The Long Awaited Return

Some people say that if you stay for long without doing something you’re good at, it will still be waiting for when you get back to it. Others believe that your creative muscles will atrophy from lack of use, and you might never be able to do it as well as before. What do you think? I’d say I was of the opinion that it depends on the situation. However, I was still apprehensive about an art form that I hadn’t engaged in for years. And this post is all about that.

Pencil drawing of a bear.
One of my pencil sketches.

As I’d mentioned in my previous post, Letโ€™s Drift offers other experiences apart from hikes. When I saw an Art Therapy hangout lined up for May, I was stoked. I hadn’t managed to attend past ones so this would be exciting. I can’t even remember the last time I attended an art-themed event. So I signed up for Art Therapy with high expectations.

Hikers in Kimende forest, Kenya.
Forest photowalk on the previous weekend.

I come across random interesting stuff when scrolling online. That’s how I got to know about an offer on watercolour pens at Miniso. Only 20/- per piece. Yes, 20. Sounded unbelievable since the lowest price at that shop is always 309/-. I decided to go see for myself the evening before Art Therapy and thankfully, it was true. Walked out of there with 5 pens bought at 100/-.

Watercolour pens.
Still can’t believe they were 20/- each. What a steal.

As part of the preparations, I dusted off my sketchbook which I had barely touched in some years. Graphite pencils were also retrieved from their hiding place. My enthusiasm was already building up. If you haven’t caught on, I do fine art as well. I talked about it in detail in an earlier post here. It has been difficult doing it for a while though, you’ll see why later in this post.

Landscape painting.
Landscape painting.

On the awaited Sunday morning, I set out for the meeting point- you already know- outside Hilton Hotel. I took a nduthi to my stage save on time since we were leaving at 7 am. Balancing an A3 sketchbook on a bike while trying to not fall off is not a joke, as I discovered that day.

Public area outside Hilton Hotel, Nairobi.
Our meeting point outside Hilton.

For the first time since I started Drifting, I arrived before everyone. Even before the guides! I was early by a whole 10 minutes. For a split second I wondered if I’d gotten the date wrong. ๐Ÿ˜… I’m used to finding at least a few people there. I checked the event calendar and indeed it was the right day. The second person to arrive was also shocked. But since I’d confirmed the date, I decided to chill for the guides to show up.

Let's Drift Kenya Logo
Logo used with permission from Let’s Drift.

The weather too decided we should chill- it was insanely cold. I’d checked the forecast the day before and it projected sunshine at the destination. I hoped that it was accurate. We waited for the rest to arrive before heading to the matatu stage.

Nairobi CBD.
Random image of Nairobi.

Soon we set off for the Kikuyu escarpments. If you’re familiar with the current state of Waiyaki Way, you know it can be a nightmare when traffic backs up. Thankfully that wasn’t the case- probably because it was a Sunday. As we approached Kikuyu town, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The fog was so thick, it almost rivalled the one in Kimende the weekend before. This didn’t look like the conditions that would give way to sunshine at all.

Thick mist in Kimende forest, Kenya.
Incredible fog at Kimende.

Arriving at Kikuyu, it was even more chilly. So much that I was shivering. I regretted not wearing my hoodie, but there was nothing I could do at this point. Some of us had gloves. Did they know something the rest of us didn’t? We hastily boarded another matatu to the final destination: the Lussigeti escarpment.

Artists on a cliff in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Sights that awaited us at the destination.

A short ride later, we alighted opposite Lussigeti market. I recognized it as the same place we started the Nachu hike back in February. A quick bathroom break, then we began walking to the escarpment. The mist had cleared but it was still a bit cold.

A section of Lussigetti market, Kenya.
A section of Lussigetti market.

As we walked we talked about art and life. I was telling someone that I wondered if I still had the muscle memory for creating art, given that I hadn’t done it in years. Before I read other creatives’ stories I didn’t know it was a common experience to lose touch with your art. When you get to such a place, making art becomes a struggle. Non-artists around you don’t understand why because it’s your talent after all, right? One of my brothers can’t get why I got bored with drawing and painting.

Hikers in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Walking to the escarpment…

The sun came to save us from our misery. What a relief. Cold isn’t my thing at all. We got to the border of Kiambu and Kajiado counties. On the Kiambu side there were more farms, on the latter it was the typical pasture of Maasailand. Ngong Hills had their top level obscured by clouds. We walked a bit more to the end point.

Farm vegetation.
Boundary between Kajiado (left) and Kiambu county (right).
Hikers in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Finally, the sun!

Through a rocky patch with rather unimpressive vegetation. And then the escarpment revealed itself. A landscape with views like no other. For some minutes, everyone fell silent. The only befitting response to such a breathtaking sight. Only sound that could be heard was of the bells on the cows grazing below. We took it all in quietly before starting to take photos. A Common Kestrel flew towards us- my first ever sighting.

Landscape view in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Just look at that landscape. Photos don’t do it justice.

There was a second group that still hadn’t arrived so we waited for them. When they came it was time for introductions and a briefing on the origin and intentions of Art Therapy. It’s an art-themed meetup organized by Let’s Drift and Erregatti, a company that makes handmade leather journals. We also discussed what art means to each of us. People had really interesting responses.

Author at a cliff in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Taking it all in…(Photo by Fiona).

The guys in charge of the session assured us that the aim wasn’t perfection. As long as you have fun making art, mission accomplished. But if you’re an artist you know it’s hard to shake that chase for perfection. For me who hadn’t done a drawing/ painting in 6 years, it was even more of a challenge.

