Oscar Ukonu is a Nigerian artist that paints seemingly real-life pictures with just a ballpoint pen. Since he made his debut about five years ago, he has introduced a twist in the world of arts both in Africa and the rest of the world.
“I first started drawing with rapidograph ink pens during my time in Architecture school, which was my first encounter using ink-based drawing tools. I made few doodles with rapidographs before settling with the ballpoint pen. The ballpoint pen has allowed me more flexibility and control than any other medium I tried my hands on.
I’ve been drawing all my life, but only became more conscious of my talent as a means of expression in 2015. It was at that point I started taking the medium seriously, which eventually led to the evolution of my style and techniques to what my art is today.
I find the ballpoint pen very expressive when working with various pen application techniques such as hatching, crosshatching and scribbling, which helped develop my core hyperrealistic rendering skills and that has further defined my work to what it is today. Ballpoint pen on paper is an unforgiving medium, in the sense that ink strokes cannot be erased once drawn. To control this, I have to draw in layers, working from light to dark tones. Other times, ballpoint pen nibs when used for a long time produce ink blobs that can smear on an ongoing piece of work. To avoid this, I will always wipe the pen nib with a piece of paper at intervals.”
In a move to push the ballpoint painting further into a global concept in the world of art, Oscar Ukonu further explained,
“Ballpoint pen on paper is a contemporary medium, and not yet as well represented in the art world as oil and pencils. However, recently, it’s a well-collected medium by museums and by individual collections. Ballpoint pen is not yet a generally popularized medium in the Nigerian art scene yet, but the acceptance of the medium at a global level is growing very fast. More museums now display ballpoint pen works as part of their permanent collection, with the medium also getting more attention from galleries and art collectors.”
In explaining the basics of the ballpoint pen painting, he said,
”Usually, the process of starting a new piece begins with an idea, which I then find words to verbalize. But most times, these ideas are very abstract that I’ll have to further flesh them out in sketches. In cases like this, the task lies in making these sketches become tangible in the most meaningful manner, without losing fidelity from the original idea. This is then followed by a series of photoshoots that will inform the drawing. During creation, I work with multiple photographs from the photoshoot, exaggerating or toning down some details. This is very important in my work because it liberates the emotion or moment from the frozen mechanics of photograph, and set off a unique direction for the piece. One can see in my drawing style, a careful juxtaposition of broader strokes and intricate fine lines to heighten areas of interest. This creates an illusion of stark reality to the viewer.”
Ukonu also went further to mention some couple of challenges he has encountered in his journey as an artist,
“Ever since I decided to practice art full-time, I’ve had many challenges that almost made me give up. At first, it was time management as I had little time to create art during my final years of studying Architecture. Both professions are very time demanding, but I found a way to strike a balance later into my practice. Another challenge I had was when I was finding it difficult to market my art through galleries and on the internet, as I couldn’t make any money from my art. All these happened during the early stages of my practice, but the most important thing that ensured I moved past the hurdles was my passion; which is also what keeps me going till this day.”
He has collaborated with some brands in the past and also worked on the UNICEF EVERY CHILD IN SCHOOL project in 2018 which yielded maximum results.