Naddya Adhiambo, 28, is an illustrator and animator, areas of specialisation that she has been passionate about from the age of three.
While just a foggy idea to her then, it was clear that she enjoyed drawing. With the support of her parents and good instructors at school, she began to shape and bring to reality what to her was a path she felt deeply about, although at the time, she was not fully aware of the power that this art form heralded.
When she eventually put a finger to it, she knew she wanted to use her drawing to understand the world and represent girls and women through her work.
“I started practicing professionally at about 19 years; I had just returned from the UK after completing my Diploma in Animation Art at the University of the Creative Arts, Kent,” she says.
Naddya had the opportunity to study art and design from an early age, and that put her in good stead to practice her art. She however points out that education is just part of what has contributed to her achievements – it has also taken practice and commitment.
“I am lucky to have had very generous and critical teachers who pushed me to practice more and challenge myself to be better,” she says.
Naddya is currently the supervising illustrator for Nia Teen magazine at ZanaAfrica, where she leads the conception and evolution of illustrated content. Her work with the creative team here involves the creation of a transformative media platform that is an interactive safe space for adolescent girls to access comprehensive and resonant menstrual and reproductive health information to navigate adolescence safely and confidently
In addition to her work with ZanaAfrica, she is part of the inaugural cohort of the Amplify Fellowship hosted by Akoma, and is a participating artist on the East African Soul Train.
Her first job was with Well Told Story (Shujaaz FM) where she was part of the start team.
“That job gave me a solid thing that I could hold as my own. At 19, I was still unsure of my capability to execute my talent usefully and my career was still very amorphous. Getting this job gave me a very concrete place to start building my career,” she says.
She later registered to begin her degree, Bachelor of Applied Arts and Animation at Sheridan College in Toronto, Canada. She tried juggling work and school but that proved tough, so she chose to concentrate on school. She got her current job upon graduation in 2014.
In her field, education and training take equal parts: education, practice and commitment.
“Even if you get the best education, you must practice consistently to improve your skills because succeeding at a job like this and distinguishing yourself needs a lot of time investment. It has been about eight years of practice for me, but I still have a lot to learn,” she says.
What is the difference between an illustrator and an animator?
Basically, I draw – I work with a client or organisation to tell the story that they want to share with their constituents. Illustration uses still images; it may be one image or many, but they are still images of drawings on space to tell a story. In animation, rather than use stills, I use a flurry of images (which also start out as drawings) and rather than work on space, animation works across time.
What are the opportunities in this field? Is it a viable career option?
Illustration/Animation is as real as any career can be. What you earn can range from anything between Sh40,000 to Sh2.5million per single job. This is a very viable career option if you have the talent and give it the time to nurture. It helps to stand on the shoulders of those who have been there before you.
The list of available opportunities out there is inexhaustible. What I can think of immediately is that there is a lot of advertising work for illustrators and animators as well as in the area of educational messaging for NGOs.
But before you get there, continuously create work and put it out there using the various social media platforms. I have gotten opportunities through social media. In short, make your work seen and leverage your networks.
My parents supported me from the very beginning – they took me to art camps, exhibitions and to good schools that nurtured and pruned my interest in art generally and illustration specifically.
What is the greatest challenge of practicing as an illustrator in Kenya?
There is a gap in content from here; generally, content that is African centric is not abundant. And then we also have the challenge of inadequate training institutions for illustrators and animators, which means that we have to study elsewhere and get the skills alright, but not exactly with our own aesthetics.
Lack of adequate local content can also mean opportunity for local illustrators to create more work and fill the gaps. The other challenge is to fully understand the fundamentals of illustration and animation, which take time.
To be a good illustrator, you need to understand many other things, such as physics, different cultures and how they can be represented in illustrations and animation, philosophy, psychology and so on. It does not end at knowing how to draw.
What advice would you give to young people planning to become illustrators?
Draw from life, move past your comfort zone and observe the world because that is where the saddest truths come from.
Be very inquisitive and commit yourself to learning all the fundamentals, such as anatomy and all the other subjects that will make you an asset in your field. Read, talk to people who see the world differently and hang out with artists who are gifted differently.