Ibim Cookey is a Nigerian award-winning Photo-Realistic Pencil Artist, and a graduate of Architecture from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He’s currently an Art Ambassador to the Rivers State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and he is using art to change the Niger Delta narrative. His works are primarily done with graphite and charcoal pencils on paper. And his artworks have been featured in local and international exhibitions. He is widely known for creating drawings that could be said to look more real than photographs and well-detailed portraits.
In our Diary Session today, we feature Ibim to talk about his craft and answer questions about the art industry in Nigeria, his plans for 2020, and more.
Naira Diary: Tell us how you started out and how you got to where you are today?
Ibim: I have been drawing all my life but I did not really think of being an artist or doing it professionally until 2015 and I was in my 100 level then. I got motivated when I saw an artist online who does portraits and I just fell in love with portraiture. So I decided that I was going to stick to it and go professional. Luckily for me, in 2016, a friend posted my work online and it trended online- it was on Nairaland, Linda Ikeji and other blogs and forums. It gave me so much visibility that I got invited to an exhibition in South Africa where I spent two weeks in Johannesburg showcasing my works. I got more invites- in United Kingdom, Niger Republic, Lagos and many other places to exhibit my works. That was how my art career skyrocketed.
Naira Diary: Walk us through your typical workday
Ibim: A typical workday for me begins with waking up in the morning, checking my DMs, playing music, then putting myself in the work mood. I place my paper on the drawing board and get the image I want to draw, start the sketch by working on the grid first. I always play music because music puts me in the mood.
Most times I start drawing from 8 am in the morning and take a break by 12 pm, come back by 1 pm and work till 5 pm, take a break again, return around 8 pm and work till 3 am or 4 am. Then I sleep and wake up by 7 am and continue. But if I have an exhibition to attend or a radio or TV interview, I will go out, apart from that, I’m always indoors. Also, sometimes my friends come around and they distract me a lot because we play video games and chill together. Basically, that’s my typical workday.
Naira Diary: What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you do without?
Ibim: The first app I can’t do without right now is my Whatsapp; because I use it to connect and communicate with people. I also can’t do without my Grid Drawing Assistant App. It helps me grade my drawing and ease getting proportions right. I can’t do without my Camera App- I use it to take pictures of my work. I can’t do without Pinterest and Instagram because that is where I draw inspiration for a lot of ideas and art.
Naira Diary: What’s the process of creating an artwork?
Ibim: The process of creating an artwork varies depending on the kind of artwork I’m doing. If I’m doing a client’s work for instance which is a commission piece maybe for someone’s birthday, valentine gift or a company’s end of the year dinner; I will just get the reference picture from the client and start working on it. But if it’s for an exhibition piece, I will, first of all, think about the idea or the storyline that I want to present to the public. Most times I will go to Instagram or Pinterest and look for a photographer that tells African stories with pictures, when I find a picture that suits the idea I’m trying to portray, I will DM the photographer or send him an email asking him for permission to use the picture and for him to give me the copyright, once he gives me the authentication, I will put the image on my screensaver for a week or more. As I constantly see the picture, the image and its details will register on my head. Then I will start drawing by placing my paper on the board, draw my grid lines, do my sketching, get the proportions and start working on the portrait; gradually the drawing unfolds.
Naira Diary: What motivates you as an artist?
Ibim: A lot of things motivate me: the society, the need to speak up, having a voice, the need to tell African stories, proving to the world that Africans are not all fraudsters, poor, and lazy, The strives to be more than average. Right now Africans are changing the world with music, art and entertainment and I’m just lending my voice and joining the movement to put Africa and Africans on the map.
Naira Diary: What are the challenges you face as an artist?
Ibim: Basically, the art industry is not yet like the music industry, so it has not gotten the required attention. In the US for example, the art industry is worth over 9 billion dollars, but here in Nigeria, we are still trying to survive. Funding is a challenge, materials and the fact that people still look down on young artists and prefer the elderly ones.
Naira Diary: Besides work, what else do you do? I mean things you do for fun.
Ibim: I play football, I play table tennis, I play video games, I watch movies, I listen to music and dance too.
Naira Diary: in your opinion what can be done to make the art industry in Nigeria better?
Ibim: I think two things should be done to make the art industry in Nigeria better:
First, the issue of funding. Last year I had a countless number of international exhibitions but I couldn’t go because of the funds. I think people and the government should invest in young artists just like the record labels are doing for the musicians. They should sign them to make artworks, publicize them with plans to make a profit from their works.
Also, foreign investors should be made to see value in the Nigerian art industry, and the media should consciously project the art industry
Naira Diary: How big can the art industry in Nigeria be if we get investors and support from the government?
Ibim: If we get the government and private organizations to invest in the art industry, it’s going to put Nigeria and Africa on the map, and once that happens, it’s going to generate a lot of revenue like the music industry. Last year, an artwork was sold in the US for $415,000,000; from the money, there is a percentage for the government, the lawyers and everybody in the value chain.
Naira Diary: Have you received an award or any form of recognition from the government or private organization so far?
Ibim: Yes. In 2017, I won two awards; Garden City Advancement Awards and Nigerian Teen Choice Awards, and that same year, I became the Rivers State Ambassador for Culture and Tourism. I also got a special recognition award from the Federal Ministry of Arts and Culture in Abuja in 2018, and Nigerian Hype Awards in 2019.
Naira Diary: What book are you reading currently? And what’s your favourite song at the moment?
Ibim: Currently I’m reading a book called, “The Enemy Called Average” By John Mason. It’s an amazing book of success nuggets and I think everyone should read that book because it places you on a level where you are passionate about being successful. My favourite song right now is ‘’Blow” by Wizkid.
Naira Diary: What’s your favourite book of all time?
Ibim: My favourite book of all time is “Think Big” by Ben Carson
Naira Diary: Who is/are your role models and why?
Ibim: Well, I have two role models. First is Wizkid. He has been phenomenal, he has been consistent for over ten years. So far he has changed the face of Nigerian music.
My second role model is Kelvin Okafor. He is a British Born Nigerian artist. His drawings are amazing! He has received so many international awards and featured on all the big media platforms in the world.
Naira Diary: How much do you charge for your works?
Ibim: It depends on the work. My client’s commission artworks go from $150 to $900/800 depending on the size of the work which means it’s between N50, 000 –N150, 000 and N200, 000 while my exhibition pieces go from $1000 minimum which is about N350, 000 and above.
Naira Diary: What project(s) are you working on currently?
Ibim: I’m working on a lot of things, some of which I cannot mention right now. Basically I’m preparing for local and international exhibitions –from The Da’kar Art Festival in Senegal in May to New Frames Exhibition in Oct in Nigeria to my personal events and Art workshops. There are a lot of them.
Naira Diary: Awesome. Thank you for granting us this interview. Kindly share your social media handles so our readers and fans can connect with you.
Ibim: You are welcome. On Twitter it is @iamibimcookey. While on Instagram it is @iamibimcookey
My Facebook handle is @ibimcookey.