Meet Tolu and Ayokanmi Binutu: Nigeria’s Fascinating Visual Art Entrepreneurs
Tell us about yourselves – Ayokanmi and Tolu Binutu: your family, ethnicity, education…
We are brothers. Ayokanmi is the first child of our parents. I am the second. We are from the S/West region of Nigeria. We are both in our twenties. Ayokanmi studied Economics at the University of Lagos, before bagging a Masters in Economics and Business, from Leeds University Business School. I studied Medicine and Surgery at the University of Lagos.
We have been involved in visual art for as long as I can remember. Kanmi was the first to develop interest, and I followed suit not too long after. We have tried our hands on various media, from paper cuttings to clay. Most were unsuccessful, while some were quite rewarding.
You both run an uncommon Art Company called Pencils n Brushes Artworks. How did it all begin and what was your vision when you started out?
Pencils n Brushes Artworks started out as a partnership between Ayokanmi and I. Even though it is still a partnership, it has grown to be so much more than two people doing what they love to do. We had always wanted to belong to a family of creative people, people with like minds and abilities. That is the primary reason why we started Pencils n Brushes.
Pencils n Brushes Artworks also has an art school, called The Hive. At the Hive, we teach artists to create beautiful art, and how to make a living from it.
Ultimately, Pencils n Brushes wants to correct the negative stereotype that defines the average visual artist on the street: an unserious, difficult-to-understand, governed-by-his-emotions person. Artists are professionals and should be viewed as such.
In your own words, who is an Artist? Is there an Artist in everyone?
An artist is anyone who looks to create the beauty they see in their hearts. In the light of this realization, we can say that, yes, there is an artist in everyone. When we were kids, we were inspired by what we perceived in our environment and, at different points, tried to put down our inspiration on paper or via other media. That is the true mark of an artist.
Most of us did not pursue this innate desire any further. Some of us did. The latter groups are those we call artists.
How can someone draw out the Artist in him/her?
Open your heart and receive the inspiration that this big, beautiful and diverse world of ours has to offer. Choose a means of expression and devote your time to perfecting it. It is quite simple and difficult at the same time.
What is the most important ingredient required to record huge success as an Artist?
Without a doubt, I would say the two most important are dedication and a strong sense of self-worth.
The general understanding is that you need to have a lot of money or a good sponsor to make it big in the Art Industry. What is your take on this?
Money is very important in any industry. That said, I would say money, in order of importance, comes behind Dedication and a strong sense of self-worth
What resource, other than money, is most critical for success in this field?
Apart from the three I have already listed above, I would say: a healthy dose of good luck!
You created an Art school called The HIVE. Tell us, why did you start the School? What are your achievements so far? Also, how can interested people be part of it?
The purpose of The Hive is to teach talented, art-inclined individuals how to master their abilities, use this ability to create mind-blowing concepts and ultimately, how to make a career out of it. We have successfully run two sessions of The Hive (tagged The Hive 1.0 and 2.0 respectively) within a period of 7 months, and have received positive reviews from participants and art enthusiasts alike.
For interested people to be a part of it, the first thing we would ask of them is to follow our social media channels. At the moment, we do not have fixed dates for sessions of The Hive, but we take out time to announce upcoming sessions, through social media, about a month before the day it starts.
You also hold Art Exhibitions. What is your objective for doing this? Also, what is required to host a successful exhibition?
We have not hosted an exhibition in a while (our last exhibition was in 2013), because the timing of the whole thing has not been right. We do not want to host exhibitions just for the sake of hosting them. That said, we plan to have one soon. We will keep you posted.
Exhibitions give us, the artists, and the opportunity to show the world as we see it. This is quite different from normal artworks we do, where we go on a journey (with the client) to create beautiful art. Exhibitions give our artists more freedom to explore and express their innermost convictions and ideals.
In my opinion, the most important factors to consider when holding an exhibition are: Venue, Invited guests, the theme of the exhibition and the budget of the exhibition.
How have you effectively leveraged the power of relationships and social media to promote what you do?
We have tried, and have gotten some good results. Recently, we participated in the #beatoflagos 2015 concert, alongside Chocolate City Music and it was covered by some major TV stations (Ebony Life TV, NTA, TVC, Accelerate TV etc). Eventually, the news made it on to social media and caused an uproar (the good kind), especially on Instagram.
But we still have as lot of work to do. Luckily for us, that is the fun part!
What steps do you take to ensure you both continually improve yourselves as Artists and business men?
We read. A lot! We also interact with artists from all over the nation, and abroad too. You see, the thing about Art is that it is inexhaustible. You really cannot get to the bottom of the cookie jar. You just keep reaching and reaching..We also take risks. Sometimes, the risks pan out. Many times, they don’t.
You wouldn’t believe us if we told you the number of times we have been rejected since we started PnB. It will move you to tears, my brother. But you just have to keep moving forward.
What are some of the major challenges you have encountered in your sojourn into the Art business?
No money. No assistance. No money. No money (loool). Seriously though, sometimes you have this brilliant concept in your head, but when you do the arithmetic of the whole thing, you find out that the cost is something you cannot bear to carry at that point.
Also, we have had some bad experiences with clients that try to trick us into doing art for them without them paying. We have found a way around that, though.
Are there times when you don’t feel like touching a Pencil or a brush? Or have you ever felt like closing down the company and moving onto something else? If yes, how do you find inspiration? What keeps you going?
Yes o, more times than I would like to admit. But we have had some great people in our lives that have supported us so far. They help inspire us. Also, you must remember that art is what we have been doing for so many years. In the end, it is all we want to do. It is what we were born to do.
What do you enjoy most about being an Artist?
To be honest, we enjoy it for two reasons. Firstly, we are really good at it. Secondly, we get to create value for other people, in a way few people can. Art, in itself, is our ultimate reward.
What would you say is your biggest achievement since you started Pencils n Brushes Artworks?
For us, we feel happiest when we see the unbridled joy on the faces of our clients as we unveil the artwork we created with them, when we watch the participants of the Hive talk excitedly about the strides they are making in Art, and when people feel our art is worth paying for.
No, we don’t. We have people we admire though: the late Walt Disney, Lance Richlin, Vladimir London, and Damien Hirst.
For you, Life is….
..Fun and challenging.
Africa will rise when…..
…her leaders stop being selfish.
What words of wisdom or advice would you like to leave with the youths of Africa? Inspire a young African in a sentence
Life, your journey and everything it involves, is all about progression.
Many thanks for sharing with us Guys.
You are welcome. Thanks for this interview.