In Summary
  • Whenever his performance dropped in particular subjects, teachers would be quick to remark that he was busy drawing rather than studying.
  • “There was one teacher on attachment at the school who heard of my skills and when he finally saw my works, he was intrigued.”
  • Today, Nyaga hopes to help as many young artists as possible through mentorship, while impacting the society positively with his illustrations.

John Nyaga, an illustrator for the East African and the Daily Nation has quite an anomalous background for someone illustrating narratives across the East African region.

Nyaga was born and raised in Embu County and amid the rivers, plains and hills, his talent as an artist blossomed.

Nyaga’s first encounter with drawings and images was through his older siblings’ school books. Newspapers, magazines and televisions were quite rare. His imagination was therefore sparked by the simple images he saw in his siblings’ books.

Eventually, he started schooling and got hold of books, pencils and paper. His most enjoyable task in school was drawing diagrams for different subjects.

He gladly helped other pupils with drawing assignments. He was amused that most of them claimed not to be able to draw.

“I just thought they were lazy because then, I did not know that art is an inborn gift.”

CURSE IN DISGUISE?

Unfortunately, as young Nyaga perfected his artistic gift, his skills slowly turned into a source of misery. One incident remains forever eked in his memory, the day he received a sound beating for “drawing too well.”

“Whenever our teachers gave us drawing tasks, they warned us sternly against tracing diagrams. One day, our class four history teacher asked us to draw the ‘Zebu cow’, as depicted in our textbooks

As was the norm, she came to class and started checking whether we had done our homework as instructed. I captured the cow’s image precisely.

Once she got to my desk, she had one look at my book before ordering me to go to the staff room without any explanation. Ordinarily, if we made a mistake, the male teachers would punish us.

At the staff room, I was beaten thoroughly for a crime I could not understand. I later came to find out that the History teacher assumed I had traced my diagram. Was this gift a curse in disguise?”

While most teachers did not flog Nyaga for drawing perfectly, the remarks on his report forms and their general comments told a clear story; they simply did not appreciate his art.

Whenever his performance dropped in particular subjects, teachers would be quick to remark that he was busy drawing rather than studying. Though these remarks did not inflict any physical harm on him, they left him questioning the beauty of art.

He was embarrassed by drawing and so he had to hide his drawings. Even so, his passion and love for art would not allow him to stop.

A PUNCH IN THE FACE

“In High School, we didn’t have art programs or clubs. Nonetheless, I devised outlets for my artistic prowess, which was already burning inside.

One day, I used the little pieces of chalk left by teachers in our classroom to draw something on the blackboard. It was nothing sinister or obscene.

However, when I left the classroom to attend a session in a different room, one of my classmates wrote a very vulgar insult on the blackboard next to my drawing.

When the teacher walked into the classroom, he was outraged. My artistic skills were well known and the teacher did not take long to find out who had drawn on the blackboard.

He instantly assumed that I was also to blame for the insult and therefore came looking for me in the other room.

When he walked into the classroom, he called my name and I thought someone from home had visited. Being in a boarding school, the excitement kicked in, but it was met with something less exciting.

A fist punch...yes, the teacher punched me in the face.

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