Drawing inspiration from the world: Q&A with Kúnmi

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Kúnmi creates intricate designs and patters all with pen and paper! Check out part one of our interview with one of our spring vendors. We talk to her about her designs, which can be found on our postcards featured in the box, the inspiration behind her artwork, advice for Black creatives and more.

What is the inspiration behind your artwork?

It’s actually a long story! Around 2016, I had some henna done by a friend of a friend. I just wanted to try something. The company that I was working for was giving us free treatments, like beauty treatments and wellness treatments. And henna, I thought, was one of the one I would be able to get this concession for. My friend recommended her friend who is a henna artist and I loved it, it was beautiful. Then I went to the Bahamas to a yoga retreat. I went to do my yoga teacher training. When I was there I kind of took to henna artwork, the traditional and traditional styles/imagery of henna. I took to replicating it on paper when I was out there (there was a lot of free time!) People were like oh that’s so interesting that’s so intricate. People were really receptive to it. Also it’s quite meditative. It’s just kind of this repeating pattern, circles, mandalas etc.

So the inspiration was this henna body art that I got that day. It just started and I carried on. I looked to other henna artists as inspiration. Every time I was doing it [the designs], I was doing it with pen or pencil, drawing from different styles. So people who were really traditional and marrying it with modern styles. I also looked at mandalas in general, not just henna art. I then started to do something quite flora so taking inspiration from nature. This veered off into Polynesian tattoo artwork - the shape and patterns that are used in those to see if I could incorporate them.

Have you always been drawing?

Yes some people would say so! I mean I did go to art college for a year after my A levels. I did art at secondary school and I did it all throughout my exams. I did [art] at the London College of Fashion so I wasn't going to go down the visual art or fine art route. But unfortunately, art school has a way of killing art!

I’ve always liked drawing things, and in general making things with my hands. I was only able to reconnect to it, after years of deciding not to continue with any type of art, in any formal academic setting.

How do you balance being artist with other things in life?

I’m really bad at balancing! Just in general. I think, unfortunately, I do let creative stuff take a back seat. It takes me a while to realise that “Oh my god, it’s been so long and I really miss it.” Then I’ll just sit down with a pad and will sketch a little something to make myself feel better.

It is quite hard because if you’re not in the right frame of mind, you’re not going to produce something you really like. When I was, I guess my most prolific, I didn't have another job. I was really into creating these images, these different pieces of artwork, and I was also experimenting with materials. I moved from paper and pen to acrylic, not painting [acrylic] but coning. It [coning] is really interesting because that was like going back to the way henna is applied. Henna is applied by creating cones on skin. I thought “Oh cool, I’ll just apply paint on canvas using cones.”

I was just experimenting and when I realised that I needed money! I got a job and it kind of took a back seat unfortunately. But now I have no job [thanks to the coronavirus] so maybe I can create something. Because I really do enjoy doing it.

How did you monetize your artwork?

I didn’t 100% figure out how to monetize what I was doing. I think that’s something that a lot of artists struggle with. They love their work and what they’re doing. They’re just happy to create. But they just don’t know how to get what they have out there and they don’t know the real value of it. That’s definitely something I struggled with. What was I actually going to do with these things? I came up with so many ideas, but I didn't know which direction to go in. I didn’t have any money to invest if I was going to mass produce prints and sell a bunch of postcards or frames. I hadn’t really put very much behind it but I think that’s actually going to change. It shouldn’t be all or nothing, whether I do the artwork or work, it should be something that I can integrate into my life.

One of the things I plan to do is this collaboration with City Inspired. As much as this was kind of an “on the fly” decision, I think it’s actually a really good thing like mutually beneficial. There’s some motivation to create something that people like, and you put yourself out there and there is some good response. I think it will give feedback so that I keep going forward. That’s step one. Step two is to create more new things as well, to get the juices flowing again. Step three is using what I already have, picking one of the ideas I had in the past and running with it. At first it was on hold because I didn’t have any money. Now I have a little bit of money so it’s kind of like putting your money where your mouth is.

The only stage I got to in the past was to find out what was available. I know that people make greeting cards and I know you can make prints. But I don’t know if that excites me. I don’t want to be mass produced. I want it to be unique.

What does being a Black creative mean to you?

I don’t know if I think of myself that way. Only because I really admire people’s work that represents Blackness, and I would love to incorporate that into my work aesthetically. The representation of Blackness in my work effectively comes from me. It doesn’t necessarily come from what’s influenced me and who’s influenced me. I was influenced by South Asian art, nature etc. That’s why I don’t feel like I’m Black-art artist in that way. However I am Black and that aspect of being a creative Black woman who is also [starting to] be an entrepreneur. I know that the path that we tread is different from others. We recognise it amongst ourselves.

What it means to me is that I am another Black person creating their work and I feel like hey we’re the same. I don’t think that’s an artist thing, that’s just a Black person thing in any industry. Particularly in the kind of stuff that I am doing, “Black people don’t do that”. There is sometimes that pressure to look a little bit more artistically Black. But it’s kind of just about being authentically me. Creating the art that I like to create, doing what I like and seeing where it goes and drawing inspiration from the other Black creatives that I meet, in whatever spaces that I meet them.

I think the thing about being Black is that we’re in a position, and I think we could do more of this, of showing solidarity with each other. Being Black and creating - we can create some kind of bond on the basis of that identity. That’s what I like to think.

Any advice for Black creatives?

I think you just have to take the leap of faith and not be hesitant. There’s so much choice, so many options in the direction that you can go in. But you’re paralyzed with fear: to which one you’re going to do, if you’re going to make the wrong mistake, if you’re going to lose the money. I started in 2016 and it's now 2020. I could have just known already if this was going to be successful, you know what I mean? But at the same time it’s never too late.

Find other Black people. Find other Black creatives. You’re most likely, if you want to go commercial with it, to be in a very white space. So find other Black people there to draw strength. Also find someone who has gone there before you and can give you advice and any pitfalls. Equally, maybe find someone who is a little bit behind you and has not got there yet. You can encourage them. You can’t always rely on people ahead of you to help you because they are not obliged. So if that in someone, you should also be that to someone else.

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