The MoneyRise team spoke with Mayowa Shutabug, a Nigerian Digital Artist who took us on the journey of how he began creating art, the transformation it brought to his life, his dream of building a university of Art and how he invests his money.
Hello, Mayowa, what was growing up like for you?
Growing up was fun, I guess. I had a very mixed childhood. I’m the only child of my parents and to the best of my knowledge, they wanted me to have the best of both worlds. I mean, the ajepako and ajebutter lifestyles.
I grew up in Ketu, but my primary school was all the way in Maryland; it was this posh private school. All the kids in my neighbourhood went to schools around Ketu and its environs, but I always came home from school wearing my uniform, looking all preppy and whatnot.
Also, during the holidays, I went to stay with my uncle who worked in Ikoyi and it was always fun whenever I was with him. Every moment was filled with enjoyment; he would take us out on cruise ships and we’d have lunch there. And maybe the next holiday, I was in Bariga at my aunt’s, playing outdoor games with kids, rolling tyres and going to football centres.
How did that shape you as an individual?
Really good, actually. I feel like it made me learn how to see things from different perspectives. I mean, if you saw me on the road, you’d probably think I’m a butty, but unlike most butties, I’m not exactly uncomfortable around those who people consider unposh (agbero). I actually feel quite comfortable around such people. It feels natural to me. I guess that just helps me realise that everyone isn’t equal but at the very core, everyone just wants respect, no matter where they are from.
What do you do for work?
I get paid to wake up in the morning to draw and animate. That’s what I do.
How did you become an artist and animator?
It started with a friend. My parents used to drop me off at a neighbour’s house and I remember their son, who was my friend, liked drawing. I remember I picked it up from him and he usually drew things differently. We’d watch a movie, say, Terminator or Rambo. Then once we were done, we tried to draw what we just watched. We drew guys carrying big guns and blood with red biros. That’s where I know it started from and I have been improving ever since.
That’s awesome. So, tell me how you started doing this for money?
My roommate told me that a friend of his was looking for a designer. In the university, I was known as the design guy and was getting paid about 5k to design club flyers and posters. That was how I made money. So, when my friend told me about a company looking for a graphic designer. I didn’t think it’d be a serious gig and that there would be an interview, so I went unprepared and looking casual.
When I got there, they asked me to bring a laptop and explain how I do what I do. I thought, “you are paying me 5k, so we don’t need the stress”, but it turned out to be a job interview at CChub and I wasn’t prepared for it. Luckily, I got it. I was there for 6 years and only left last year to join the BBC. My anniversary with the BBC comes up in March.
What was the experience like at CChub?
It was the best thing that ever happened to me because if I wasn’t at CChub, only God knows what I’d have been doing with my life. You know, God works in mysterious ways. As I said, I wasn’t prepared for the job, but working at CChub gave me the experience I needed. It impacted me greatly.
When I joined them, I had zero experience; I didn’t even know how to write an email. I couldn’t do anything. I was still in university then and didn’t know so much about the corporate world. CChub brought me up from the ground and gave me room to explore and it wasn’t just limited to graphics design, but anything I was interested in; they provided support one way or the other, either financially or they got me the gadgets I needed to explore. It was really one of the best things that ever happened to me. The 6 years were amazing.
How did the BBC happen?
Funny, I wasn’t exactly looking for a job when this happened. So, my plan after I left CChub…
Wait. Wait… You left before getting the BBC job?
Not exactly. So, I had a plan. In 2020, before Corona came, I had a transition plan where I was going to be at CChub for one more year, find a replacement and then quit. But, the pandemic happened and ruined my plans. After that, my next plan was to leave in 2021 to work on myself and my craft. Because while I enjoyed my work at CCHub, I hadn’t spent enough time drawing and creating for myself.
What happened next was me getting a message from someone on Behance. According to the sender, the BBC was hiring an illustrator. I wasn’t interested in another job but I checked the details and they basically wanted someone to draw every day and I thought “okay, this is what I was going to do anyway, so it’s not bad if I get paid for it”. I did the interview and left CChub.
What does it feel like working for BBC?
It’s different. It wasn’t very easy for me to navigate. CChub is a tech ecosystem while the BBC is a media company. The dynamics and operations are different.
Honestly, I’m still adjusting. I haven’t even met some of my colleagues in person because of covid. It’s been phone calls for a year straight. I like it though, it’s easy. I’m not as stressed as I used to be.
Now, I just wake up and do exactly what I want to do which is draw and animate and get paid for it.
How hard was it for you to monetize your art?
Prior to NFTs, it was relatively hard. Nigerians aren’t exactly keen on art and I struggled to get decent pay for certain jobs but I did them anyway because I realized I needed to show workings if I was going to charge thousands of dollars for commissions. They helped me build my portfolio and negotiate for better pay with my future gigs. My big break came when I got a commission from Facebook, and then in 2020 I started getting ten thousand dollar illustration deals, and then NFTs. It took me 5 years to monetize my properties. I started doing digital art officially in 2017 and it’s been up since then.
Let’s talk about NFTs. Can you explain it to me like I am 5?
