24 year old Ghanaian fashion illustrator Papa Oppong, proves he can push the boundaries by gaining a living in a sector that is still finding its footing in Africa. He talks to FBA about some of his big dreams and some great deals he already sealed.
FBA: Introduce yourself
Papa: My name is Papa Oppong, I am 24 years old and I am a fashion design illustrator.
FBA: How did you become an illustrator?
Papa: I studied art in school but that just helped developed my skill, I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. It was not until high school that I started taking it seriously by taking commissions and after high school I decided to study Fashion design at Radford University College, Ghana.
FBA: Do you also design?
Papa: I got out of fashion school last year after earning my undergraduate degree and I already have four collections out. I believe in limited editions and one-of-a-kind pieces. Due to this, most of my creations are very artsy and theatrical. Presently I am fully focused on fashion illustration, but I do both design and illustrations.
FBA: What are the technical and software skills you need to possess to be a fashion illustrator?
Papa: Personally, I do two forms of illustration. I do hand illustrations and I use my iPad (digital illustrations) as well. For hand illustrations I use copic markers, pro markers, and for digital illustrations there are a few options I will recommend; Sketchbook pro and procreate. I use my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil because they are portable and convenient.
FBA: What demographic is your art geared towards?
Papa: The younger, trendy, African woman.
FBA: What are the projects that have worked on?
Papa: I have worked with makeup giant: MAC cosmetics when they were launching in Ghana; I was a lip illustrator and illustrated the lips of guests present at the launch party. That was a very fun gig. Recently I had a presentation at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, where my work was displayed as I illustrated before a live audience. I have also done illustrations for wax print giants: Woodin and Vlisco. Back in 2013/2014, I interned with Studio 189 -a fashion label founded by fashion expert Abrima Erwiah and Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson.
Although people in Africa are skeptical about putting their work in the public eye for many reasons, it is also important to take that chance, brand your work as much as you can and allow it speak for itself.
FBA: What are the key investments you make as a Fashion Illustrator?
Papa: As I had stated before, an iPad and an apple pencil are very integral to my work. A printer is also important. Personally I am more invested in digital illustration because I never run out of color and it’s so much faster and I’m less likely to make mistakes on the digital platform.
FBA: On an average, how much does a fashion illustrator earn in a year?
Papa: That is a tough question- it depends, as there are a lot of contributing factors. A fashion illustrator who is very well known will probably be making at least six zeros in dollars annually while an upcoming illustrator will not be making as much. For instance, I sell an A3 commission piece for 250 Dollars (starting price) but that does not marginalise my price point because different services come with different pricing.
FBA: Do You think Fashion Illustration is a viable career path?
Papa: Yes indeed. The fashion industry itself is built on connections which stems from putting your work out in the public. People have to see it and that is where most of my collaborations have come from. Although people in Africa are skeptical about putting their work in the public eye for many reasons, it is also important to take that chance, brand your work as much as you can and allow it speak for itself. After you have gotten recognition, you also have to build relationships and accommodate the possibility that you might have to do some free work just to solidify those relationships and in due time the money will start to roll in.
FBA: Have you considered working for a fashion house as the in-house illustrator?
Papa: That is something I am looking into presently, which brings me to what I said earlier about having the right connections. Working as an in house illustrator simply means a steady pay check and that is one of my goals but it is difficult especially here in Africa.
FBA: How do you market your work?
Papa: It is solely social marketing on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
FBA: Where are you expecting your illustrations to lead to?
Papa: Designing for an existing label and I would like to have my illustrations in high fashion magazines like Marie Claire, Vogue among others.
By Kachi Udeoji