Born in Accra in 1948, Sowatey Adjei is a self-taught artist who developed his style from reading books. "I would study all the art works I could find in the books I got out from Accra's Central...
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Born in Accra in 1948, Sowatey Adjei is a self-taught artist who developed his style from reading books. "I would study all the art works I could find in the books I got out from Accra's Central Library and the United States Information Service Library, (now Martin Luther King Jr.). I was inspired by the works of American artists such as Leo Sarkisian, Norman Rockwell, Andrews Loomis and John Biggers. I had the privilege to meet Leo Sarkisian on two occasions, when he held exhibitions in Ghana. Leo's works actually inspired my pencil drawings. I also had the privilege to have close contact with two renowned Ghanaian artists, Amon Kotei and A.O Bartimeus whose achievements motivated me.
"Most of my achievements today are a result of my extensive reading, including how to frame my work and about photography in order to take pictures of the things I want to draw. I collect pictures (over 4000 in my library) and I've invested in books to create my own library at home. I critically study the techniques used by other artists by purchasing their works. I also learn from graduate art students on internship. Now with the introduction of computer and internet, there is more information at my disposal.
"In 1968, I sold my first work. I also taught art at a secondary school between 1968- 1970. I then worked as a commercial artist for two years and in 1972, at the age of 24, I established my own studio.
"When I started on my own it was difficult because my working capital could only buy some few cards on which I created pencil portraits. I was determined to make it in this field and I had the passion to keep me to forging ahead in the mist of all the difficulties. I remember a customer whose family portrait I worked on. She got angry and began shouting at the top of her voice over the price of my work. She eventually paid less than what I asked for but I felt so embarrassed by her behavior that I took the money and walked away. Later on in life, this woman and her daughter became one of my biggest patrons and linked me with several other clients! I learnt a great lesson from that incident: that it pays to be patient. I realized that if I had reacted to her fury, I would have missed a good opportunity. Although, this woman passed away in April 2010, I received a call from her daughter requesting to place an order for some works.
"I also used to produce portraits for people working in banks and other corporate institutions. Funnily enough, the constant challenge I had there was backing away from the huge dogs they had – they were so scary I would only feel safe once I was out of the premises!
"My art has improved over the years, I started with pencil then moved to paintings and screen printing. My customers were interested in the new works I was developing and sales were encouraging. Since my customers knew me they were willing to purchase my new works because they knew they could count on the quality of my work.
"I draw and paint about what I see around me. I work with pencil, ink, oil, watercolors, and acrylic. I also work with screen printing techniques (on cotton cloth and T- shirts), greeting cards, portrait painting, book illustrations and graphic design. At first it was difficult getting these materials on the local market except for the cotton cloth for the screen printing. What I did was to ask friends who traveled to either USA or UK to purchase the materials for me in bulk. Now I can get all these materials at our local market even though they are imported.
"My family has joined my artistic venture. Initially I started alone and out of the sales of my works I have been able to put my three daughters through university. My youngest daughter is reading about art with me. Her role is to draw and paint. My wife Janet resigned her post as a nurse and is responsible for the administration and production section of the work, ensuring that orders are delivered on time. I draw, paint, screen print and check on the quality of the finished products, as well as manage our studio.
"I have participated in several exhibitions in Accra and I have received an Honorable Mention at a National Art Contest in Mobile, Ghana. In 1998, I was named Painter of the Year at the Leisure Awards.
"I love to listen to good music whilst at work, and my hobbies are reading, writing, photography and picture collecting, teaching, and preaching the word of God, The Bible.
"My dream is to fully equip my studio and write books on my experience in the art world, as well as write books on my areas of specialization, screen printing, painting and drawing, for the benefit of up and coming art students."