As part of its celebration around International Women’s Month, Facebook recently announced the launch of ‘LeadHERs: Life Lessons From African Women’, a collection of beautifully inspired stories & life advice from 19 women who are breaking boundaries in fields such as media, entertainment, politics, education, and business.
An interesting twist to the book is its collection of illustrations, developed by different illustrators across Africa. One of the African artists that worked on bringing the “LeadHers: Life Lessons From African Women’ book to life is Awele Emili: the award-winning Nigerian illustrator, animator, visual storyteller, and cartoonist.
- What was childhood and growing up like?
I had a great childhood, grew up with parents that loved me and gave me everything I needed. I also grew up with 6 siblings so there was never a dull moment. I went to The Bells group of schools and Loral International School for my primary and secondary education and then graduated from College of Medicine, University of Lagos with a degree in Medical Pharmacology. My favorite memory from my childhood was when I was 8 and I asked my dad for a bicycle. He said no because it was dangerous, so a week later he came back from work and told me to get his briefcase from the car boot, I opened it and found a bicycle there, I was so excited, I rode it around fell, and injured myself the same day. I hid the cut because I didn’t want him to take it away. I lost my dad when I was 16 so there were a lot of things that changed after this. Adjusting to life without him was different, the only thing that helped my anxiety then was drawing.
- How old are you?
I’m 24 years old.
- What are your likes dislikes?
LIKES: I like dogs, they love so unconditionally. People who are kind, generous, and compassionate. I actually like so many things, don’t know where to start.
DISLIKES: You know when you’re texting someone and they keep abbreviating every word i.e. ‘pls b4 u go tnx’. I don’t know why but sentences like this irks me. I don’t like being lied to, just be honest. It’s not that hard.
- Describe yourself in three words.
Artsy, Visionary, Optimistic.
- At what point, did you discover you were a very creative person?
I can’t pinpoint the very moment this happened, it was more like a way of life until teachers and classmates started pointing it out when I was in primary and secondary school. I’ve been creating art since I was 7 years old, at least that’s as far back as I can remember.
- When did you start creating illustrations professionally?
In my final year of medical school in 2017, I achieved global recognition from the United Nation women and European Union for creating an illustration on Gender Equality which was used to disseminate information about the issue in various communities. This award was presented to me by Toyin Saraki, Founder of the well-being foundation. Before this award, I considered art as a therapeutic hobby but it dawned on me at this very moment that it was so much more. This marked the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey into the world of Digital Design
- What inspires your craft?
A lot of things inspire my art, I’m a very observant person, I notice and study things, events and people.
- Do you have any mentors in the Visual Arts space or just generally that have inspired you in your journey as an illustrator?
I’m sure a lot of artists say this, but the first person that inspired me and sparked my curiosity in art was Walt Disney. I don’t know him personally for obvious reasons (he died in 1966) but the shows he created are still around to this day and it has touched the lives of millions of young people. I watched a show on Disney when I was 8 and it prompted me to make a storybook for my mum’s birthday present. I had a new notebook, turned the cover inside out and used it as the book cover, made an illustration for the cover and illustrations in the pages, colored everything with crayons. The story was about a yellow dog called Tink. Gave it to my mum and she loved it. I’m 100% sure she didn’t read it though. It stayed on her shelf for days in the same spot until one day I couldn’t find it anymore.
- You are a self-taught illustrator, how was the process of learning?
I started illustrating traditionally with sketchbooks and pencil colors. My parents didn’t encourage art but they didn’t discourage it either. They wanted me to focus on my studies. I always got good grades in secondary school so they wouldn’t have a reason to stop me from drawing. In 2015, I made the transition into digital art, started creating illustrations with free art apps on my phone, had to do extensive research on YouTube and online art platforms on how digital design was made. It was fun learning new things, I always had this eureka moment when I got something right. As the years went by, got better art equipment and software for creating. I’m still learning, there is always room for improvement.
- Do your illustrations have any consistent messaging?
No, the messages aren’t consistent, it can be about anything really. I could wake up one morning and decide I want to educate people about COVID-19 and mental health or decide to make a comic about something I thought was funny or interesting.
- You made the illustrations of all West African women featured in Facebook’s publication, LeadHers, how was that for you?
It was great! So honored to be part of that amazing project. I’m glad I partnered with Facebook Africa to create the illustrations for the West African women featured. They all had inspiring stories.
- What do you think about Facebook’s initiative, LeadHers and how do you think the publication would advance the course of the lives of the women?
In my opinion, what Facebook is doing is amplifying the stories of African women which in turn would inspire millions of young girls across the continent. Growing up, a lot of stories from African women were not easy to come by because they were not documented as much as their female counterparts in other continents. It’s great to see Facebook taking a lead role in this initiative.
- You have also worked with quite a number of multi-nationals and have positioned yourself as a brand that is going global. Did you see this coming or providence happened?
I didn’t see it coming, art was a hobby for me initially. When I started taking it seriously, I knew I had to work harder at my craft, be consistent and get better at it. I’m thankful to the people that mention me in rooms full of opportunities, grateful for the referrals and love they show for my work. I’m also thankful to God, for always being there for me.
- What is your life’s mantra?
Keep moving forward.
- What’s your advice for women who love what you do and who would like to be amazing illustrators also?
My Advice to women who love art and aspire to be amazing illustrators is to always keep creating, always be consistent, and don’t let the world or your current situation discourage you from seeing the big picture, which is where you want to end up with your skill. Everyone is still a student at their craft, there is always room for learning and improvement. You can always be better than where you are now. Creativity is the currency of the future.