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A Challenge Worth Accepting

Words by Joké Karibo @saikiriartguide

All images © Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

On this artist feature we meet the amazing illustrator Shola behind the Instagram account @sholaillustration which depicts Black women in all facets of life. Her Instagram includes stories of her drawings, set to a cool soundtrack of RnB and Hip-Hop, while some show her live drawing. Each post is at times fun, serious or just regular, showing that Black women are not a monolith. I talked to her about her new project, The 366 days Challenge, her process, first art experience and more. 

I want to show the different sides of Africa, the beautiful black women who are African and Nigerian. If you notice, some of the women I draw are wearing African print. It doesn’t have to be loud and for me it’s the little subtle things……. 


What was your first experience of art?

“I actually started in secondary school but I do remember doing some drawing in primary school and my teacher saying they were really good. Secondary school was my first real feeling of appreciation of art with my art teacher who was called Mr. Cole and he was just so positive about what I created. I remember drawing a “hair chair”, it sounds crazy to say it, it was a chair that had hair all over it. I had drawn it at home while watching tv and when he saw it he was like “this is amazing”. I didn’t think much of it but he said if you think so little of yourself then do it again now and I was like I can’t because it took forever to draw and he was like there you go. Him saying that made me think “ok maybe this isn’t something everyone can do” and it’s something I’m actually good at. I went on to study Art Design at university.”

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator or artist?

“We learnt a lot about white artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse in school and I always enjoyed their work but it was when I got to university that I got to learn about Black illustrators and artists. I knew I wanted to do illustration at University, the idea was cemented during my years there. “

Why illustration now?


“So I had been doing lots of bits on illustration. The main thing I did was a window design for Zizi restaurant, it was a massive illustration. It was an illustration competition that I entered and I was the runner-up. It kind of just took off from there and I did different commissions. It also has to do with convenience and time, illustrations are less time consuming than other art forms. I did take a hiatus from art though and illustration was a way of coming back into it, as drawing was kind of my first love in creating art so I wanted to build on that, improve my skills and challenge myself, hence The 366 days challenge being born.” 

© Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

Tell us a bit about your new body of work, The 366 days challenge?      

“The challenge is about me drawing 366 Black women. I wanted to show positive aspects of Black women for Black people as well as non-black people, for basically anyone who wants to view it.”

“After seeing an Instagram post on a Black illustrator’s page saying how they have thousands of Black women in their head and how they can’t wait to draw them, I thought it was a great idea so I merged my two ideas of drawing Black women and doing the 366 days challenge. It’s really about portraying Black women as they are with our beauty, our skin, our lips, our hips, our noses and being loved because of it.”

What is your creative process like? Do you work with music for instance or in silence?

“I probably have the worst creative process ever. I work to movies and tv shows. I just have a movie or tv show on my laptop that I’m watching and I’m drawing at the same time. I draw to a lot of Real Housewives of Atlanta. My creative process is sadly not creative or magical. Sometimes there’ll be a whole series playing and I won’t even see the screen once! I’ll just hear everything that’s going on but my head will be down the whole time, drawing. “

So your heritage is Nigerian, does that influence your work in any way and how?

“It’s funny you ask because I remember in university, I did my final year project on something Nigerian, but I began to ask myself if everything I created had to be from a Nigerian narrative so I actually tried to stay away from it for a while but at the same time I felt why would I not use the fact that I’m Nigerian in my art? It is who I am and I love my culture, I love being African and Nigerian. I want to show the different sides of Africa, the beautiful black women who are African and Nigerian. If you notice, some of the women I draw are wearing African print. It doesn’t have to be loud and for me it’s the little subtle things because African women today especially in the UK are not walking around with Gele and Ankara, they’re wearing a skirt or a top with a the print or carrying a bag with the print, that’s modern African style to me. So I want that to come through in my work.”  

© Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

What do you do apart from drawing? 

“So I see myself as a freelance designer but I do have another job, which is being a nurse, but my co-workers at my hospital don’t know I have a design degree or that I create illustrations. I tend to keep them separate and I don’t know why to be honest. They are very different worlds and the nursing world specifically, is so far from the art world in my mind. You don’t see many medical professionals talking about art they appreciate so it feels like it could be difficult to explain what I’m doing to people in the medical world. I love the feeling of coming home from work after a stressful day to sit down with a pen and paper and being in control of what I do, what I say, how I move and what I create. “

© Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

What are the biggest obstacles you face in getting your work “out there”?

“It’s probably more of a personal obstacle in the sense of me being more proactive in what I’m doing. This challenge (The 366 days Challenge) is forcing me to draw and to post. I like to finish whatever I’ve started so I can’t go one day without posting because I’ve already started the challenge. I’m on day 170 now and not posting tomorrow for instance would be absolutely ridiculous. So, I’m the only obstacle standing in my way and it’s about making sure I follow through, create and build my portfolio.”

Which artists (living or deceased) inspire you and would be invited to your dinner party?

“That’s a hard question!” 

“The way I create my illustrations are very line heavy and I got that inspiration from Jason Brookes who is fashion illustrator so he would be there. His illustrations of women are absolutely amazing and flawless. I would also have Kehinde Wiley, known for the commission he did for the Obamas but even before then I have always loved the way he draws people with the colours he uses and the inclusion of nature into his work. His talent is second to none. I would want the amazing author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because I love the way she writes and sometimes when I read her books I feel like I can draw the characters. It would be interesting to have her seated at the table. The last person would be Kara Walker, another amazing illustrator. I lover her colours and her lines. “

© Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

Where can people find your work?

“@sholaillustration on Instagram”

© Shola Illustration @sholaillustration

Finally, what’s your favourite Afrobeat song?

“Adekunle Gold – Ire

This has been Joké, signing-out of Colour Out The Box Blog, find me on Instagram Joké Karibo @saikiriartguide

“Saikiri Art Guide is a platform for the latest African Diasporan art exhibitions and events around London.”

Also check me out on Colour Out The Box Podcast, I recently joined Mo to discuss all things Insecure.