I was still young, some drawings are telling about the community we live in, about people I’m surrounded by, my family, my friends and other people in the society, I like capturing emotions in every drawing that I do, I really love talking to people in our community and find out what they are experiencing, so that I can put that story in my artwork.
In 2015, I dropped out of school after finishing my primary seven due to lack of school fees , so from 2015 to 2018 I was home, not schooling, was so idle, I used to try to get some jobs but they weren’t paying enough and they weren’t permanent jobs. There are a lot of jobs I did I wouldn’t even tell you but I wasn’t working daily, for example I would get someone to call me to help him and he gives me some little money, and I would only work once or twice in a month, it wasn’t really going good honestly. The rest of the days I was just home doing nothing, just helping my aunt with some house works, because I had no many friends, and people I could call friends were schooling, so it was only boredom 😔
But in 2018, it was April I had a friend called Arnold, he wasn’t schooling because he had just finished his A-level, so we got more connection and I started living at their place because we were neighbors, He knew about art because he did art at school, so he had that passion, he started doing some art at home, so that’s where I picked the interest, you know what can happen when you are doing nothing and your friend starts doing something in front of you, so I started to pick interest and he had a phone, for me I didn’t even have a phone, but he had a phone and he was on Facebook, so he knew about some artists , when he saw that I was interested in drawing, he started showing me some of the artists online and I was like “is that even real, is there someone who can draw a person that perfectly😁?” honestly. I didn’t believe it was real, some of the artists he showed me, I don’t really remember them all, but I remember that one artist called JAKIRA FREDY, so I started trying out how to draw with him (ARNOLD) , we used to draw together in the same book, we started competing with him but honestly , he was better than me because he did art in school and for me I knew nothing about art at that time , I used to make drawings but I would even laugh at my own drawings , sometimes I even removed the papers I drew on and hide them so that he doesn’t see my ugly drawings😭😭, but that’s how it all started and we continued doing that everyday , so in like a month later, we were scrolling down on Facebook and we saw a pen drawing, and i was like “what!!! , how is that possible?, can someone really make a drawing with a pen 😯😯😯 “, I didn’t believe it but I visited that account and I remember that artist was called “GAMAL ABD SELIA ” that was his username, and I checked out all his posts and I saw all his progress, that’s when I believed that it was real, the drawings were really made with pens and I liked the idea, I told myself “this guy is so special , how comes that he uses pens to create masterpieces?” But at the same time I told myself that “but if I saw these drawings and I really said they are special, how about me trying this idea, won’t it look special to others?”
Honestly, I laughed at myself at the same time because it was something which seemed impossible, but I told myself ” I’m idle, I have nothing to do at home, why don’t I try this?
And I knew it needed time, but I also had all the time I needed, so I started working with pens but one thing I remember is that after three to four drawings, I started believing in myself because I also posted those drawings on Facebook, some people laughed when they saw my artwork, but I didn’t stop because at that time I was doing something which was making me happy and I started liking and doing art (pen art) from then till now, so right now I count four full years since I started doing art, art was something which I saw in a month and liked it in the same month and started doing it in that same month till now I never stopped, I’m improving everyday, my love for art never stopped from there till now, I really love what I’m doing.
I could see your passion for hyperrealistic ballpoint pen drawing. Do you mind sharing how long it took you to master this skill and the challenges you encountered?
It took me almost two and a half years to master this skill, to start feeling confident with a pen, that’s when I started feeling like a real artist.
Getting my supplies was one of the most challenging and yet rewarding obstacles that life puts in front of you as a person, I started getting confident with a pen but I had no papers to draw on, and drawing in books was really something that I hate because papers from books weren’t enough strong for ink so it was really challenging working hard , starting to master your skills but the papers were not good and I didn’t have any idea on how I could get papers, but in the beginning of 2021, I was on Instagram and I found that artist again (JAKIRA FREDY). I sent him a DM he replied, we had a good conversation, he gave me his number, and I asked him “were can I get some big papers here in Uganda?”
He is such a good artist, he told me where to get the papers but I was so broke those days that I looked for money for the whole month and two weeks to get the money for papers, so I visited the paper shop and finally got the papers, that’s when I started doing these serious big drawings.
May I know, how do you prepare yourself to start drawing?
When I’m preparing for a new drawing,
First, I think of a certain topic, it may be something I saw in the community, something saw when I was still young, it may be about happiness or anything, I start putting all the things together (in my mind) then I come up with how would it look like.
Second, I get people (models) whom I think that they fit for that subject (my idea). My models are sometimes my friends, my brothers or anyone in the family.
Third, I go the photograph studio and we take pictures that will bring out that idea , it’s like giving my idea life, we take about 10-15 photos and then I get those photo on my phone.
Fourth, I go home, and I spend about 2-3 days looking at those photos trying to study them and it really gives me a hard time picking that one perfect photo to use, but after studying them, I finally pick up one.
I prepare my paper, I put it on my drawing board, then I start drawing grids, and I make my measurements, then I start sketching it, sketching usually takes me one day to finish.
Then I get my pens ready and I start shading using a common art shading technique called cross hatching.
Is there anyone who is your source of inspiration?
I think I already told you my source of inspiration in my journey. First one was called JAKIRA FREDY, though he didn’t use pens but he was that realistic artist I saw first.
Then I found out GAMAL ABD SELIA.
These two were the first. But during my journey, I started digging deeper into pen art on social media, then that’s when I found out these two amazing pen artists OSCAR UKONU and PATRICK ONYEKWERE.
But I found out about these two after a year when I was already doing art, but they are so amazing, and I really admired their skills and as any person who wants to improve, I started following them and I liked their styles, and somehow it helped me improve myself.
What has been the most valuable learning experience you have gained from your work?
I learnt that in life, we try and fail, but if you fail, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up, for me, trying and failing several times made me stronger than how I was.
And another thing is if you find something that makes you happy and you have the ability and the time to do it, just do it, it may become something which you benefit from.
And having competition is something which will make you better every day and night.
Don’t let those who have negative thoughts about anything you are make your mind and heart weaker, because you still have an important job, and that’s to prove them wrong about you.
If you have a chance to attend classes like art classes, attend them but if you don’t have the chance, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do art, the best artists I know are all self taught, and I’m also a self taught artist, don’t wait for someone to teach you, teach yourself, challenge yourself, the work you do this week must be better than the one you did last week.
You are your best teacher in life, others are just helping you, but the first teacher is you yourself, so get up and teach yourself a new skill every morning, don’t ever be afraid of trying a new skill in your work.
Finally, how do you see yourself as a visual artist in 10 years time?
As an artist I see myself in a place where a hard working artist deserves to be. I haven’t gone for long term goals, but I just wish to be a successful artist because I’m so hard working and I hope my hard work pays me and I be where I deserve to be.