Tolu and Ayo Bintu are two brothers adding more colour to art in Lagos and beyond. We had an exciting chat with them recently. Read and enjoy…
Please, introduce yourselves
I am Dr Binutu Tolu and my brother is Ayokanmi Binutu. We are the founders of Pencils n Brushes Artworks (also known as PnB), a visual art and design company based in Lagos, Nigeria. We are from Ogun State, even though we have lived in Lagos all our lives. I studied Medicine in University of Lagos while Kanmi studied Economics (at the same university) before bagging a Masters degree from Leeds University Business School in the UK. At heart though, we are both visual artists.
We understand you offer a variety of services, can you mention them please?
At Pencils n Brushes Artworks, we create visual art. We make Pencil drawings, paintings, Handmade cards (we call them Gift Cards), graphic design. We also do speed paintings at occasions and events. We do our best to create visual art that has meaning. You can see a lot of our artworks and designs by visiting our Website
At what moment did you guys decide to harness your skills and form Pencils ‘n’ Brushes Artworks?
Art is one thing that came naturally to us. I know this may sound cliché, but my brother and I have been dabbling into various visual art forms since we were kids. Name it, we have tried it: drawing on walls, paper cuttings, wet clay, designing comics, drawing, painting and so on. And we got better as the years passed. Eventually, we decided to come together, merge our strengths and see how far we could go as a team. That is how it all started.
You’ve been running Pencils ‘n’ Brushes Artworks since 2010, would you say you’ve remained true to your vision? If yes, how has the challenge been?
We have been true to our vision (Our vision is to become the foremost art and design company first in West Africa, then in Africa) but our methods of execution have changed significantly over the years. We have learned to run PnB like a company. We have also come to see the difference between surviving and thriving as an art outfit. Initially, it was quite challenging.
We had to ensure that people see artists as professionals and not just creative people with mood swings. Also, we had to get people to see that art should be paid for. A lot of people expect artists to do free jobs. I find this disrespectful, to be frank with you. We had to carve a niche for ourselves, and get people to see that every artwork is a treasure, and no treasure was ever handed over free of charge. You either pay for it in cash or in kind.
How far have you gone in achieving your goals?
I would say that we have come a long way since 2010. Much of the progress we have made has been within the last two years. This is because we lacked experience in our early years and also because we spent the first three years laying a solid foundation for what we have now. That said, we still have a long way to go. The future is something we look forward to!
“Speed painting” sounds fascinating and intricate, would you consider it to be the most difficult service you render?
Well (*chuckles*) yes. Yes, it is. Having to paint while the audience watches with bated breath (sometimes, the photographers present at the events we perform in, make the tension palpable!) can be quite the feat. The trick is to remain calm and confident, and to have done your homework before the performance.
Our Youtube channel (Pencils n Brushes Artworks) has videos of some of the speed paintings we have done. I agree with you: speed paintings are both fascinating and intricate.
What has been the most memorable occasion in your career?
We have had many memorable events, but two readily come to mind: The first was at the launch of The Rising Sun. The Rising Sun is the headquarters of British-American Tobacco in Nigeria. We were called upon to draw live sketches of the various dignitaries at the event. When Rtd Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo saw his portrait, he was very impressed, more so because we drew it live at the event. I will always remember his joyous response. The second was Dr Dunnie Okewale’s reaction when she saw a speedpainting we did of her and her husband, at their wedding reception. She was really happy, to say the least!
“The Hive” is a fantastic initiative, what was the vision behind it?
Thank you for your kind words! The hive is something we are very excited about. It is our art school and was borne of a desire to educate and empower artists. Its mission is clear; we are interested in improving the standard of art in our environment, by helping artists become the best versions of themselves.
It is designed to teach various methods and media of expression. In addition to these goals, we seek to change any self-destructive mindset in the artist and help the artist realize that he/she is a professional. The hive will also teach business principles that will help the artist earn a living from his craft.
As brothers, how are you able to find a balance between your relationship and business?
First of all, we are two really REALLY different people! This means that we have disagreements very often. But, I think this is a good thing. We see PnB from different perspectives and when these perspectives come together, they enable us approach things with a holistic approach. We have learned not to take things personal, especially when one of us has to criticise the other. We are strongest when we are together.
Are there people you look up to in the industry?
We admire some people. My brother loves the works of Michelangelo and Kelvin Okafor. I admire businessmen like Tonye Cole and Asish Thakkar.
There is a perception that most Nigerians don’t value art enough, what has your experience been?
I think there is some truth to it. Many Nigerians really don’t appreciate art enough. Or let me put it this way: They like good art, but aren’t willing to pay for them. People who purchase art are people who have settled the basic human needs (Food, Shelter, and Clothing) and still have some money to spare. Many Nigerians still struggle with their basic necessities, so art isn’t really one of their foremost considerations. I believe things will improve, as the economy improves.
How do you deal with customer dissatisfaction?
We hardly have dissatisfied customers and here is why: In everything we do, we ensure that there is a blend of creativity and professionalism. When designing or creating art based on a client’s order, we use a client-centric approach. This means that we ensure the client is involved every step of the way, in the production of the artwork or design. We take the client through the entire process.
We do this so as to ensure that the client’s input is a part of our creative process. When the client is involved every step of the way, it’s difficult for them to dislike the final product.
A large number of creative heads struggle with turning their art into a career, you guys seem to have a good grasp of creative entrepreneurship. What’s the secret?
Hard work. Perseverance in the face of crazy, crazy challenges. Re-investing profits. Lastly, don’t stop re-inventing the wheel. Things can always be better. It’s all about progression.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Oh, that’s simple: Time is always on the move. You have to be just as fast and as consistent as time, to become (and to remain) your best self.
What do you think about creative entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
I think it’s becoming clearer every day that the government doesn’t and never will have all the answers. Yes, they have an important role to play, but so do SMEs. Businesses have to do more: Don’t just aim to survive. Aim to thrive.
What are your long term goals?
To build Pencils n Brushes Artworks into the biggest player in the Art and Design Industry.
What would you regard as the most important attribute for an aspiring artist?
Simon Sinek said something that I can’t help but agree with: Attitude is more important than skill. With the right attitude to life, you can learn a lot. But the wrong attitude can keep you moving round in circles for a very long time.
What are your thoughts on what we do here at Pave Africa?
I believe you guys are doing a good job. And you have an eye for quality too, that’s why you chose to talk to us. *laughs*. Really though, you are a voice that’s hard to ignore. Keep it up!