Right from childhood, Martha Opiyo had a natural liking for water sports and drawing. When she was 12, she made a conscious decision to go out and develop these talents. She swam competitively for many years, until she left Kenya in 2015 to study in the US Martha holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), and she recently named the top student in the School of Education, Social Sciences and the Arts.
The 20-year-old is quickly becoming an established digital artist. Her work can be found on her Instagram page @plasticbotrru. MyNetwork caught up with this inspirational young woman for an enlightening conversation.
Who were your original artistic influences?
I was first intrigued by art after I read Manga, a Japanese comic book that I had borrowed from a friend. The author’s vivid expressions and ability to convey clear emotions amazed me. I wondered how the artist did it, and challenged myself to try to achieve such a profound effect. Since then, I became absorbed in Manga and Anime (Japanese animations), and the two Japanese animations have opened the door to many other styles of art, and a myriad other storytelling techniques.
Why the name Plastic Botrru on Instagram?
I usually pick names that interest me. At first I wanted to call the account Plastic Bottle, but that name was already taken. So I modified the word “bottle” a little.
Is Naliaka your alias, your alter ego?
I cherish that name because I inherited from my grandmother. I am not comfortable using my official name on social media, so I prefer Naliaka. I find it beautiful and unique.
Before starting your career as a digital artist, how did you express yourself artistically?
When I was still in Kenya, I drew things whenever I had time and space. Sometimes, I would forgo lunch and use that time to draw. I would draw in the house or before and after my swimming schedule. I spent the rest of my spare time watching Manga and Anime.
These animations helped me build my visual library. I learnt to visualise what I wanted to draw beforehand. In 2014, I got a graphics tablet (a computer input device that enables a user to draw images, animations and graphics by hand), and this allowed me to explore many other creative ways of making art, and also allowed me to post my art online more easily. I learnt everything I needed to learn all by myself, through YouTube and Instagram.
Your art has elements similar to Japanese comic book characters. How come?
My love for art was inspired by Manga and Anime, which are Japanese comic books.
Are there Kenyan artists whose work you admire?
When I was young, I remember going to contemporary galleries in Kenya and being amazed by the bold colours and shapes I saw. Patrick Kinuthia is a huge inspiration to me. His mastery of oils and watercolours is wonderful. I really admire the way he uses colours and shapes to his advantage.
I especially love his portraits and the way he introduces little dapples of greens, blues and yellows in places where realistically, they would not exist, yet they enhance his work stylistically.
Fred Abuga is another amazing artist that actually made me understand that there are many different ways of presenting an image. The way he put colours on the canvas without mixing them, and still created a coherent picture, blew my mind the first time I saw his work at Kuona Trust.
Why do you think digital art is important today?
The world is now a digital centre. Digital art is extremely versatile and closely mimics traditional art. It produces clean, sharp work with an aesthetic appeal that is difficult and time-consuming to reproduce in real life.
Digital art also allows the artist to edit their work more easily. This allows me to discover more interesting methods of executing a piece of art. However, it is still important to know how to use traditional media because it can greatly enhance one’s work.
What do you enjoy most about being a digital artist?
The convenience it offers me. All I need is my tablet, stylus and laptop. With these three instruments I am able to create rough sketches and refined pieces too. I can download many types of brushes to use, ranging from textured brushes that mimic pencil, pastel or watercolours, to clean, sharp and technical tools.
The program I use, Clip Studio Paint, has perspective rulers which are easy to use. They allow me to draw scenes and buildings easily. However, I am able to do these things only because I know how to do them the traditional way.
How was it like studying abroad?
Challenging. I really wanted to learn and improve my art, so I stayed focused and worked as hard as I could. The many assignments kept me on toes and refined my ability to organise my time. I also learnt how to work with speed and to trust my work.
The experiences that stood out for me were the comic conventions my teachers would often take us to, where artists and merchandise vendors would converge to sell their work. There, I got to learn, to network, to set appropriate prices for my products, and to improve on my speed when drawing because I did all my work on-site.
You were named the top student in your faculty this year. How did that make you feel?
It was an incredibly joyous moment. This award meant so much to me because the Spring Honours Convocation’s purpose is to acknowledge and appreciate students who have consistently upheld high grades and pushed themselves academically. I received the Award of Excellence, as well as the Departmental Honours for the Department of Fine Arts, which gave me the energy, confidence and belief in my skills that I needed to finish school.
What plans do you have for your art?
At the moment, I am exploring web comics. I have so many vivid stories and characters in my head, and self-publishing them is both fulfilling and challenging. I am also an intern at Sokoye Productions. I want to learn everything I can about art and explore different ways of executing my ideas, so I will definitely go back to school to expand my knowledge.