There are about a dozen words in the story/essay—not sure which it is—that I have to look up. Common terms in Nigeria but new to me. They’re peppered throughout the five thousand pieces of text. These words are all that grab my attention. They help me figure out what I need to paint as illustrations.
I accept these jobs pretty much sight unseen. The challenge is to come up with images no matter what they must illuminate. It’s sort of like going to the gym. a way to make myself stretch, not fall into familiar ruts. The first word I look up is asoebi. It’s a term for a ceremonial dress, the image search yields dozens of smiling, posing women in matching colors and patterns covering their bodies and sitting atop their heads. Sort of like bridesmaids but not confined to weddings.
Then I look up aerial shots of Lagos and styles of Nigerian churches. I put the iPad on my drawing desk over my paper and open the watercolors. Three days later I can’t recall which of the three paintings I did first. Feels like a lot has happened since then. One of the beauties of painting is how fleeting an experience it is. Completely engulfing while it’s happening but completely gone as soon as I get up from the table.
Even as I paint I’ve mostly forgotten the story I’m painting for. All I retain is Lagos, church, and asoebi. It’s all I need.