Two years ago, after spending most of my life mimicking artwork that appealed to me, I assumed that I had reached my artistic peak. I had been drawing since 1999. I still enjoyed working on portraits and surrealist compositions, but creatively, I felt stuck. After starting university, my product design work proved to be quite fulfilling, but my personal work was feeling uninspired.
Having already used acrylics, oil paints, graphite, and finally moving on to digital art, there was not much left to experiment with to broaden my artistic arsenal.
Or so I thought.
It was 25th of September, 2016, when my artistic alter ego was born. During that period of my life, I was searching for a way forward, having just returned from university without a job. I spent most of my time ideating and planning my next move.
That afternoon, I sat down to take a break and illustrate my state of mind. I started what was meant to be a 20-minute drawing session with a 0.5mm fine liner. That pen, plus an old notebook that I had used back in university, became my weapon of creativity.
When I was done, I had a character that I named “the relentless dreamer”—a tiny figure with a peculiar helmet that shielded his wandering heart from reality as he knew it, granting him the ability to see far beyond the clutches of a life he deemed to be limited. This tiny figure reminds me that it is crucial to be idealistic, ambitious, and forever creative.
Drawing this character gave me an emotional release unlike anything I had experienced before through art. Though I was often plagued with a sense of anxiety around what my drawings would mean or stand for, this time, I felt weightless.
I began focusing on these black and white ink drawings, and the experience was cathartic. Each one entwined with the stories that brought them to life. Even though most of the figures I drew were imaginary, I was taking my life and experiences and expressing them through my illustration. I would envision part of the figure in my mind and let the rest appear.
The “Andolo Resilience” illustration is a representation of a community I worked in and greatly appreciated. The togetherness the community showed in times of difficulty was unlike anything I had witnessed.
"Energy” is a piece that was inspired by rhythm and power. It started off as a vision of face and a drum; the rest of the illustration has elements that represent strong, bold, and energetic movements.
My intention was for viewers to move their eyes constantly as they looked for meaning in the drawing or simply made out the shapes.
Some of my work is dark, some full of mystery—a mystery I hoped that others would try solve as they navigate the intricacies of the line work.
Amidst all the visual chaos, there was one constant: A human element. The figures would serve as my connection to the pieces, and I hoped they would resonate with the audience, too.
These days, you will probably find me seated in the corner of a cafe with a fine liner pen. To many, I am just an artist, ardently sketching away. But what I’m actually doing is getting a little dose of sanity, as I move the images in my mind onto the pages of my book.
And in that very moment, I am dreaming… relentlessly.
Want to see what other IDEOers are drawing and doodling? Take a peek inside more designers' notebooks.
Product Designer, IDEO.org Nairobi
Edwin Mwai is a product designer and visual artist. Excited by the prospect of friend-filled weekends, you'll find him doing either one of two things: bombing it down the open road for a dose of adrenaline or drowning himself in his beloved masala tea, looking to find some inspiration at the base of each cup.