Nairobi-Based Illustrator, Joy Kioko, Is Helping Adults to Add Some Colour to Their Lives

Joy Kioko understands that feelings of sadness and depression are not escapable, but they can be managed through therapy. She also understands that therapy is expensive and sometimes the people who need it the most do not always have access to it.

With her adult colouring book, Kijani, Joy invites people to seek therapy, manage stress and find joy in colouring. The book contains fifty hand-drawn plant illustrations which are intended to let you feel better through art – even if you are not an artist.

We spoke with Joy about her work as an artist, and about the book Kijani and its significance to the continuous discussion about the intersection of creative exploration and mental health.

How did you begin illustrating?

As far back as my memory serves me, I’ve always had a love for drawing. It wasn’t until I got to university that I discovered a newfound passion for illustration, specifically book illustration. I remember that there was an assignment to take a piece of text and bring its characters to life through drawings that tell their story. I was hooked from the get-go and poured my heart into the project, earning high praise from my lecturer. From that moment on, I knew illustration was my calling. I went on to major in the field and now, I’m proud to say I’ve turned my passion into a successful career.

Top 3 illustrators?

Myself, Vashti Harrison, and Aaron Blaise

Describe your signature Art style in 3 words.

Whimsical. Colourful. Modern-Ish.

Describe the kind of world you depict through your illustration.

One filled with wonder.

What does Kijani mean? Tell me about your book project.

Kijani is green in Swahili. This was inspired by my babies – my plants and my day-to-day activities.

How do you choose a theme for the book? Why plants?

I love plants, art and journaling. These parts of my life have given me the space to find peace, and explore. I combined them and shared them with the world. Hopefully, in the coming days, Kijani will be an art therapy aid for people who use it. Fingers crossed.

Plants are amazing and diverse. They also have a way of reminding us that there will always be newness. Plants always bloom. Even after a hard season.

How do you navigate the professional art industry and work-life balance?

Staying curious has helped a great deal. Always asking why and how things are done. This gives you a new perspective when it comes to creating and finding your voice as an artist. Exchanging ideas with other artists and entrepreneurs.

Learning what others are doing and how they solve problems puts you at ease. Knowing that the challenges you are facing have tangible solutions is encouraging.

As for the work-life balance: I recently learnt how to prioritize rest. And how it is important to do things outside work. Things that feed into your creativity and spark joy. Rest makes you a better person and artist

Do you have a network of other artists in Nairobi, and how do they support you?

Yes, I do. We support each other. By showing up for each other’s events or shows. Buying merchandise. And sharing their work on social media.

What is one thing you would love to change/improve about the art space in Kenya?

Mmmmhhh! More art. We can’t exhaust whatever is available. However, seeing new voices would be great.

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