Monica Obaga is a Kenyan graphic designer and illustrator, currently based in Los Angeles. Up until 2015, she was the founding Head of Digital Marketing at Buni.tv, Africa’s first online VOD channels, and the first to be acquired by a media giant in 2016. She has a special interest in projects that promote the diversity of artistic self-expression in the African community and is currently writing and illustrating her first book.
Tell us about your path to becoming the designer and illustrator you are today.
I thought I was going to be a fashion designer until I turned 12. I made my first gown about 2 inches high, for my teeny tiny doll when I was 6. For almost the entirety of primary school (or Grades 1 through 8) I was doodling in every workbook. Halfway through an extremely competitive high school, Art didn’t make the cut as part of my final seven subjects. I didn’t draw much after that until 4 years ago. I started my Instagram page as a quiet place to begin doodling again just for fun and after a year or so I began collaborating and then getting client requests. I still have a long way to go as an illustrator but I’m enjoying the journey.
In the past few months you have shifted towards freelance design. What inspired this shift?
I’ve been teetering at the edge for so long since three years ago. I finally got curious about what would happen if I took it seriously.
What are you loving about this transition? What is challenging you?
Knowing that I earned every cent that comes in being 100% myself is such a boost. I am working with amazing people changing the world in their own special way. They inspire me to keep growing.
Some of the challenges are that I am running it on my own, so there’s only so much I can do at once, but I keep plugging at it anyway because it’s so worth it. The other challenge is just the irregular nature of creative work. Sometimes it comes right away and other times it takes longer when I can’t crack a problem but I have to be patient and show up every time.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Know yourself: Try things and be mindful how they make you feel. I tried productivity planners physical and online and found that post its kept me more consistent in my daily to dos so I switched.
Automation: A trick I learned from a Tim Ferris podcast, whenever I fell off the exercise wagon, I trick myself by wearing my gear even if I’m resisting exercise. Literally the second day in I can’t resist any longer.
Health: You know what’s good for you. Do more of that. Start small and build up at your own pace. It makes the rest of life so much easier.
What are your favorite ways to stay creatively inspired?
Walking in the woods (or forest bathing if you’re fancy) is such a powerful recharge as is being by any large body of water. Visually stunning or original films, stores and installations makes me feel like I’m bathing in art. I follow design publications, photographers, designers and illustrators for inspiration as well.
Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
Of course! So many ideas I’m not quite certain where to start. I’d love to finish a few stories I’m writing. They are a little different from my illustration style so I’m not sure who will want to experience them, but they are the very type of story I love, so I hope to do them justice.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Persistence, professionalism, purpose (Don’t forget why you started!).