Painting of birds on sunflowers.
One of the last watercolour pieces I did before losing motivation.

Yes, six years. After finishing my tertiary education there was the expectation from myself and others about how life was supposed to go. But life doesn’t always care about our expectations. Things seemed to stall for me. Completely. It was difficult to find work despite doing internships all through my uni holidays, tried making money from selling my art- nada. I lost all motivation to continue with art, even for myself.

Author's watercolour painting.
At least I have my work on a wall, even if it’s in my room. ๐Ÿ˜…

That’s what led me to try photography. I believe in trying something different if what you’re doing isn’t working. And that was the principle here. Did photography from 2015 to date, enjoyed it thoroughly, but it was (still is) hard for me to make money from it. All this coupled with feeling a disconnect with what I learned in school Vs doing it as a career messed with my mental. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going through a quarter-life crisis.

Mental Health Awareness poster.
Photo from futurescommunitysupport.com

The pressure was made worse by being a high achiever. I’d always done well academically and otherwise. But for the first time in my life things, weren’t moving. I didn’t understand why, and neither did those around me. Oh, add to that being a first born. The weight was overwhelming.

Hiker on a cliff in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Sun, views, and good vibes.

So my art materials stayed untouched for six years because making art felt empty. Yet here I was going back to it. And drawing live human figures- not my strong point. As I began to sketch there were some heavy emotions. Not just wanting to get it perfect, but it also felt…odd drawing again. The weight was lifting, I guess.

Artists sketching outdoors.
Painting this in real time was challenging.

By divine design, a large number of us that day were from architecture and landscape architecture school. I was fascinated. I don’t usually meet fellow arch graduates. Our discussion naturally drifted towards the school and after school experiences. And what do you know? We all went through the same stuff more or less. The piles if work, harsh crit sessions that make you rethink your worth, those legendary pin-ups, and questioning whether you’ll practice architecture after school.

Artists on a cliff in Lussigetti, Kenya.
The view was too good to resist.

It was called Art Therapy, but I didn’t expect this. Talking about our experiences was a form of release. I commented that there should be a category of counselling called ‘Therapy for Architects’. The manner that architecture is taught in Kenya leaves many people scarred for life. Some even end up taking their lives (true story). ๐Ÿ˜”

Landscape view in Lussigetti, Kenya.
Views on views on views.

We continued sketching and painting as the stories flowed. If only we had a culture of speaking up more about life issues, people wouldn’t suffer in silence as much. The sun got too much for me and after some hours I paused the artwork. I’d taken a photo of the scene which I’d use to finish the piece later.

Author's watercolour painting.
Work in progress..

Some people had finished their work, others carried on in the shade. I walked around admiring the landscape. Found a place for dope photos and took a few. This is the kind of place I’d love to live in someday. Serene, rural, immersed in nature and away from the madness of cities.

Author on a cliff in Kajiado, Kenya.
I think I got my art groove back. ๐Ÿ˜„ (Photo by Ruth)
Author on a cliff with artwork.
An artist proud of her artwork. ๐Ÿ˜„ (Photo by Ruth).

Remember my watercolour pens? They came in handy for an impromptu body art session. Started with one person but when we saw how amazing the designs were, everyone wanted it. Wango was gracious enough to grant our request.

Author's arm with body art.
Life is short, art lives long. (Body art by Wango)

Soon it was time to review our work. Artists tend to underrate themselves a lot. That was the case here too. While everyone else saw unique elements or styles in the work, the one who’s piece was being reviewed was surprised that it was rated highly. That ever nagging imposter syndrome.

Artists outdoors.
Review session (Photo by Ruth).

After the review we had a chat on mental wellness in line with May’s theme. Talked about art and its effect on our minds. For me it was the motivation to get back to this form of art after so long. Thinking about it now, I think I just needed the right company and art materials. It was my first time using watercolour paper and it made painting so much easier.

Author's watercolour painting.
Finished product! ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿ˜Œ

The sun was fully out as well as Ngong Hills. Time to head home. But first, a brief stop at a local eatery for fries and nyama platter. ๐Ÿ˜… Everyone was happy. It was great for people from both teams meeting each other. There had been no pressure to make perfect drawings, so we all had a good time. If you haven’t attended the Let’s Drift Art Therapy sessions before, I suggest you do. It’s open for all art lovers and artists.

Hikers about to devour a meat and fries platter.
This platter was devoured in seconds ๐Ÿ˜… (Photo by Ruth).

If you’re a creative feeling stuck with your work, check out the book ‘Big Magic‘ by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about tying our worth to our work, losing motivation/ inspiration, taking breaks to do other art forms (like I did with photography), and other artist woes. Some sections are a bit mystical but a helpful book on the whole. See you on the next Art Therapy, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hikers in Kajiado, Kenya.
Heading home.

4 thoughts on “The Long Awaited Return

  1. It is interesting to see such scenic places at my backyard. Vile nakujua Iโ€™m also surprised you havenโ€™t been drawing for a whileโ€ฆand for 6 years! Well, I hadnโ€™t caught up on your blogs for a while but mine is a whole different story. I wonder how many people these wonderful posts reach? I will regularly share them on my fb page. However I can relate not finding work but for me I decided to continue doing it for me. And I still am. You should not stop drawing or architecture either. Keep drawing and marketing aggressively. And โ€˜Therapy for Architectsโ€™ that is funny as serious as it is. Iโ€™m freelance guide myself but I am considering drifting with Letโ€™s Drift. Theyโ€™ve got beautiful destinations I didnโ€™t know. Great piece.

    Like

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