NFT is short for Non-fungible Tokens. So, let me start by explaining what fungibility itself means. Let’s assume that you are on your way to Ojota Mile 12 and you’re about to alight and the driver is supposed to give you some change. Assuming your change is 50 Naira, the danfo driver could either give you one 50 Naira note or two 20 Naira notes and one 10 Naira note. What that means is that money is a fungible item; it has the same value no matter how much you break it down. It isn’t unique at all; two 500 Naira notes have the same value as a 1000 Naira note.
So, a non-fungible item is the exact opposite. It is something that is unique. In the physical world, your iPhone or something that is assigned to just you, that no one else in the world has access to is a non-fungible item.
At the moment, most people think NFTs are just illustrations, but the truth is that they can be anything you want them to be. And what makes an NFT is the fact that it’s registered, although anyone can replicate and save it. But on the crypto blockchain, it’s assigned to just one person. Now, think of the blockchain as this database for everyone who has a crypto wallet, everyone has a name or unique address there, so when I create an NFT on the blockchain, it just belongs to me. When someone buys it from me, that person becomes the new owner. That’s basically what NFTs are.
So, how did you get into NFTs?
It was my followers, really. I wasn’t exactly interested, but whenever I put an illustration up, about 5 or more comments were all about NFTs. “Hey, sell that as an NFT, you will make lots of money”
At first, I was very very sceptical, but then sometime in August, I decided to go into it. I did my research, came up with a plan to sell just 10 of my illustrations as NFTs, but when I dabbled into it, I got hooked. I went from creating 10 illustrations to creating over 1000.
I’ve gone from people and companies willing to pay me $1k to make 10 illustrations for their websites to someone willing to pay me $1k for a random illustration I made because I was bored. So, I like the fact that I’m finally receiving value for my work.
That’s really awesome! So, how many NFTs have you sold?
I haven’t actually calculated, but I’d say between 400 to 600.
Phew! You are swimming in money!
Speaking of money, how do you handle money, especially in relation to your growth from who you used to be to who you are now?
Because of how I grew up, I’m always thinking of the future. Even though I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m already planning for the future and for my kids: how will they grow up? How will they go to school? I think I have a balanced relationship with money. I’m prudent but I splurge sometimes. Still, I always think about the future and investing.
How do you invest?
At the moment, I’m thinking about real estate investing, but I’m still weighing my options. I have spoken to friends and they’ve given me advice on buying stocks and reinvesting the money and making sure the money isn’t just sitting in a bank account. Basically just making sure my money is making more money for me. I’ve been listening and getting advice, but the thing I’m looking at at the moment is actively going into real estate. From the advice I got, it’s one of the safest things I can invest my money in and be sure I make good returns.
What do you think about art as an investment or how would a lay person invest in art?
In this NFT era, I think it’s a great investment because people are finally giving digital art the recognition it deserves. We’ve gone from companies and artists creating art competitions, getting thousands of submissions and paying little to no money to artists, to any artist being able to sell their personal work for thousands of dollars to different people across the world. Regarding investing, I think the best way to start is by providing support. This can be done financially or by providing required equipment or gadgets to help artists work. Naija is hard and there are many artists who need to save up for years before they can get an iPad.
Now I’m looking into reinvesting into society. I have this dream of creating an Andela for art. I feel like there’s an untapped creative market. At this moment, I’m looking into kickstarting that dream and yeah, I’m talking to people and waiting to see how it goes.
Do you have any money fears?
Yeah. I’m afraid of having too much money. Sounds like a bad thing to me. I feel like if I ever get to that point, I will lose my drive. If I ever let myself get too comfortable, if I let making money become the ultimate goal for me, I’m never going to get enough money and I’m going to keep searching for it. I think that’s my major fear, really.
What advice do you have for beginners or people going into NFTs?
Just create. My advice will be to create because you want to create and not because of money. This might be privilege talking because I already had a good job before I got into NFTs, but I’d say that once you get to a point where you are secure enough, you should just learn to create for the sake of it.
Let us talk about your side hustles?
I actually have many side hustles and this is because I feel like if I don’t, I’m going to lose my focus and vision. People have asked me why I haven’t quit the BBC to just focus on NFTs and my answer is that the BBC provides a structure for me and I like that.
Apart from NFTs, I still take commissions from my drawings. If things get hard for me, I can pick up my camera and decide that I’m going to start photography or videography again. I know how to edit videos and I’m thinking of creating a youtube page. I mean, there are so many things I know I can fall back on and not just rely on one thing.
How do you manage your time?
Thanks to Covid-19, it’s relatively easy. During my 6 years at CChub, I used to fight Lagos traffic every day, but I work remotely for the most part at the BBC. Right now, I’m working from another country and it’s been great. It’s easier to manage my time now because once you take Lagos traffic away from your schedule, you’re good.
What does retirement look like for you?
I have no idea if I’m being honest. For now, it’d be having the art university/school chain setup and running without any support from me.
What is your financial goal for 2022?
Still working/deciding on it, if I’m being honest. I’m in a good place financially and I’m not too keen on exerting myself like I did last year, so if I end the year with the exact amount of money I have right now, I’ll be fine. It’s still a new year, there’s a good chance of a new goal/objective coming up.
Thank you so much, Mayowa, for chatting with us.
It’s my pleasure.